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California ARB Moving Toward Modifications in ZEV Rule

The California Air Resources Board (ARB) held a public meeting Thursday and Friday to consider a status report on California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Program. Members of the Expert Review Panel commissioned by ARB to examine ZEV technologies presented a summary of their report (earlier post), and ARB staff made preliminary recommendations regarding the potential for modifying the ARB program.

Broadly speaking, the nature of the modifications—if any—will reflect an altered assessment of the varying prospects for three principal technologies: full battery-electric vehicles; hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles; and plug-in hybrids. More specifically, the major questions on the table are whether or not to maintain the program’s current weighting toward hydrogen fuel cell vehicles and whether or not to extend the timeline for fuel-cell implementation.

Due to the fact that California is an extremely important auto market, the ZEV program has significant implications for the industry.

Background. The ARB first introduced the ZEV requirement as part of a low-emissions vehicle regulation in 1990, the goal being to push automakers to commercialize zero-emissions vehicles beginning in model year 1998. Due to the long-term, technology-forcing nature of the ZEV regulation, the Board periodically re-examines the progress of the program, the basic goal being to get zero-emissions vehicles on the roads in volume. The Board has amended the program several times in the past, with the most recent—and most controversial—change being in 2003.

The original ZEV program required that 10% of new vehicle sales by large manufacturers have zero emissions. Manufacturers originally planned to meet the ZEV requirements with battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). In 1996, because of cost and performance issues, ARB eliminated the early (1998) requirements to allow additional time for battery research and development. The result was a set of agreements with automakers to put roughly 1,800 battery electric vehicles into California between 1998 and 2000.

In 1998 and 2001, the Board modified the program to allow up to 60% of the ZEV requirement to be met with vehicles having extremely low emissions and specific attributes. (See table below.)

Vehicles meeting these varied standards are called “partial zero emission vehicles” (PZEV) and “advanced technology partial zero emission vehicles” (AT PZEV). ARB put the three types of vehicles—ZEVs, AT PZEVs and PZEVs—into three color-coded categories: Gold, Silver and Bronze. In 2009 up to 85% of the ZEV requirements may be met with the PZEV and AT-PZEV vehicles. This is called the “Base Path”.

ZEV Program Requirements—2009 Model year Base Path
% of Total Vehicle SalesVehicle TypeCategoryTechnical Description
2.5% <1% Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) Gold Zero tailpipe emissions, battery electric vehicles and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles.
2.5% 5% Advanced Technology (AT PZEV) Silver Vehicles certified to PZEV standards and employing ZEV-enabling technologies; e.g., hybrids or natural gas vehicles.
6% 30% Partial Zero Emission Vehicle (PZEV) Bronze Conventional vehicles certified to the most stringent tailpipe emission standards, zero evaporative emissions, and extended warranty.
11% Total ZEV Requirement

Examples of a PZEV are the Ford Focus and BMW 325. An example of an AT PZEV is the Toyota Prius hybrid electric vehicle. Automakers are assigned credits in the ZEV program using a scale based on the type of vehicle sold. Credits can be banked and applied to future year compliance. Toyota and Ford, for example, have enough banked credits to carry them to 2010, according to ARB staff.

In 2003, the Board made its most recent amendments to the ZEV program, increasing the ZEV requirement to 16% in 2018. It also defined an alternative path for automaker compliance with the ZEV regulation that was solely designed to advance the commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles. (Table below.) Also, the credit system was adjusted so that one fuel cell vehicle garnered the same credits as 10 battery-electric vehicles.

Alternative Fuel-Cell Path for ZEV Compliance
PhaseModel YearsManufacturer’s Market Share of:
I 2005 to 2008 250 fuel-cell vehicles
II 2009 to 2011 2,500 fuel-cell vehicles
III 2012 to 2014 25,000 fuel-cell vehicles
IV 2015 to 2017 50,000 fuel-cell vehicles

However, fuel-cell vehicle development has not proceeded as expected. Indeed, the report from the Expert Panel highlighted the still outstanding issues that push the commercialization of fuel-cell vehicles further into the future. Achieving the alternative path compliance goals as defined appears to be out of the question given the current state of affairs.

The expert panel’s projections of achievement of global volumes. HEV = hybrid electric vehicle; PHEV = plug-in hybrid vehicle; FCEV = fuel cell electric vehicle; FPBEV = full performance battery electric vehicle; H2ICV = hydrogen internal combustion vehicle; CEV = city battery electric vehicle; NEV = neighborhood battery electric vehicle. Click to enlarge.

