California clears the way to ban new gas car sales


person refueling car with gas pump
Image Credits: Getty Images

The California Air Resources Board voted Thursday afternoon to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars in the Golden State.

The full effect of the binding decision will kick in more than 12 years from now, in 2035, when it will require most new cars and trucks sold in California to run exclusively on electricity or hydrogen.

The regulation will be phased in gradually until then, and it includes an exception for plug-in hybrids, allowing them to make up as much as 20% of new car sales even after 2035.

The regulation is the result of an executive order issued by Gavin Newsom back in 2020, as part of the California governor’s efforts to fight climate change. The requirements will not ban combustion engine vehicles from roads nor will it halt any used car sales in the state, but it is expected to accelerate the transition to zero-emission vehicles. Crucially, 16 other states and Washington, D.C. look to California to set stricter emissions standards and could follow with similar rules.

In the meantime, the landmark policy lays out graduated requirements for California, mandating that zero-emission vehicles make up 35% of new car sales by 2026, and 68% by 2030.

The state still has a long way to go before ridding its roads of overly pollutive vehicles: As of 2021, 12.4% of new cars sold in California were either battery-electric vehicles or plugin-in hybrids, per the state’s Energy Commission.

Though California leads the U.S. on the EV front, its rate of new plug-in sales trails Europe, which hit 22% in April. The EU is pursuing similar restrictions for 2035, and some countries, including Norway, aim to move faster.

Some legacy automakers, such as GM and Volvo, have already pledged to eventually go all electric, more or less aligning with younger firms like Tesla, Rivian, Lucid and Canoo. Other legacy businesses, like Toyota, have primarily focused on hybrids and are also teeing up future hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.

A ban by another name?

Gas-powered cars will still be welcomed on California roads even after all the sales requirements go into effect, the state’s Air Resources Board emphasized in an email to TechCrunch. “Not actually a ban,” said a spokesperson for the regulator. “The Advanced Clean Cars II regulation requires that all NEW vehicle sales be electric by 2035. Drivers with internal combustion vehicles at that time can keep them until the end of the vehicle life.”

Along similar lines, the Sierra Club, an environmental advocacy group, cast the new requirements as an essential “transition” rather than a ban. Regardless, the point is virtually the same — to restrict the sale of new gas vehicles because they’re wreaking havoc on the climate and our health.

“This is very significant, because it sends a strong signal that we need to shift to zero-emission vehicles,” said Katherine García, director of the Sierra Club’s Clean Transportation for All campaign. “This is common-sense action for protecting public health and for taking climate action.”

Building on this regulation will save lives, according to Dr. Lisa Patel, a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at Stanford. “It is a health imperative that all states eventually ban gas-powered cars,” she said in an email to TechCrunch, pointing to a report from the American Lung Association. The lung health group estimated in March that a nationwide switch to EVs could save more than 100,000 lives over the next three decades.

“No child’s health today should be ruined by breathing in the toxic fumes generated by our gas-powered fleets,” Dr. Patel added, “particularly when we have the technological solutions to avoid it.”

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