California’s Gas Car Ban Is Going to Make Electric Cars Better

It's about a brighter future for electric cars, too.
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California is set to require electric vehicles (EVs) to be an ever-increasing share of the state’s new car market starting in 2026, rising to the point where they must account for virtually all new cars sold in the state beginning in 2035. It will be a major step in the state’s—and by ripple effect, the country’s—transition to EVs. 

But it is not a total and complete ban on cars powered by gasoline, as the new regulations are being widely reported. Automakers will still be able to sell a small number of plug-in EVs that run on gas engines once the battery is depleted. However, the focus on gas cars misses the bigger picture about the new regulations, called Advanced Clean Cars II, a comprehensive suite of new rules intended to spur a mature and viable EV market. 

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The new rules are aimed at improving the range, durability, efficiency, charging, data standardization and repairability, and battery labeling of EVs. Automakers are also incentivized to offer discounted EVs to community carsharing programs, increase the number of used EVs at dealerships, and offer EVs for less than $21,000 suggested retail price.

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The vote to approve the new regulations—which will be taken by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on Thursday and then will require a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to fully enact—ends an almost two-year process to institute new, stricter emissions standards for the state’s vehicles and a regulatory framework around future EVs. The move both signals the coming end of the gasoline era in a state that owes so much of its history to the gasoline-powered automobile, but will also likely have a ripple effect in other states that have historically followed CARB’s lead. The hope is it will spur further EV investment and development from auto companies as the long-term future of the technology is legally mandated.

Starting in 2026, California will require 35 percent of new vehicles to be either partially or fully electric. Plug-in hybrids like the Prius Prime—where a battery provides a few dozen miles of electric-only range before a gas engine takes over—will count the same as a fully EV if it provides 70 miles or more of electric-only range and complies with the other regulations for EVs. If the range is less than that, it counts as a “partial vehicle” based on a formula you can read about here if you’re interested in such things. The “Zero Emissions Vehicle” requirement increases year by year until it is 100 percent in 2035, by which point all cars will have to be either PHEVs that hit the range requirement or full EVs. 

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Source: CARB

Arguably, the more impactful regulations involve the EVs themselves. A number of regulations for charging cords and standards, battery labeling, minimum warranties for batteries and drivetrains, repairability, and other practical but less sexy issues will go a long way to maturing not only the new car market, but the used one too. For example, as Motherboard has previously reported, buying a used EV can be very challenging because there is no reliable way for prospective buyers to know the health of the car’s battery, the single most important consideration in buying a used EV. The new CARB rules will require not only a way for prospective buyers to see the battery’s health, but also if (and when) the health meter was reset.

While much of the focus has been on how the new rules outline a path towards no more gas-only cars, the bigger picture is even brighter, a road to better electric ones.