NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

A Zero-Emissions Mandate That Makes The Air Dirtier

August 24, 2001

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) mandated that beginning with the 2003 model year, zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) should comprise 10 percent of all new car sales. At the time of CARB's decision, it was widely expected that ZEVs would run on battery power, although other possible zero-emissions systems have not yet been explicitly ruled out.

Mandating the sale of ZEVs to improve the state's air quality looks like a clear victory for the environment. A closer look, however, reveals a dirty little secret, say experts: ZEVs will make the air in California dirtier rather than cleaner for the foreseeable future.

Keeping in mind that an electric vehicle still costs $20,000 more to build than a comparable gasoline-powered car:

  • If the cost of producing electric cars, as estimated by CARB, is spread across the entire new car sales base in California, previous experience with consumer response to higher new car prices suggests that total new car purchases will fall 2 percent to 3 percent, with an offsetting increase in the retention of older cars.
  • While the consumer response is small in terms of numbers of vehicles, the emissions impacts will be substantial because old cars have much higher emission rates than new ones.
  • Researchers estimate that emissions from the additional older cars in 2010 will be 3 to 15 times CARB's estimated emissions reduction from the new-car fleet.

Thus Californians can look forward to paying $500 million more each year for their new cars and getting dirtier air in the bargain.

Source: Howard Gruenspecht, "Zero-Emission Vehicles: A Dirty Little Secret," Resources, Winter 2001, Issue 142, Resources for the Future, 1616 P Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20036, (202) 328-5000.


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