Stunning Multi-State Zero Emission Vehicle Program Will Alter Car Landscape 1

ZEV planLast week, the ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) Program Implementation Task Force published its Multi-State ZEV Action Plan; a “roadmap” to put at least 3.3 million ZEVs on the combined roadways of member states by 2025. The task force is the result of an October 24, 2013 Memorandum of Understanding agreed to by the eight states of California, Oregon, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont (collectively known as the MOU states). New Jersey and Maine are also mentioned as cooperatives in the plan. The task force and its eleven action plans leverage the controversial and now infamous work that California started in 1990 with its Zero Emission Vehicle mandate. The initiative undertaken by this stunning coalition (which represents 28% of the US car market) has far reaching implications for the automotive industry going forward.

Much can and will be written about these implications but, at the moment, wants to take a look back and examine this new collective initiative against the lessons learned from California’s ZEV mandate as detailed in a September 2007 report by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC). The PPIC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank dedicated to informing and improving the state’s public policy. The 20 page report titled “Learning from California’s Zero-Emission Vehicle Program” provides a comprehensive history of the mandate up to that point and outlines four basic lessons to be gained from that history. The four lessons are essentially; 1) state actions to reduce greenhouse gases can provide strong demand signals but need to balance the consistency of those signals with awareness of feasibility and cost-effectiveness, 2) maintain technology neutrality in doing so, 3) maintain performance standards and environmental goals, and 4) consider full-life cycle (or well to wheel) emissions in policy and measurements.

Just the fact that the states coalesced on ZEV initiatives sends a strong demand signal to the car industry, never mind what’s in the plan itself. However, in reading the 32 page action plan from the task force, it is obvious that the coalition has thrown its weight behind electric (EVs) and plug-in hybrid electric (PHEVs) vehicles with modest attention also given to fuel cell technology (FCEVs). The main performance goal is the sales target of 3.3 million cars by 2025. It’s possible that an overall emissions reduction target can be deduced from that figure. Also, discussion is severely lacking in the plan with regard to upstream emissions and utility (think power plant) requirements to support this goal. But our focus for this article is on the issue of technology neutrality.

The eleven actions are aimed primarily at accelerating the market growth of ZEVs (note the terms ZEVs and EVs are often interchanged within the plan) through awareness programs, incentive offerings, infrastructure development, fleet conversion programs, and public policy. Four of the eleven actions deal exclusively with EVs while the remaining seven are heavily weighted toward EV issues with “oh by the way” references to hydrogen fuel cell initiatives. Clearly, the coalition has not fully adopted the second lesson outlined in the PPIC report especially when you consider the coalition has continued with a sales mandate as was established in California’s ZEV program.

California’s original ZEV program was in reality about electric cars as they were the only ZEV technology readily available at the time (if you restrict the discussion to tailpipe emissions). When sufficient technology development of electric cars proved too slow to meet the goal though, exceptions were created to partially count hybrid vehicles and Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) cars that had reduced emissions (one might recall Ultra and Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicles). Ultimately, these exceptions proved to be the difference maker in California achieving results. But they also proved to further slow down development of ZEV technologies. So how important is it to maintain technology neutrality in the new action plans of this coalition? After all, it’s been seven years since the lessons learned were analyzed. Surely, ZEVs have advanced to the point winners and losers can be chosen. To some extent, this may be true. Tesla and Nissan have both “energized” the EV industry with additional viable EV players arriving seemingly each month. They’re success thus far has initiated a big push to develop the infrastructure to support them. Winners within the fuel cell sector, however, are not as clear but one can’t ignore the ZEV possibility of hydrogen fuel cell technology if various hindrances can be sorted. It’s hard to fault the coalition for not maintaining neutrality in light of this but it does seem to underscore the urgency with which these states feel that need to tackle the issue. Interestingly, it also mirrors the Department of Energy 2014-2018 Strategic Plan in its treatment of ZEV initiatives.

Look for further insights on this game-changing initiative on in other blogs to come. Check out the following for more information:

Multi-State ZEV Action Plan

2007 PPIC California ZEV Mandate Lessons Report


About Steve Yakshe

As President and CEO of a mid-sized technology company engaged in instrumentation to monitor the world’s water resources, I developed a passion for protecting and enhancing the environment we all share. Following the sale of that company, I’ve combined this with my passion for cars to research and promote the Next Generation Car that will transport us cleanly and without detriment to our world’s ecosystem.

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