The California Air Resources Board, the Automakers, and You

Aaron Cole
by Aaron Cole

Last week, Bloomberg Business profiled the one woman who may have more influence in the automaking universe for the next decade than any other person on the planet.

California Air Resources Board Chairwoman Mary Nichols’ story about running the nation’s most stringent air quality standards board is compelling, fascinating and terrifying — if you’re an automaker.

The state’s ambitious goal of reducing greenhouse gases 80 percent by 2050 is met by an equally ambitious — and onerous — goal for automakers: don’t sell new cars with internal combustion engines in California by 2030.

“If the federal government can’t get it right, we in Cal­ifornia are going to take care of busi­ness,” California Governor Jerry Brown said in an April speech.

Brown tabbed Nichols to run the air quality board during his first stint as California governor in the late 1970s and then rehired her when he was elected to the position again a few years ago.

In her first run, the story points out, Nichols forced automakers to put catalytic converters on their cars to cut down on smog in California cities. General Motors said it would sink them. It didn’t. (Eds note: The Citation did.)

Now, before the ambitious 2030 goal, Nichols is forcing automakers to comply with her rules — even if it costs them millions. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles chief Sergio Marchionne famously told people not to buy his Fiat 500e because it cost him $10,000.

What’s more, Nichols has the ear of the feds and emerging countries on how best to reduce pollution and greenhouse gases and it could force automakers’ hands into quickly building cars that would comply with more stringent standards. Her policies have scale, too: California is the world’s eighth-largest economy.

Under current rules, zero-emission vehicles sales would need to ramp up in California by 2018, with the eventual goal of having 1.5 million electric cars on the road by 2022, although the automakers have been stockpiling a significant amount of credits to offset that.

Bloomberg’s excellent profile, paired with the LA Times’ in-depth look at Nichols last year, draw a picture of the woman who may further upend the automotive world in the next decade.

Neither story directly forecast how the regulations she’s helping bring forward would impact consumers, but a cursory look at the history of how automakers complied with regulations she worked on (at least, in part) 40 years ago reads like a list of carmaker “must-haves” today: catalytic converters, fuel injection, unleaded fuel, ECUs and oxygen sensors.

(Photo courtesy California Air Resources Board)

Aaron Cole
Aaron Cole

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  • Zlive Zlive on Aug 12, 2015

    I guess I don't understand the hatred of California or all the fuss. I'm very familiar with CARB, carbon emissions, and climate change. In CA these kinds of things are taken very seriously and it's just something you have to deal with if you are going to live there. If you don't like it, get involved in the political process and support local candidates who will go to bat for you. If you live in a state that adopts CA's standards, then your options are the same. If you're an enthusiast, you still have lots of options. Go buy yourself a Miata or a Corvette or a Mustang or a 911, used or new, and enjoy. Maintain the vehicle and leave it for your children to enjoy. Apocalyptic statements about the death of industry tend to be wrong. These are the same responses that corporations made when we enacted child labor laws, for instance. Time and time again we see that the most likely cause of a corporation's pain and suffering is their own mismanagement. Don't worry about them, they'll be fine. I promise that they aren't worried about you. And again, if the heavy yoke of CARB is too much for you - and sometimes the way they do things is asinine - move elsewhere. Plenty of states in the union with no semblance of a unified approach to emissions, and no intent to start any time soon. It takes all kinds here in the USA. There's a place for you.

    • Pch101 Pch101 on Aug 12, 2015

      You must be new around here. Some people have a posting style that is akin to an old-style Chinese restaurant menu. Choose at least one each from Columns A and B. Column A (any elected representative belonging to the Democratic party) (any European country) CAFE CARB Climate change Compact cars Democrats Electric cars Emissions equipment The EPA Ethanol General Motors Labor unions NHTSA Obama That Kenyan Muslim The UAW Women (is a/are) Column B communist!!! destroying America!!! fascist!!! hate America!!! Islamofascist!!! Nazi!!! socialist!!! statist!!! tyrant!!! unconstitutional!!!

  • Les Les on Aug 14, 2015

    The problem with Climate Change is that there isn't a conversation about it, three are three. 1) The conversation happening in academia. This is the conversation between people who actually study stuff like this for a living. I have no idea how to access this, and wouldn't know what to do with the information if I could. 2) The conversation happening in the media. This is the conversation happening between talking-heads and pundits talking 'at' their audience, often each claiming claiming access to the previously mentioned conversation, often heavily clouded with bias. 3) The conversation happening between ignorant laypeople like myself. This is the conversation happening, here, among other places. People on all sides claiming to know more than they actually do without realizing the depths of their own ignorance, each convinced that yelling angrily and/or in a patronizing manner is a sure way to win hearts and minds over to your side of the argument. This is how I know.. I KNOW.. that Climate Change isn't really a big deal. It's not, not at all. Some wet places will get a bit dry, some dry places will get a bit wet, that's all. Sure we'll have to make some adjustments but if you really really for really reals can't stand the idea then reversing climate change is as easy as MURDERING 7 BILLION PEOPLE. Don't you See? We HAVE to reduce the world's population to Sustainable levels! Don't you know Climate Change is a Big Deal? All of the ice will melt FOREVER and it'll flood ALL of the land, ALL of it! But it won't be flooded for long because all the water will boil out into space once the surface temperature reaches that of Venus. Did you know that on Venus it's hot enough to melt lead? I know this, and that's why I know, I KNOW, that WE ALL GONNA DIIIIIIIIIE!! But we can save ourselves. YOU can save us. Yes YOU, not anybody else, just YOU. YOU can prevent this If.. you go and buy a Toyota Prius and a 4-pack of florescent light-bulbs. Just do that and all will be well again. And this is the problem; too much information, good and bad, and not enough people qualified to parse it all. In the absence of understanding, people default to subjective values of trust when looking for someone to explain the raw data in terms they are comfortable with.

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