Under a new clean-air rule, sales of new gas-powered cars will be banned starting in 2035.
Electric cars charging up will be a common sight in California by 2035.Jakob Härter / Wikimedia Commons C.C. Share-Alike 2.0 License
It was exactly 55 year ago on Aug. 30 that Republican Gov. Ronald Reagan signed the Mulford-Carrell Air Resources Act, a landmark bill that combined two state agencies—the Bureau of Air Sanitation and Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board—into a new entity, the California Air Resources Board.
Getting to work immediately, the aptly named CARB took just four years to create the country’s first nitrogen oxides emissions standards for motor vehicles. Using federal authority granted under the Clean Air Act, CARB made California the first state to require auto manufacturers to include catalytic converters, which reduce harmful pollutants in exhaust, into all new cars sold in the state starting in 1975.
The first state to require smog checks, which determines whether a vehicle meets state emission standards? That was California as well. Starting in 1984, any car manufactured in 1976 or later has been subject to a smog check at least every two years.
CARB’s New Landmark Rule
In 1992, California under CARB became the first state to fully ban the sale and use of leaded gasoline. Those are just a few of the steps CARB has taken to maintain California’s place as the United States leader in clean air standards.
On Aug. 25, CARB made another historic ruling. In approving a regulation titled Advanced Clean Cars II, the board voted to make California the first state to ban the sale of gasoline-powered cars altogether.
By the year 2035, CARB ruled, all new cars sold in California must be powered by electricity or hydrogen, both fuels that meet zero-emissions standards. So, do Californians who aren’t already driving electric vehicles have 13 years to dump their cars and save up to get a new EV? Not exactly, though the groundbreaking regulation will definitely cause an upheaval in how the state relates to its cars.
Will Gas-Powered Cars be Banned?
The new regulation is not a total ban on gasoline-powered vehicles, though its intention is clearly to phase them out of existence in the state over time. In fact, the regulation sets actual, very specific quotas on the sale of new cars, and how many must be zero-emission by a series of deadlines in time.
By 2026, 35 percent of all new personal cars, SUVs and small pickup trucks must be EVs, or run on hydrogen (which currently describes less than one percent of cars sold in Calfornia). That percentage rises every year. By 2028, more than half, 51 percent, must be zero-emissions. By 2030, the required percentage hits 68 percent—slightly more than two of every three new cars sold—and in 2035 the state will hit 100 percent clean new cars, if everything goes according to the CARB plan.
Will I Be Punished for Driving a Gas Vehicle?
Californians who haven't switched to EVs by 2035 have nothing to worry about. They can keep their cars and even continue to buy used cars that run on gasoline. The new regulation applies only to sales of new cars. Car dealers will not be penalized for selling non-EV cars. The penalties will hit only car manufacturers who fail to meet the quotas. The state will fine the carmakers $20,000 for every vehicle over the quota that fails to comply with the new regulations.
Won’t the Auto Industry Squash This Rule?
California’s timeline for converting to zero-emissions is a quick one, and that may cause some issues with the big automakers.
“This is obviously a very tight schedule that California envisions as a standard for the sale of new automobiles,” energy industry lawyer Scott Segal told The New York Times. “It has pretty significant consequences for consumers and the supply chain.”
But in general, automakers will probably be on board with the new rules, because they are already making the transition to electric vehicles themselves. General Motors, the largest U.S. automobile manufacturer, announced back in January of 2021 that it will phase out internal combustion engine vehicles—that is, cars that burn gasoline or other flammable fuels—by 2035 as well. GM has been manufacturing one model of EV, the Chevy Bolt, since 2016.
Ford Motor Company has committed to producing at least two million EVs annually starting in 2026. The German car company Volkswagen has also committed to phasing out internal combustion vehicles in the United States and has said it plans to have 25 models of battery-powered EV on the U.S. market by 2030.
How Will We Charge All of These Electric Cars?
Electric cars run on batteries, and batteries need to be recharged—a lot. Depending on how much driving an EV owner wants to do, the car would need to be charged anywhere from once every week to once every day. EV owners often plug their cars in at home overnight, but the more they drive, the more they need changing stations away from home.
As of 2021, California had about 73,000 charging stations installed. That’s not going to be nearly enough. As EVs take over California roads, the state will need 1.2 million public chargers by 2030, according to the California Energy Commission.
The state has a goal of 250,000 chargers by 2025, but according to the Energy Commission, only 123,000 new ones are planned.
Public chargers power a car at Level 2, a faster charge than Level 1, the rate expected of a home outlet. Charging a typical EV to full capacity, about 240 miles of driving, can take 60 hours at Level 1. But at Level 2, a full charge takes only 10 hours. As a result, drivers may find it more convenient to charge more often, for shorter periods of time.
One hour of charging at Level 2 allows 24 miles of driving—but by 2035 battery technology will certainly improve and prices of batteries will drop. According to a study by Goldman School of Public Policy at University of California Berkeley, the prevalence of EVs made possible by advances in battery technology and speed of charging will save U.S. drivers $2.7 trillion by 2050.