California ZEV rule changes could penalize Tesla

California is thinking about tinkering with its ZEV credits system — a program that puts millions of dollars into Tesla’s pocket every year. The target is to have 15.4% of all cars sold in California be zero emissions by 2025.  In essence, there are so many credits available today that some companies can satisfy CARB’s requirements with only 6% of their sales being zero emissions. CARB isn’t happy with that.

Dan Sperling is a professor of civil engineering and environmental science at the University of California at Davis. He is also a member of the Air Resources Board.  To bring those figures back in line, the state may increase its ZEV requirement, Sperling says. “If anything, the inclination here is to make the mandate tougher,’’ he said.

That idea has made several manufacturers unhappy. “It’s a feature of the regulation that you’re required to produce fewer cars if you invest more in technology,” said Robert Bienenfeld, assistant vice president for U.S. environmental strategy at Honda. “It’s bizarre to say we need to make the regulation more stringent because it’s working.”

It could also be seen as a “Tesla subsidy program.’’ To avoid that result, the Board might also cap the number of credits any manufacturer can sell. That notion makes Diarmuid O’Connell, Tesla’s vice president for business development livid. He calls it “an extremely stupid idea. You’d be punishing people who are doing the most to put EVs on the road.” Tesla sold $168.7 million in ZEV and other regulatory credits in 2015.

CARB’s review of its standards comes at the request of the car companies. “The industry asked for the midterm so we can lower the standard if necessary,’’ said ARB Chairman Mary Nichols, referring to the federal fuel economy and greenhouse gas rules. “We said ‘Fine, as long as there is also the possibility it can go higher.’” CARB will decide whether to amend its rules by the end of this year.

Nichols said she wants an all-ZEV fleet as soon as possible. Some analysts say changing the rules now might spark a backlash. “If automakers are hitting the targets and complying with the law, it’s politically untenable for the ARB to change the measuring stick,” said Eric Noble, president of CarLab, an automotive consulting firm.

Tesla is a special challenge for CARB because it makes nothing but zero emissions cars. The board must be careful to craft rules that promote its goal of boosting the number of electric cars in California without penalizing those who are working the hardest to live by the current rules. We won’t know for almost 6 months how CARB plans to adjust its ZEV program.

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