California “Requires” Trucks Clean Up Their Act — But The Rule Is Late & Weak

June 27th, 2020 by  

California thinks it’s strutting its stuff again and showing off its green leadership. Yesterday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) proudly proclaimed that it was the first in the world to adopt a requirement that truck manufacturers switch from producing diesel trucks to producing zero-emissions trucks.

First of all, I think there is no denying that a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate like this for cars was true leadership that helped kickstart the transition to electric vehicles. When California pushed its ZEV mandate out the door, there was no Nissan LEAF, there was no Tesla Model S, there wasn’t even a Tesla Roadster! California genuinely helped stimulate the market. This new policy, while better than nothing, is a little late and a little lame, in my opinion.

The requirement doesn’t begin until 2024. That gives the truck manufacturers 4 years to start. I know I’m not the only one who thinks the Tesla Semi will tell them they better electrify their trucks ASAP long before 2024.

Every new truck doesn’t have to be electric until 2045. I repeat: 2045. That’s in 25 years! My daughter who isn’t even in kindergarten yet will be out of college and possibly grad school! I will be approaching retirement! (If that’s still a thing, and if the US hasn’t imploded by then.) I’m sorry, but 2045 isn’t an ambitious, leading requirement. It’s bunk.

My best impression is this: Some people in political leadership wanted to do something. They got too much pushback. Everyone was fine with a ridiculous 2045 mandate. Naturally, there’s a decent chance everyone who worked on this rule will be dead by then.

Counter to my concerns, the press release about this boasts about one of the grandest victories you can imagine. “This bold and timely move sets a clean-truck standard for the nation and the world, and marks the Newsom administration’s most important air pollution regulation to date. It zeroes in on air pollution in the state’s most disadvantaged and polluted communities.”

It also expounds on the part about social equity, which I appreciate: “Many California neighborhoods, especially Black and Brown, low-income and vulnerable communities, live, work, play and attend schools adjacent to the ports, railyards, distribution centers, and freight corridors and experience the heaviest truck traffic. This new rule directly addresses disproportionate risks and health and pollution burdens affecting these communities and puts California on the path for an all zero-emission short-haul drayage fleet in ports and railyards by 2035, and zero-emission ‘last-mile’ delivery trucks and vans by 2040.”

That’s all great in theory. The problem is the timeline. This doesn’t tell truck makers anything they shouldn’t know already. And if they don’t already know they need to transition to electric powertrains, they’re too slow to be competing in the private market anyway and they would be primed for collapse. This is like the Lyft target I had a bit of a fuss about two days ago. It creates a headline. It encourages some more people to wake up. In effect, though, the requirement is as good as a requirement that people go to the beach when it’s hot and have snowball fights in the winter in snowy regions.

The sad thing is that they were well aware of the harm of medium- and heavy-duty truck pollution. “Trucks are the largest single source of air pollution from vehicles, responsible for 70 percent of the smog-causing pollution and 80 percent of carcinogenic diesel soot even though they number only 2 million among the 30 million registered vehicles in the state,” they write. “Statewide, the Advanced Clean Truck regulation will lower related premature deaths by 1,000.” Yes, theoretically — if the market wasn’t going to shift in that direction anyway.

In any case, there’s more information in the press release, including a picture of a hydrogen truck (I won’t even get started on that), and on the Advanced Clean Trucks webpage.

If you think I’m being too harsh here, I also welcome your critique of my critique. Perhaps I am too ambitious about where I think the market will be naturally by 2024, 2030, and 2040. (I don’t think so.) Perhaps, even if the market will be there, this rule makes truck manufacturers wake up now that are still sleeping, smoothening out the transition and perhaps accelerating it a bit. (I’ll consider that one a possibility.) However, I think both the results on the auto market and on the stock market show that people have realized Tesla is no joke. People have realized battery technology and electric vehicle technology have matured and continue to mature every day, to the point that electric vehicles are already far beyond competitive when designed and manufactured by a competent company eager for the technological revolution, and they will get dramatically more competitive in the next 3–5 years. I think you have to be blind to reality if you look at the past 10 years and then look at the coming 10 years and don’t notice the Tesla Semi and the electric trucks of any companies that try to compete with it are ready to be the big dogs running the show. What truck company CEO in his or her right mind is expecting to sell diesel trucks in 2030, let alone 2040?

Check out more news on electric trucks, or on the Tesla Semi in particular.

All photos by Kyle Field/CleanTechnica

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao.

Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA] — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in this company and feels like it is a good cleantech company to invest in. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort on Tesla or any other company.

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