California's Current Strategy to Ban Internal Combustion Engines

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
californias current strategy to ban internal combustion engines

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]

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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.

  • Hunter Ah California. They've been praying for water for years, and now that it's here they don't know what to do with it.
  • FreedMike I think this illustrates a bit of Truth About PHEVs: it's hard to see where they "fit." On paper, they make sense because they're the "best of both worlds." Yes, if you commute 20-30 miles a day, you can generally make it on electric power only, and yes, if you're on a 500-mile road trip, you don't have to worry about range. But what percentage of buyers has a 20-mile commute, or takes 500-mile road trips? Meanwhile, PHEVs are more expensive than hybrids, and generally don't offer the performance of a BEV (though the RAV4 PHEV is a first class sleeper). Seems this propulsion type "works" for a fairly narrow slice of buyers, which explains why PHEV sales haven't been all that great. Speaking for my own situation only, assuming I had a place to plug in every night, and wanted something that ran on as little gas as possible, I'd just "go electric" - I'm a speed nut, and when it comes to going fast, EVs are awfully hard to beat. If I was into hypermiling, I'd just go with a hybrid. Of course, your situation might vary, and if a PHEV fits it, then by all means, buy one. But the market failure of PHEVs tells me they don't really fit a lot of buyers' situations. Perhaps that will change as charging infrastructure gets built out, but I just don't see a lot of growth in PHEVs.
  • Kwik_Shift Thank you for this. I always wanted get involved with racing, but nothing happening locally.
  • Arthur Dailey Love the Abe Rothstein tribute suits. Too bad about the car. Seems to have been well loved for most of its life.
  • K. R. Worth noting that the climate control is shared with (donated to) the Audi 5000 of the mid-late 1980s.