California poised to ban the sale of new gasoline-powered cars

All new cars sold in the state could be zero-emissions vehicles by 2035.

Drives in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and all over the state of California could be buying all electric vehicles by 2035. Deposit Photos

The California Air Resources Board is expected to vote today on strict a strict set of rules that will ban the sale of new gasoline powered cars by 2035. In an interview with CNN, California Air Resources Board member Daniel Sperling said he was “99.9 percent” positive that the measure will pass. The new rule will require that in 13 years, 100 percent of new car sales sold in the state will be “zero-emissions” vehicles, or vehicles that do not produce exhaust or pollutants (primarily greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide) from their onboard source of power. If it passes, California will be the first state in the United States to pass such a rule.

Quotas will likely be used to phase in the ban. Starting with 2026 models, 35 percent of new cars, SUVs, and small pick-up trucks sold in the state would be required to be zero-emission vehicles. This quota would annually increase and is expected to reach 51 percent of all new car sales in 2028 and 68 percent in 2030. The quotas also would allow 20 percent of zero-emission cars sold to be plug-in hybrids, which utilize electricity and gasoline. The state also plans to boost its current consumer incentives and expand charging stations.

Twelve percent of cars sold in California in 2021 were plug-in electric vehicles. According to the Office of Governor Gavin Newsom, the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of the state’s carbon pollution, 80 percent of smog-forming pollution, and 95 percent of toxic diesel emissions. Additionally, communities in the Los Angeles Basin and Central Valley are home to some of the dirtiest and most toxic air in the United States.

[Related: FedEx is charging up its electric vehicle fleet.]

“California has been a driver of innovation, including in the automobile pollution space, since the 1960s, and this new directive will continue that tradition,” says Stanford University environmental law professor Deborah Sivas in an email to Popular Science. “It is likely that a dozen or more other states will follow suit, as they are currently permitted to do under the Clean Air Act, potentially affecting more than one third of the new car market.”

The move builds on the executive order issued by Governor Gavin Newsom in 2020 that announced the phase out of gasoline powered cars to help fight climate changes. “This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” said Governor Newsom, in a 2020 press release. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse—and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

[Related: GM wants its cars to be fully electric by 2035. Here’s what that could mean for auto emissions.]

In February, the Biden administration reinstated California’s ability to set limits on car emissions to fight climate change, after they were rolled back by the Trump administration three years ago. Similarly, lawmakers in the European Union voted in June to support a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars beginning in 2035. The vote upholds a key part of the EU’s plans to cut net planet-warming emissions 55 percent from 1990 levels by 2030. This  target that requires faster reductions from  the industry, energy, and transportation sectors. The law is not yet final, and Germany has already rejected the proposed ban. According to reporting from Reuters, Germany’s Finance Minister Christian Linder said that a ban was the wrong step, as there would continue to be “niches” for combustion engines.

Meanwhile, Hainan island in the South China Sea has announced that it will become the first region in China to ban sales of gasoline– and diesel-powered cars, in an effort to curb carbon emissions. According to the province’s Carbon Peak Implementation Plan, sales of fossil fueled-powered cars and electric vehicles will be promoted with tax breaks and more charging stations by 2030.

In an email with The New York Times, president of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation John Bozzella, said that these new electric vehicle sale mandates would be “extremely challenging” to meet. He called on the state and federal government to do more to help car manufacturers meet the regulations. Some major automakers like Toyota have also recognized the state’s ability to set vehicle emissions standards.

“Even if California’s ambitious goal is not strictly met,” Sivas adds, “it has the near-term benefit of increasing regulatory certainty for the automobile and aligned industries that will drive the necessary transition to non-fossil fuel transportation. And that increasing certainty creates powerful incentives for innovation.”