The Panel’s Findings. The Expert Panel spent much of 2006 gathering and assessing technical, cost, and market data pertaining to the different technologies, then developed an outlook regarding the prospects for successful commercialization of each. Very briefly, the Panel decided that:

  • While fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEVs) face significant challenges, the past rate of success and the massive application of resources to the problem makes FCEVs a promising candidate for a future mass market true ZEV. The Panel projected the beginning of mass commercialization for FCEVs in 2025—eight years later than currently conceived in the structure of the alternative path in the ZEV program. 

  • The Panel found that previous efforts to commercialize battery electric vehicles  were unsuccessful due to cost and lack of mass market customer acceptance. They also found that in other countries, a few manufacturers are now developing smaller vehicles using lithium-based batteries. The Panel concluded that in California, full-sized battery electric vehicles are still not likely to be a mass market technology in the foreseeable future due to the high cost of the batteries, and limited customer acceptance. This conclusion was the focus of the sharpest rebuttal provided by individual testimony during the public meeting.

  • The Panel was very bullish about plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, and determined that PHEVs are the most likely low-emission technology to most quickly reach large volume production.

  • The Panel found that most manufacturers are not very interested in the use of hydrogen internal combustion engines. Although implementation is far easier than for fuel-cell vehicles, issues regarding hydrogen storage and infrastructure are the same or worse than those facing fuel-cell vehicles.

  • The Panel found that AT PZEVs, particularly hybrids, help to develop pure ZEV technologies by accelerating the development and deployment of advanced ZEV technologies. In particular, key systems contained within the hybrid systems are directly comparable to key ZEV fuel-cell systems. These include efficient electric drive motors, high power electronics, and computer control systems which incorporate regenerative braking.

    Research and development work on hybrid batteries by manufacturers, battery suppliers, and material developers worldwide, continues to improve the key characteristics of batteries used in hybrid applications. The Panel concluded that this in turn will improve the batteries needed in future pure ZEV technologies, including fuel-cell vehicles and battery-electric vehicles.

  • Although neighborhood electric vehicles have had some commercial success, the Panel concluded that the mature market potential for the technology is relatively small due to limited applicability.

ARB Staff Recommendations. With the results from the Expert Panel, a symposium held last year and other inputs, ARB staff made a series of recommendations to the Board for some modifications to the ZEV program. Recommendations affecting fuel-cell, battery and plug-in hybrid vehicles include:

  • Arbzev2
    Click to enlarge.
    To extend the timeline and loosen the requirements for fuel-cell vehicles on the Alternative Path to allow further demonstrations for continued progress towards the fuel cell stack life and cost goals. The staff believes that the Phase II volumes (2,500 over the three years 2009 through 2011) are appropriate, however Phase III volume or timing is not achievable. (See chart at right.)
  • To treat BEVs and FCEVs more equally, for example, by offering equal credit before 2012. The ARB staff notes that by returning to technology neutrality and considering BEVs and fuel-cell vehicles similarly, the ARB might induce some manufacturers to choose to pursue battery-electric vehicle development instead of fuel-cell vehicle development. The outcome would be that overall ZEV production could be greater, with fewer fuel-cell vehicles produced.

  • While not recommending that PHEVs qualify for the ZEV Gold credits, the staff recommends an adjustment that would provide more incentives for PHEV production.

Public Testimony. At the public ARB Board meetings, anyone that would like can testify (for 3 minutes). For the ZEV meeting, testimony tended to fall into three categories that match the primary technologies under the regulatory microscope: fuel cells, PHEVs and BEVs.

Automakers spoke on the desirability of the modification of the fuel-cell Alternative Path. 

Proponents for plug-in hybrids encouraged the Board to take action to more aggressively support the commercialization of PHEV technology.

The key is to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good. Today we are in a slow Pearl Harbor with climate change. How can California catalyze worldwide change? Build version 1.0 plug-in hybrids.

—Felix Kramer, CalCars

The most vigorous public testimony came from proponents of full battery-electric vehicles. In addition to the dedicated EV drivers, EV manufacturers Tesla Motors and Phoenix Motorcars testified, both noting that the number of BEVs they are producing and selling will easily outnumber hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles. The argument is that if the Board’s goal is to maximize ZEV vehicles on the road, it should modify the ZEV rule to further encourage the development of EV technology and the recharging infrastructure. 

ARB, said Martin Eberhard, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors, is showing a bias toward hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles, against the more efficient and less expensive battery-electric vehicles.

Tesla believes this bias is not justified by science...however, we sarcastically and enthusiastically encourage you to keep your hydrogen bias and keep our competitors in the quagmire.

