A likely upcoming shift in California's strategy to reduce smog from cars could affect new vehicles rolling onto roads nationwide over the next few years. At its upcoming Jan. 25, 2001 meeting, the CA Air Resources Board is expected to adopt its proposal to significantly scale back its ambitious near-term commitment to zero-emission vehicles, while simultaneously beefing up its goals for putting more hybrid, natural gas, and fuel-cell vehicles onto the state's highways.
CARB considers battery-powered vehicles to be the only pure zero-emission option. Originally in 1990, CARB mandated that ZEVs should comprise 10% of all new vehicles sold in CA by 2003. But earlier this year, as it became apparent that the auto industry could not meet this goal in a way that would suit the tastes and budgets of consumers, CARB amended that requirement to 4% ZEV and 6% hybrids. Then in December 2000, CARB backtracked further still to propose a new requirement of 2% ZEV, 2% hybrids and fuel cells, and 6% natural gas and other cleaner car technologies. (CARB: Jerry Martin, 916-322-2990. ZEV Program info and news:http://www.arb.ca.gov/msprog/zevprog/zevprog.htm).
Automakers welcome this policy shift, while reaction from green groups and other stakeholders is mixed. Proponents of the proposed new rules claim that the limited range and relatively high cost of true ZEVs would turn off consumers. Opponents of the policy change contend that battery technology is more advanced, effective, and affordable than automakers prefer to admit. But some environmentalists think the revised requirements are more realistic, and thus more likely to improve the state's air quality sooner.
CA represents the largest auto market in the country -- so when automakers gear up their manufacturing to meet CA requirements, it tends to affect which cars end up on the market in other parts of the country. Plus, other states often emulate environmental policies that are pioneered in CA.