Activists Slam California’s ZEV Revisions

Howls of protest greeted the California Air Resources Board as it followed through on a plan to reorient its zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate to promote plug-in hybrids over fully battery-electric vehicles. Activists came to Sacramento in force (and in EVs — see video below) to decry what EV booster group Plug In America called a “shameful weakening of the ZEV Program.”

The ZEV directive requires car manufacturers to market ultraclean and emissions-free vehicles (or buy credits earned by others making such vehicles). The California Air Resources Board decision yesterday reduces the quantity of emissions-free battery or fuel cell vehicles mandated for the 2012-2014 period from 25,000 to as few as 5,357, responding to automaker concern over the cost and reliability of EV batteries and fuel cells.

CARB says this reduction is offset by new rules recognizing the transitional value of plug-in hybrids. The agency claims that the ZEV rules will require automakers to produce 66,000 plug-in hybrids over the 2012-2014 period, thereby mainstreaming electric vehicle components and charging infrastructure that will hasten the day when the pure EVs go mainstream.

However, Plug In America claims the new rules will actually lead to 18,000 less plug-in hybrids over 2012-2014. It’s difficult to say who is right because the ZEV rules are devilishly complex, and automakers are not currently required to disclose how many credits they have banked (a transparency gap the new rules would fix).

Plug In America charges that California legislators should take back responsibility for driving electrification of the automobile, but ironically one of their proposals seems to affirm the very battery qualms underlying CARB’s revisions. Specifically, Plug In America proposes that legislators free manufacturers from providing the 15-year, 150,000-mile warranty CARB requires for hybrid batteries. That hardly seems like a recipe for driving mass confidence in the electric car.

This post was created for Tech Talk – Insights into tomorrow’s technology from the editors of IEEE Spectrum.

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