State Air Board Considers Revamp of Emissions-Free Vehicle Mandate

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The California Air Resources Board will consider a plan that would reduce by nearly two-thirds the number of electric and hydrogen fuel cell cars that automakers would have to market in California by 2014. Instead, the proposal would require automakers to put 75,000 low emissions vehicles on the road within the next six years. KPCC's Frank Stoltze spoke about the proposal with Mary Nichols, the chairwoman of the California Air Resources Board.

Mary Nichols: Well actually, (laughs) the proposal is not a weakening of the standards. It's an increase over the current proposal. Some of the confusion here goes back to the 1990 days, when the only type of low emission vehicle that was really being considered was the pure battery electric vehicle, and while pure battery electric vehicles are beginning to make a comeback now in California, which is great, what we're seeing is some opportunities here to be pushing much farther and faster with plug-in hybrids, which will take the current generation of hybrids, but expand the all electric range to the point where the battery usage becomes almost a hundred percent of the time, with the gasoline engine just there essentially for emergency purposes.

And, in addition to that, we're also seeing a lot of progress on fuel cells. And, I think what's going on, to some degree here, is a battle between the fans of the different technologies, which, each of them wanting us to, you know, kind of keep the pressure on for their technology, and in effect bet on the winning horse in the race here. And what we're saying at the resources board is that we need all of these technologies in California, because our issue nowadays is not just smog, but it's also global warming, and our commitment to clean up the atmosphere from the greenhouse gas emissions that we're causing, at least our share of that as well.

Frank Stoltze: Miss Nichols, environmentalists say that you are considering a proposal that would reduce the number of low emission vehicles on the road by two-thirds by the year 2014.

Nichols: Well, the environmentalists who are making those claims are not reading the proposal correctly, in my opinion, because they're making a judgment that car manufacturers would put on the road cars that will cost them more money to make than they can possibly sell these vehicles for, and do it in the hundreds of thousands. But, under the rules as they currently exist, they have an option to either buy credits, or to buy what we now are calling cheap, literally, battery cars that are made in China today, that the consumers are simply not going to be happy with because they won't work.

Stoltze: So you're buying the automakers' argument that these cars are too expensive to make, and that consumers would not buy them.

Nichols: No, no we're not. (laughs) What we're saying is we want to build a successful market for electric vehicles, and the way to do that is by getting them out into the hands of consumers. Right now, we're seeing consumers snapping up at least some versions of the hybrid electric vehicle. It took a little while for that to take off. The next phase in the development of these vehicles is going to be a plug-in vehicle. Most people have never had experience with a car that has to be plugged in at home, or at work, in order to be fully operational.

Stoltze: You've suggested there will be a compromise at today's meeting?

Nichols: I think perhaps so. I could predict that there will be an increase in the numbers that were on the floor of the pure ZEV, would be either batteries, or fuel cells. And by the way, despite the fact that all the noise has been coming from the battery car fans, don't forget that fuel cell vehicles are going to be on the road. Several major manufacturers are going to be putting fleets of those vehicles in Southern California starting this year, and those also have some advantages in terms of their range and durability as well. And those are also pure zero electric vehicles.