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California's 2035 EV Mandate and What It Could Mean for You

Traffic in Los Angeles
Tailpipe emissions will drop, but I wouldn't count on traffic to get any better.
Chris Sattlberger/Getty Images

What's happening

The California Air Resources Board voted Thursday to pass proposed regulations banning the sale of internal-combustion engine cars by 2035.

Why it matters

California is one of the biggest new-car markets in the US and automakers have said they're ready to comply, meaning many more EVs will become available in the coming years.

What's next

CARB will need to request a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to enact these regulations. If given the all-clear, other states may choose to adhere to CARB's stricter regulations.

California is the only state permitted to create its own emissions standards under the Clean Air Act. Other states are allowed to follow California's standards -- and, as of this writing, more than a dozen do (PDF) -- but California is the only state actually capable of setting standards different than the federal ones. With a major new regulation being implemented, many are left wondering what effect this could have on the US' vehicular landscape.

Let's dive in and see what the California Air Resources Board's proposed Advanced Clean Cars II Regulations (PDF) might mean for your future driveway.

The CARB basics

CARB's Advanced Clean Cars II Regulations started life as an executive order from California Gov. Gavin Newsom in 2020. At its most basic, the regulations would ban the sale of internal-combustion passenger vehicles and light trucks by 2035, which means zero-emission vehicles would be the only vehicles allowed for sale beyond that point.

This won't be happening all at once, though. Instead, CARB will set quotas at various points in time between now and 2035. Starting with the 2026 model year, the regulations will require 35% of passenger vehicles and light-duty trucks to be zero-emission versions. That will increase to about 51% in 2028, growing in stringency each year until it reaches 100% in 2035.

There are some exceptions in this process. Medium- and heavy-duty trucks will be held to different timelines, and there are no regulations regarding used cars, so your mint-condition, no-salt 1993 Honda Civic isn't at risk of disappearing (unless it can't pass smog). Plug-in hybrid vehicles may still be sold and used after 2035, as well, although standards may demand more electric-only range.

If this sounds pretty intense, it is. "This is monumental," said Daniel Sperling, a CARB board member, in an interview with CNN this week. "This is the most important thing that CARB has done in the last 30 years. It's important not just for California, but it's important for the country and the world."

California is far from the first location to move to ban the sale of internal-combustion vehicles. A number of countries have proposed similar regulations on similar timetables, give or take a few years. Since Newsom's announcement in 2020, several other states have promised to follow in California's footsteps, including Massachusetts, New Jersey and New York. The federal government has also promised to stop purchasing gas-powered cars for its fleets by 2035. More states should chime in once CARB votes to pass these regulations.

The responses

California represents one of the largest new-car markets in the US, so it's no surprise that many automakers have already expressed their support for CARB's new regulations -- or, at the least, they've promised to play ball, since many manufacturers already have plans to phase out internal-combustion engines on similar timelines.

"The CARB Advanced Clean Cars II rule is a landmark standard that will define clean transportation and set an example for the United States," said Bob Holycross, chief sustainability officer at Ford, in a statement.

"Toyota continues to share the vision of [greenhouse gas] reduction and carbon neutrality goals with CARB and the State," Toyota said in a press release. "In our recent communication, we acknowledged CARB's leadership in climate policies and its authority to set vehicle emissions standards under the Clean Air Act."

"General Motors and California have a shared vision of an all-electric future, eliminating tailpipe emissions from new light-duty vehicles by 2035," said a GM spokesperson in a statement. "We look forward to working with California, as well as the other states, localities and the federal government on complimentary policies to achieve this shared vision."

"Stellantis is committed to net-zero carbon emissions by 2038, evidenced by our recent $35-billion investment in vehicle electrification and related software toward the introduction of US-market battery-electric vehicles by 2030," said a Stellantis spokesperson in a statement. "These actions support the goals of California's Advanced Clean Car II rule."

Representatives for Hyundai and Volkswagen did not immediately return a request for comment.

The speed bumps

While CARB's plan may hit most people right in the warm-and-fuzzies, there's a whole lot standing between this moment, how it gets implemented and what effects that may have.

In 2019, the Trump administration revoked California's ability to set its own emissions standards. While the Biden administration has since restored that waiver, that doesn't mean it's set in stone. As The New York Times reports, attorneys general from 17 states have filed a lawsuit to revoke California's waiver once again. Oral arguments have not yet been scheduled, but in the event a judge rules in favor of the attorneys general, this could prevent California from implementing its policy.

There's also the matter of vehicle cost. Automotive News reports that the current average sales price for an electric vehicle is close to $63,000, which is roughly $15,000 more than the average new-car transaction price across all types of propulsion. Automakers have begun releasing less and less expensive electric cars as the technology grows in accessibility (thus lowering overall costs), but there's still a long way to go.

Supply is also a problem. Building anything can be troublesome at this point in time, and EVs are no exception, considering the quantity of special materials that are needed for components like battery cells and electric motors. CARB's mandate could funnel even more EVs to the states that follow it, leaving others in the dust as they wait for additional inventory to be made available, if it even can be. This will likely improve as automakers go all-in on EV manufacturing, but shorter-term situations may prove frustrating for buyers.

Finally, there's the matter of infrastructure. Tesla's massive Supercharger network aside, many companies are still rolling out EV charging infrastructure in both populated and unpopulated parts of the country. Anyone who has taken a road trip and needed DC charging may have run across a bank of new chargers that simply isn't working, or is putting out demonstrably lower charging rates than a car can handle. This, too, is improving in time, but shorter-term growing pains will still prove tricky for some buyers, especially those who don't own a home and cannot install a Level 2 charger near their parking spot.