Regulating California’s Auto Industry into the Electric Chair

Californians, especially Southern Californians, love their cars, from a big Jeep a la Katy Perry’s “California Gurls” to a slick Mercedes Benz. With such a large number of auto consumers, it seems safe to say that a Californian will know what sort and what priced car is best for him. Yet the California Air Resources Board is working on a new proposal to be unveiled this September that will exhort Californians to buy electric cars. A regulatory agency with unelected members is picking which products are winners and which are losers in the state’s legendary and diverse auto marketplace.

The California Air Resource Board, or CARB, is proposing an update to the existing Zero Emissions Vehicles, or ZEV, program with new fines for automakers if they do not sell enough electric cars, pushing an ultra green agenda on the Golden State’s consumers. In addition to the current $7,500 rebate on models such as GM’s Chevy Volt, the new regulatory proposal will mandate that a certain percentage of all new cars produced and sold in California must be zero emissions vehicles, or ZEVs, according to Elise Keddie, the Air Resources Board Implementation Manager. Automakers failing to meet this quota will be fined up to $5,000 for each vehicle they failed to produce and sell. California, too, relies on coal-fired electricity but because it cannot produce enough coal to satisfy its electricity needs, it imports a great deal of ‘dirty’ electricity from neighboring states. Thus, although the intent behind the bill is to increase the use of zero carbon emissions vehicles in California, instead it may simply be exporting the very emissions it seeks to avoid to its neighbors.

Not all electric cars are created equal, ergo quotas are met using a credit system, Keddi stated. The miles per gallon of the vehicle determine how much credit it is worth. Cars like the Chevy Volt and next year’s Toyota Plug-In Prius have engines and do not qualify as full ZEVs and thus are worth less than one credit. Vehicles that are true ZEVs, like the Nissan Leaf, would yield a couple of credits, while a fuel cell vehicle is considered even greener than the Nissan Leaf and would earn several credits. A yet to be determined percentage of an automakers fleet must be produced and sold as electric cars. He must sell enough electric cars, whether they are ZEVs or TZEVS (transitional zero emissions vehicles) to fulfill the credit quota imposed by CARB’s new regulatory proposal, or face a $5,000 fine per vehicle he failed to produce and sell.

The percentage of an auto manufacturer’s fleet that must be produced and sold as electric cars, Keddi noted, has yet to be determined. The Wall Street Journal, based off a November presentation by CARB staff in 2010, speculated that 5.5% of an automaker’s fleet would have to be sold as electric cars. The newspaper’s speculation was based off a Likely Compliance Scenario figure, found in the CARB’s staff presentation. Keddi has stated that 5.5% was not a concrete, mandatory requirement, and that the actual percentage of cars that must be sold as electric is still under consideration. But theoretically, CARB staff has determined that it would be possible for automakers to produce and sell 5.5% of their fleet as electric, so the actual percentage could be around that. Keddi refused to indicate if the percentage requirement would be more, less, or the same as the WSJ’s speculative 5.5%.

The new proposal enables the state’s government to force a good onto consumers who may not want it, violating free market principles. The government is picking a winner, the electric car, and creating losers, any non-electric car. Consumers’ wants should dictate the market because they know what they need, want, and can afford. There is a reason electric cars are not flying off sales lots: Californian auto-consumers do not want them. They do not fit consumers’ needs, wants, and budgets.

With this legislation, the government is squeezing out competition, and not allowing electric cars to develop into better products. What is worse, the government is essentially either coercing people to buy cars they do not want, or forcing consumers to spend more on a car they do want, because auto makers, as other business who seek to stay afloat, will pass along as much of the increased coasts as possible to their customers.

If Californians do not want to buy electric cars, do not compel them to, let alone punish them for not buying electric. Current electric cars such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf sold merely 4,000 units in the first six months they were produced, while the Ford Edsel – a joke of a car – sold 68,000 units in the first year it was released. This legislation is still in the hearing stage, where CARB staff proposes the regulation update to the CARB board in public meetings. The next one is scheduled for September. This flexing of regulatory muscle indicates that Big Brother government does not know or care what is best for California consumers. The regulation very well may increase energy prices while simultaneously trampling Californian’s economic liberties.