Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced an executive order that could have a huge impact on not only California’s air quality, but for global carbon emissions, oil demand, the kinds of cars we drive both on and off-road. By 2035, according to the order, passenger cars and trucks must reach the target of zero emissions to be sold in the state of California. Heavy trucks get an extra decade to hit the same requirement. Newsom’s order also states that there must be “100 percent zero-emission from off-road vehicles and equipment operations in the State by 2035.”
15 years from now, any new car, pickup truck, SUV, CUV, wagon, or van, whether 2WD or 4WD, purchased in California will not have an internal combustion engine. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will have to be electric—auto brands are still toying with making hydrogen fuel cell cars a thing—but it likely means electric.
Because the California market is so big, however, this will have ramifications for the entire auto market. California has for decades set stricter standards for emissions controls in cars and trucks. Technically, the Clean Air Act, passed in 1963, gave the federal government the authority to set emissions standards, but since California had already been policing emissions by then, the state gets to set stricter emissions controls. 13 states follow California’s more stringent requirements, and together those states make up about one-third of the automobile market in the U.S. If some, or all of those states follow this new 2035 rule too, automakers will be forced to even further enlarge the fleet of emissions-free cars just to satisfy demand, making them more widely available in all 50 states.
Even if California goes it alone, the state’s drivers already consume a mind-boggling one percent of all oil pumped from the earth each year, and only Texas burns more gasoline.
“For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe,” Newsom said in announcing the executive order. “You deserve to have a car that doesn’t give your kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse — and create more days filled with smoky air.”
“This is the next big global industry and California wants to dominate it,” he said.
Currently about 10% of all cars sold in California are electric or otherwise zero emission vehicles. The new rule would allow the sale of used gas-powered cars, and allow anyone who already owns one to continue driving it past 2035.
Automakers will be forced to ramp up production of electric vehicles to meet California’s requirements. Which could mean EV versions of your favorite off-road capable vehicle, even if brands weren’t planning to electrify those models by then. Toyota Tacomas and Subaru Outbacks dominate driveways in mountain towns and outdoorsy areas across California, for example, so it’s easy to imagine EV offerings of those venerable models filling the parking lots of ski resorts in the late 2030s.
This announcement may also be a boost to EV brands like Rivian, poised to release their off-road capable truck and SUV next year, as well as GMC, also planning to release an electric Hummer truck soon.
It also has the potential to create a massive seller’s market for gas-powered cars and trucks heading into 2035, whether new or used as EV-averse people clamor to snatch up the last of the fossil fueled, well, dinosaurs.