California may join the growing list of places where vehicles power by internal combustion engines will soon be no longer welcome. China is the principle driver of the idea. With the largest new car market in the world, it carries tremendous clout . But France, the UK, and India are also beating the drum for a ban on cars powered by internal combustion engines.
Mary Nichols is head of the California Air Resources Board. She says she is getting “love notes” from governor Jerry Brown asking why California is not following China’s lead by starting to plan for the demise of conventional cars with internal combustion engines. “I’ve gotten messages from the governor asking, ‘Why haven’t we done something already?’” Nichols told Bloomberg in an interview on September 22. “The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California.”
Brown is one of the most ardent climate change activists, pledging that his state will adhere to the commitments made by the United States to the other nations of the world at the COP 21 conference in Paris in 2015. He has reached out to other governors to join him in resisting the ignorance flowing from the federal government under the leadership of #FakePresident Trump.
California is the largest car market in the US (Texas is a close second), which gives it enormous influence over the kinds of vehicles that get sold in all 50 states. At present, ten other states follow the emissions regulations prescribed by CARB. While car makers rail against how stringent they are, those rules are actually quite mild compared to emissions standards in other countries, especially China.
The key to profitability in the car business is spreading the cost of developing new products over as many units as possible. That means companies cannot afford to build cars solely for the California market. They have to sell them in all 50 states in order to amortize the investment needed to meet California’s standards. The same holds true globally. What China requires will impact the vehicles car companies sell in other countries.
The industry complains long and loud about how burdensome emissions regulations are but what really sticks in their craw is having to meet a bewildering welter of confusing, conflicting, and often contradictory regulations imposed by the nations of the world. They have a point. Much time, effort, and money goes into trying to satisfy rule makers in multiple countries rather than just building cars. And none of them want governments to kill the goose that laid the golden egg. The internal combustion engine is the bedrock upon which the automobile industry is founded.
California is able to impose higher standards for cars sold within its borders thanks to a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency that dates back decades. But the EPA is now in the hands of rabid, foaming at the mouth climate change deniers. It is unlikely they would go along with any proposal to ban internal combustion engines entirely.
Mary Nichols thinks there is a way to get it done anyway without involving the feds. The state could use other means, such as its power to license the cars that are permitted to use its roads. And every state is free to set its own tax policies. California could simply tax conventional cars out of existence. “We certainly wouldn’t expect to get a waiver for [banning conventional cars] from EPA,” Nichols says. “I think we would be looking at using some of our other authorities to get to that result.”
India and China are looking at 2030 as the date when an internal combustion ban could take effect. France and the UK are looking a little further down the road. 2040 is more what they have in mind. And California? “There are people who believe, including 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,” she said. “It’s awfully hard to predict any of that with precision, but it doesn’t appear to be out of the question.”