The ZEV Mandate

The California zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) rule is one of the most daring and controversial air quality policies ever established. Adopted as part of the 1990 Low-Emission Vehicle (LEV I) Program, it subsequently became known as the ZEV mandate. As originally formulated, it required the seven largest automotive companies in California to "make available for sale" an increasing number of vehicles with zero tailpipe emissions (ignoring other vehicle-emission sources and emissions from upstream energy production and refueling facilities). The initial sales requirement was 2 percent of car sales in 1998, increasing to 5 percent in 2001 and 10 percent in 2003.

The ZEV rule led a tortured life, undergoing industry lawsuits and continuing modifications. It now bears little resemblance to the original rule. Some consider the ZEV mandate a policy failure, while others credit it with launching a revolution in clean automotive technology.17 We tend toward the latter view.18

As the result of mandated biennial reviews, ZEV policy continues to be hammered out, often contentiously. The simple 2, 5, and 10 percent requirements have given way to a complex set of arcane rules. The latest revision in 2008 requires automakers to produce a total of 7,500 fuel cell vehicles or 12,500 battery electric vehicles (or some combination thereof) between 2012 and 2014, along with 58,000 plug-in hybrids.19 As highlighted in the film Who Killed the Electric Car? electric vehicle advocates felt that CARB sold out to automakers in its earlier 2003 revisions because it allowed a small number of fuel cell vehicles to substitute for battery electric vehicles. The 2008 revision placed more emphasis on plug-in hybrid vehicles but not enough to please the strident electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid supporters. Will Who Killed the Electric Car... Again? find its way into movie theaters in 2009?

1947 -

_ Los Angeles Air Pollution Control

District created

California passes first legislation in the _

world controlling vehicle emissions

- 1959

1960 -

_ Motor Vehicle Pollution Control Board created

California requires first emission control _

technology (positive crank case ventilation)

- 1961

1967 -

_ California Air Resources Board (CARB)


Low-Emission Vehicle Program enacted (LEV I plus ZEV)

- 1990

1998 -

— Low-Emission Vehicle Program revised (LEV II)

Pavley Act signed into law controlling_

vehicle greenhouse gas emissions

- 2002

2006 -

— Global Warming Solutions Act signed into law

CARB adopts early greenhouse gas _

reduction actions, including low-carbon fuel standard



_ CARB adopts master "scoping" plan to reduce GHG emissions back to 1990 levels

FIGURE 7.1 Timeline: California's history of air quality and climate policy innovations.

The underlying controversy surrounding the ZEV program can be summed up as follows. The auto industry, almost with a single voice, complains that California is forcing technology into the marketplace that's not yet ready. On the other side of the fence are those who argue that the ZEV program is necessary to accelerate the development and commercialization of advanced vehicle technologies.

The direct outcomes of the ZEV program aren't impressive. Major automakers supplied about 2,000 full-size electric cars in the United States in the late 1990s and early 2000s, most of them in California, and hundreds of fuel cell vehicles through 2007. In addition, a handful of small companies— including GEM (Global Electric Motorcars), a subsidiary of Chrysler—have sold about 20,000 small neighborhood electric cars in California and southern states since 2000, with a variety of small startups beginning to produce larger electric cars (Tesla being the most prominent). But these numbers are trivial compared to the nearly two million cars and light trucks sold each year in California.

The indirect effects are far more impressive. In 1990, the dominance of the internal combustion engine was unquestioned. The ZEV mandate suggested that cleaner alternatives were possible and motivated a variety of related policies, programs, and industry investments. During the following decade, U.S. automakers partnered with the U.S. government to accelerate the development of advanced batteries and super-efficient advanced vehicles, Toyota and then Honda commercialized hybrid technology, and most of the big automakers undertook major fuel cell vehicle R&D programs. The ZEV program merits considerable credit for inspiring these many initiatives.

Was the ZEV program the most efficient route to the future? Clearly not. Could another path have accomplished the same at less cost with less conflict? Who knows? What's certain is the ZEV program accelerated worldwide investment in electric-drive vehicle technology. The benefits of those accelerated investments continue to sprout throughout the automotive world.

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