California passes new auto emission rules

By Jason Dearen

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 27 2012 1:17 p.m. MST

SAN FRANCISCO — California air regulators passed sweeping auto emission standards Friday that include a mandate to have 1.4 million electric and hybrid vehicles on state roads by 2025.

The California Air Resources Board unanimously approved the new rules that require that one in seven of the new cars sold in the state in 2025 be an electric or other zero-emission vehicle.

The plan also mandates a 75 percent reduction in smog-forming pollutants by 2025, and a 34 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over roughly the same time.

California's auto emissions standards are influential and often more strict than federal ones. Currently 14 other states have adopted the California rules as their own.

Automakers worked with the board and federal regulators on the greenhouse gas mandates in an effort to create one national standard for those pollutants.

Companies including Ford Motor Corp., Chrysler Group LLC, General Motors Co., Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. and others submitted testimony Thursday in support of the new standards during a meeting of the board.

Industry groups representing auto dealers worried that the new regulations would increase the costs of vehicles for consumers and stifle the industry's growth.

The California New Car Dealers Association and other industry groups representing those who sell cars said the board is overestimating consumer demand for electric vehicles and other so-called "zero-emission vehicles."

Some dealer groups have estimated that $3,200 would be added to the average cost of a car because of the technological changes, and that consumers have been slow to adopt them.

Jonathan Morrison, of the state dealers' association, said car retailers are supportive of new technologies that are accepted by their customers but the acceptance of electric and other vehicles has been slow.

"Consumers do not make purchasing decisions based upon regulatory mandates," he said.

The board's research staff disputes those estimates and says increases in hybrid and other sales continue to rise as more cars hit the market. They argue that fuel cost savings will make up for any vehicle price increase.

"Our research shows a $1,400 to $1,900 car price increase. But over the life of the vehicles, the owners save $6,000 in reduced fuel and maintenance costs," board spokesman David Clegern said.

One of the nation's foremost consumer groups, the Consumers' Union, the policy and advocacy division of Consumer Reports, supported the changes.

The rules will "protect consumers by encouraging the development of cleaner, more efficient cars that save families money, help reduce the American economy's vulnerability to oil price shocks and reduce harmful air pollution," according to a letter from the group.

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