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California Institutes a Ban on New Gas-Powered Cars Starting in 2035

Existing vehicles can remain on the road and used cars may still be sold.

Cars powered by fossil fuels will be going the way of the dinosaur in California next decade. The California Air Resources Board approved a plan Thursday to ban the sale of new gas-powered automobiles starting in 2035.

“One thing I learned in the [California] legislature is you really don’t mess with people’s cars,” said former state senator and board member Dean Florez ahead of his “yes” vote. “Tomorrow I am expecting to see some headlines calling our action extreme. I think a lot of folks will look at this as impossible—most will ask the question whether or not the board in California and this governor has gone too far. But if you put it in the context of what climate change is and the impact of automobiles… the action we’re taking is pretty clear.”

Starting in 2026, 35 percent of automakers’ sales in the Golden State must be EVs and that quota will ramp up each year until every new car sold in California is not internal combustion. Gas-powered cars will remain legal to drive in California after that date and used ones can still be sold as well. The Board claims the move will reduce greenhouse gases 25 percent in the state by 2037.

The approved plan was first outlined by California Governor Gavin Newsom two years ago. And Newsom has kept at it, recently saying, “The climate crisis is solvable if we focus on the big, bold steps necessary to stem the tide of carbon pollution.”

In late June, the European Union took a similar action, also ordering the cessation of gas-powered car sales starting in 2035. And, as has occurred in the past, other states are likely to follow California’s lead by imposing similar rules.

Critics are questioning the feasibility of meeting the requirements given the slow-moving nature of change within the auto industry, and the added premium that comes with EV technology. President of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation John Bozzella told The New York Times that the mandates would be “extremely challenging” to meet, and that “Whether or not these requirements are realistic or achievable is directly linked to external factors like inflation, charging and fuel infrastructure, supply chains, labor, critical mineral availability and pricing, and the ongoing semiconductor shortage.” Others have called out the requirements as too radical, while yet another subset of critics have expressed the opposite, like attorney Scott Hochberg at the Center for Biological Diversity’s Climate Law Institute, who told The Detroit Bureau that the proposal “fell short,” and that the “shift to EVs (needs to come) much sooner or watch our climate stability slip away.”

While other propulsion technologies including hydrogen fuel cells would meet the requirements, the imposition is expected to create a near monopoly of pure battery-electric vehicles, which currently constitute a small fraction of overall vehicle production. As California consumes 12 percent of US new car sales, the edict makes a dramatic impact on the industry as a whole, not to mention pending votes among 12 states this week for similar legislation which could bolster the movement.

The ruling comes on the heels of the Biden administration’s reinstatement of California’s ability to set its own vehicle emissions standards last February, as well as last year’s executive order that urges half of all vehicles sold in the U.S. to be electric by 2030, and the passage of last week’s Inflation Reduction Act which clears $370 billion in spending and tax credits that support renewable energy.

With mandates for battery-electric vehicles already gaining momentum globally, the latest move has been long anticipated by automakers. In a statement from Ford Motor Company, chief sustainability officer Bob Holycross takes a positive stance on the ruling. “The CARB Advanced Clean Cars II rule is a landmark standard that will define clean transportation and set an example for the United States,” he says.

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