A brief history of California ZEV Policy

Over the years, California’s efforts on decarbonizing road transport leading to a potential 100% ZEV mandate for 2035, has seen a lot of challenges and learnings, and more importantly, has led to a strong partnership between government, industry, and academia. As a brief history, going back as early as 1990, the primary objective of California’s ZEV program has been to reduce local air pollution in the state and has presented a unique policy approach towards achieving a transition from more efficient ICE vehicles to EVs including hybrids and finally, towards a 100% ZEV scenario. Setting a ZEV mandate starting with 2% ZEV sales in the early 1990s, at a time when it was still early days for commercially viable electric vehicle technology, the road uphill was more challenging than anticipated, but it provided a clear signal to the auto industry on California’s intent. As technology slowly improved, it was in 2012, under the Obama administration, that California joined the US EPA efforts to setting national GHG standards for vehicles, but with an additional revised ZEV mandate policy (aimed at about 10% ZEVs by 2025) which has served as the foundation for the transition pathway in the state in the last decade. In the interim period, especially between 2008 to 2012, the launch of the Nissan Leaf (BEV), the Chevrolet Volt (PHEV) and the Tesla Roadster (BEV) set the early stage for the auto industry’s commitment to meeting the ZEV requirements set by California. In the next decade, with rapid changes in the global landscape, especially in the EU and China, the automotive industry began to make enhanced investments in EV technology. This, along with the California ZEV policy ecosystem, has led to a rapid rise in new EV sales in California, reaching about 12.4% of new EV sales in 2021. Recognizing the need to address growing climate concerns, and the role of vehicle electrification towards achieving net zero targets, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) will be reviewing a new and more ambitious ZEV mandate in June 2022, also known as the Advanced Clean Cars II rule (ACC-II), that has evolved into a simpler mechanism, but sets potential ZEV targets of 35% new ZEV sales by 2026, and going up to 68% by 2030 and eventually 100% by 2035.