David Sperling UC Davis (from FB cover page)

CARB Member’s, Tesla’s Comments, Highlight Rift Over How Best To Clean California’s Air

Posted by

David Sperling UC Davis (from FB cover page)

One California Air Resources Board Member speaks truth to power.  Tesla doesn’t like it.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) creates the rules that will define the makeup of our automotive fleet and your vehicle choices in the future.  The group has crafted mandates that spell out the winners and losers in terms of green-car technology.  Other key states are following CARBs guidelines.

Winners = Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles and Battery Electric cars.

Losers = Hybrids.

There is only one problem.  So far, hybrids have reduced the gasoline consumed, and emissions and pollutants generated by cars, far more than electric vehicles have.  The reason this is so is that 50 MPG vehicles like the Prius, and 80-100 MPGe vehicles like the Prius Plug-in and BMW i3 REx, far outsell purely electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S.   Buyers of green vehicles much prefer the value, range, and ease of use that the hybrids, plug-in hybrids and extended-range EVs like the i3 REx offer.  Hybrids and plug-ins outsell purely electric cars by about ten to one in the U.S and EVs are losing market share, not gaining.  This drives battery electric fanatics crazy and prompts Tesla to send managers to CARB meetings to lobby for other automaker’s technology to be restricted.

CARB mandates

One CARB board member, University of California-Davis professor Daniel Sperling, had the guts this month to tell the full board that battery electrics and other previously favored technologies may not be the best way to meet the original goal, which was to make the air “cleaner.”  Sperling isn’t some crazed internal combustion advocate that happened to land on the CARB board.  He is a former Peace Corps worker, and Heinze and Blue Planet Awards winner. He holds a Ph.D. in transport engineering, and on his way to the Ph.D., he grabbed minors in economics, energy and resources.  Oh, and a B.S. in environmental engineering.

Automotive News reported that Sperling said at a recent CARB meeting “The goal should be to strengthen the ZEV program,” he added. “I agree that we can get more vehicles out there, but they might not be the vehicles we thought they would be a few years ago.”  This was said in the context of a meeting where small automakers like Subaru and Mazda asked for help.  They wanted to explore a way they could contribute to CARB’s goals without building electric cars, which are barely selling.  The smaller automakers want to use more popular and affordable to develop plug-in hybrids and other technologies to be part of the original goal of making the air “cleaner.”

Herein lies the problem.  The original goals have been hijacked.  Whether official or not, the new “real goal” some would say, is not to clean the air, but to stop using gasoline.  Some may consider that one in the same, but others do not.  The battery electric folks are not at all happy with the hydrogen fuel cell ideas and they also see 50 MPG cars like the Prius as a problem, not a solution.  Others have a vested interest in only their technology being allowed.  They want CARB to ignore the huge savings other technologies offer in terms of emissions and gasoline reduction.

Tesla and CARB

Take Ken Morgan, director of business development and government affairs at Tesla.  Ken’s job is to lobby government and ask that only Tesla’s type of cars be allowed.  At the recent CARB meeting, Mr. Morgan pointed out that there is an “oversupply of ZEV credits” on the market.  ZEV credits are sold by automakers who make EVs, like Tesla, to other automakers who need them to meet mandates.  Tesla wants this to continue having sold $51 million of credits last quarter.  Without the ZEV credits, Tesla is not profitable.  If automakers were able to meet the goal, cleaner air, without having to buy credits Tesla might not be viable.  Morgan argued that the smaller U.S. automakers should not be allowed to escape having to build EVs because  “they have billions of dollars in operating profit and cash on hand.” In other words, they can just pay Tesla, or build their own luxury electric vehicles with all that cash they have lying around.

The CARB meeting resulted in the smaller automakers getting the right to sell plug-in hybrids and extended-range EVs to earn some credit towards the ZEV mandates.  However, what we found most interesting about this meeting is that a board member reminded CARB that the real goal was “cleaner” air, not more EVs, and that Tesla was reminded that a market created entirely by government fiat, can also be taken away entirely by government fiat.

Image Credits:  Top image courtesy of UC Davis’ (ITS-Davis) public FB page cover photo 2012.  Prius Plug-in courtesy Toyota Media.  Tesla Model S courtesy of Tesla ordering page.