Zero-Emission Vehicle Mandates Accelerate EVs

Nicole Larson
September 3, 2019

The zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate, a policy in place in 13 U.S. states, has changed the electric vehicle (EV) market nationwide.

ZEV mandates are a technology-forcing policy, encouraging automakers to produce cars with longer ranges, as vehicles sold with longer electric ranges earn more credits toward satisfying the mandate. [1]

ZEV mandates require automakers to produce and sell a certain number of plug-in hybrids, fully electric vehicles, or fuel-cell electric vehicles to fulfill a quota based on a percentage of total sales in states with the mandate.

This mandate forces automakers to produce EVs regardless of demand, even if they are not yet economically profitable, and requires dealers to sell the vehicles. If they cannot meet the quota, automakers must pay a fine or buy credits from another company that has produced and sold more than their quota of ZEVs. [2]

It may be advantageous for automakers to produce fewer EVs with longer ranges to sell, because consumers generally prefer longer ranges and focusing on selling these cars will fulfill the automakers’ requirement more quickly. Because they are technology-forcing, ZEV mandates have accelerated improvements in batteries and EVs in general. [3]

These policies also increase consumer choice, as dealerships and automakers usually offer more as dealerships and automakers usually offer more model options to meet their ZEV requirements.

According to Daniel Sperling, author of Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future, “Analysts have observed that the EV market in the United States is pushed more by California’s ZEV mandate than by federal regulations. Indeed, the ZEV mandate has continued to play a central role in the transition to EVs.” [4] Without ZEV regulations, automakers would not produce the number and variety of EVs that are currently available. [5]

The states that have states that have ZEV mandates include: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Colorado adopted its ZEV mandate in August 2019, and Minnesota and New Mexico adopted their regulations in September. All three states recently adopting California's ZEV mandate cited President Trump's efforts to roll back California's ability to set its own auto emissions standards as their reasoning for adopting the rule. [6]

The 13 states that have adopted ZEV mandates make up more than one-third of total new third of total new car sales in the United States and have encouraged automakers to continue to develop new EV makes and models.

Without the ZEV regulatory requirement, automakers would not produce the number of EVs that are currently available, in part because car companies do not believe there is enough demand for these vehicles. [7] In order to expand consumer choice of electric vehicles and more rapidly electrify transportation, the Washington state legislature should join 13 other states and adopt a ZEV mandate as well.

ZEV mandates are effective policies, forcing improvements in technology, increasing consumer choice, and accelerating the number of EVs seen on roads in these states.

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[1] Elise Keddie,Manager of Zero Emissions Vehicle Implementation Section at California Air Resources Board, Interview, December 26, 2018.

[2] Angela Konert, Vice President of Government and External Affairs California at BMW North America, Interview, November 20, 2018.

[3] Angela Konert, Vice President of Government and External Affairs California at BMW North America, Interview, November 20, 2018.

[4] Daniel Sperling, Three Revolutions: Steering Automated, Shared, and Electric Vehicles to a Better Future, Washington, D.C.: Island Press, 2018, p. 38.

[5] Elise Keddie,Manager of Zero Emissions Vehicle Implementation Section at California Air Resources Board, Interview, December 26, 2018.

[6] Jameson Dow, "While EPA expands fight against clean air, Minnesota and New Mexico adopt CA rules," in Electrek, September 26, 2019.

[7] Elise Keddie,Manager of Zero Emissions Vehicle Implementation Section at California Air Resources Board, Interview, December 26, 2018.


This blog is part of a seven-part series on electric vehicles:

Nicole Larson

Research Assistant
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