California's Current Strategy to Ban Internal Combustion Engines

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

California has been toying with the idea of banning internal combustion motors for a couple of years now. While the concept is gaining popularity across the globe, the ban itself is a bit misleading. Regions in favor of the idea aren’t really pursuing an outright ban on engines that burn gasoline; they’re trying to mandate electrification and reduce emissions via non-traditional powertrains.

In April of 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown announced, “If the federal government can’t get it right, we in California are going to take care of business.” With the Trump administration making strides to roll back regulatory efforts, it appears the state of California is ready to pop in some Bachman–Turner Overdrive and begin taking care of said business.

Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board and ally to the zero-emissions cause, explained in a recent interview with Bloomberg that California will pursue a similar internal combustion ban timeline as China, France and the United Kingdom.

“I’ve gotten messages from the governor asking, ‘Why haven’t we done something already?'” Nichols said, referring to China’s planned culling of fossil fuel-powered vehicle sales. “The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California.”

Asia is leading the way in the looming government-mandated electric vehicle war. Not only does China want to phase out all non-electric powertrains by 2030, the country has already begun implementing rules forcing any automaker hoping to sell vehicles in the country to allot a certain percentage of EV within its fleet.

Much of Europe is pressing for similar rules, but its countries have set their goals on a slightly longer and less-certain timeline. However, certain cities — Paris for example — want a diesel ban by 2025.

“To reach the ambitious levels of reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, we have to pretty much replace all combustion with some form of renewable energy by 2040 or 2050,” Nichols said. “We’re looking at that as a method of moving this discussion forward.”

California will also need to diversify where it gets its energy from if it hopes to implement more BEVs. While the state is getting help from VW (as part of the automaker’s diesel scandal penance) to bolster its electric charging network and has a strong sustainable energy resources, roughly half of its power comes from natural gas-fired power plants. Those plants are substantially cleaner than coal or oil plants, but will need to be kicked into overdrive if the state finds itself with a sudden influx of drivers hoping to charge their vehicles every night after work.

With such a massive population, California’s mandates would have a major impact on the automotive industry. As a self-admitted friend to automakers, the Trump administration would definitely challenge the legality of the state’s actions. However, California is within its rights to enact its own pollution rules. The precedent was set with the 1970 Clean Air Act and is underpinned by waivers granted by the Environment Protection Agency.

However, with the current EPA likely unwilling to grant such a waiver, Nichols said the state will likely pursue different legal options.

“We certainly wouldn’t expect to get a waiver for that from EPA,” Nichols said. “I think we would be looking at using some of our other authorities to get to that result.” One possible solution would be to use vehicle registration rules or control the vehicles that can access state highways, she said.

Internal combustion bans are becoming commonplace now. But, with most of them set so far in the future, it’s hard to see exactly how they’ll play out. By 2030 most automakers might already utilize fleets that adhere to universal electrification. It’s certainly reasonable to think that mild-hybridization could become as normalized as fuel injection by then. If this ends up being the case, some of these mandates will prove unnecessary; the threats, empty. Still, you could make the claim that the threats alone pushed automakers to pursue the technology in the first place.

“There are people who believe, including [some] who work for me, that you could stop all sales of new internal-combustion cars by 2030. Some people say 2035, some people say 2040,” said Nichols. “It’s awfully hard to predict any of that with precision, but it doesn’t appear to be out of the question.”

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Cleek Cleek on Sep 27, 2017

    Heavy handed industrial policy, especially when politically motivated, is seldom a good thing. Speaking of California, their one-sided electrical "deregulation" was a nightmare. I was sitting in a silicon valley conference room during one (of the many) brown outs. The generally mild mannered CEO got Gov Davis on the phone in nearly an instant and went ballistic on him. That "industrial policy" ended up getting lots'a new small, expensive, "dirty" plants built. Another data point was broadband access in Germany. Deutsche Telekom (regulated monopoly) built out ISDN broadband access in the 1990s that had an amort of OVER 15 YEARS. So while the rest of the world was using multimegabit DSL, cable modems or ethernet, our German brethren were stuck with 128Kbit of copper twisted pair goodness. I have colleagues there who make a good case that it set back Germany's startup level innovation by well over a decade. So Kalifornia, dream big, but don't let the politicos and their ilk decide what you proles *really need*, Tamping down innovation through regulation in the name of (insert sloganeering here) will end up biting you in the butt.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.