Plug-in mania has an influential new fan: the California Air Resources Board, which looks set to elevate plug-ins several notches in its zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate.
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 unleashed intense lobbying this winter among battery EV start-ups, major automakers, hydrogen fuel-cell developers, and coalitions promoting plug-in hybrids when it promised to tweak the level of credits earned by various technologies. From the Air Resources Board staff proposal released late last week, plug-ins appear to be the big winners.
Presently the ZEV credit ratios favor fuel cells and offer relatively little help for plug-ins. The staff proposal would change this by enabling manufacturers to meet most of their ZEV requirements through 2014 with plug-in hybrids and hydrogen combustion vehicles. While not pure ZEVs like battery EVs and fuel cell vehicles, the California regulators bet that manufacture of plug-ins will yield components and infrastructure that will hasten the day when the pure EVs go mainstream.
"The goal continues to be to accelerate the development of pure ZEVs," says Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling, director of the University of California, Davis, Institute of Transportation Studies. Sperling says promoting plug-in hybrids is the "only realistic way" to push car makers forward in light of the continued high cost of batteries and fuel cells.
Sperling and his fellow Air Resources Board members will take up the staff proposal after a public hearing in Sacramento scheduled for March 27-28.
Meanwhile, Arizona regulators seem to be feeling considerably more bullish about the viability of pure electrics. The Arizona Republic reports that Airzona's Department of Environmental Quality has drafted rules mandating that 11 percent of all cars sold in the state must be ZEVs from the 2011 model year. In 2018 the mandate would jump to 16 percent.