—Martin Eberhard

Battery maker Altair Nanotechnologies spoke forcefully on the potential of its lithium-ion battery technology, and AeroVironment testified that it has been testing and validating Altairnano and Phoenix Motorcar’s claim that the Altairnano battery can be recharged in less than 10 minutes without harm to the battery.

The demonstration is a major milestone for Altair Nano. AeroVironment is continuing to test at the module level to determine cycle life. (They charge for 10 minutes, and discharge in 2 hours. With 50 cycles run so far, the battery is still at 100% rated capability.)

Next steps. With the conclusion of the public meeting, the Board voted to broadly accept the staff’s recommendations. The intent is that the staff now formulate a formal proposal for changes to the ZEV rule, to be considered in the fall.

The Board specified two stipulations on accepting the recommendations: one, that there be no “backsliding” on the goals of the ZEV rule; and two, that the staff consider how to provide incentives for plug-ins that use a blended operating strategy as well as those that offer an all-electric strategy.




This sounds very encouraging. Hopefully they will come up with some simple scheme that gives some credit for hybrid as enabling and then progressively more credit as the battery only range is increased, with pure BEV just the natural end of the scale.

Fuel cells on equal footing.


About time for an update to reduce the FCEV bias. This will hopefully mean further incentive for Phoenix, Tesla and the like. Altair in particular said they would probably not be able to sell to Phoenix if the ZEV credits were reduced or taken away. This would be a great shame since they also stated that if volumes were ramped up prices could come down considerably.

George K

Let’s be honest. So far, we are nowhere on fuel cell vehicles, BEV’s and PHEV’s. I mean, $800,000 to produce one FCEV, or 500 BEV’s per year output, or 25 PHEV’s on the road today, is nowhere!

So how do we approach this problem. This is not unlike many business problems. In this case, we have 3 alternatives. Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles were thought to be the best solution, and have the most public support, but cost is still astronomical and results are decades away until we can approach the accepted standard of 250-300 miles without refueling. OK, lets put that one on the back burner.

Among our group, the second one seems to be everyone’s favorite (BEV’s). This would be a ZEV! But our engineers tell us that, while the technology is close, the cost is much too high in order to pass the 250-300 mile w/o recharging requirement.

Then there’s that third alternative. PHEV’s. The disadvantage here is that it is an AT PZEV, not a ZEV. However, hopefully, it is also a Super Ultra Low Emission Vehicle (SULEV), like the Toyota Prius. For this third alternative, some of our engineers tell us that they think the technology is ready, but they need more time to test. Others tell us that the technology is not yet ready for prime time, in this case, 10 years and 150,000 mile life. However, the cost would be much closer to appeal to the masses than the second alternative. Furthermore, this is the only technology which is committed to production by an OEM (On NPR, GM’s Bob Lutz predicted 2010 for there PHEV Volt).

So, where are we? FCEVs should be a distant third. A great solution, but there is a lot of work and cost ahead of us, no denying that. BEVs look great, but they are still too expensive and haven’t broken the 10 year, 150,000 mile life barrier. Then, too, if the technology is not quite ready for a 20 to 40 mile PHEV, than for sure, we can’t economically build a BEV with expected range of 200 to 300 miles.

I’m left with PHEVs as the nearest alternative. We get this ball rolling, and we’re no longer, well, nowhere. As the article pointed out, if mass produced, PHEVs will help plow the way for cheaper batteries, motors, chargers, etc., which will lead to earlier success of BEVs. BEVs will plow the way for FCEVs, if, indeed, they are required at all, by the time we get to them.


Two things here help put my mind at ease that the ARB doesn't have its collective head up their behinds:

The Panel found that previous efforts to commercialize battery electric vehicles were unsuccessful due to cost and lack of mass market customer acceptance. They also found that in other countries, a few manufacturers are now developing smaller vehicles using lithium-based batteries. The Panel concluded that in California, full-sized battery electric vehicles are still not likely to be a mass market technology in the foreseeable future due to the high cost of the batteries, and limited customer acceptance...


The key is to stop making the perfect the enemy of the good.

At this point BEVs are neither practical nor available for a reasonable cost. PHEVs are the logical step between them, since they have a modest EV range (long enough for commuting for many people) and an ICE genset for longer distances and refueling convenience for roadtrips.


Kind of ironic for California to be pushing EVs, since it has among the highest electricity rates in the nation after its failed attempt at electricity deregulation a few years ago. I pay over 25 cents per marginal kWh, two or three times what it is in many other regions. It's going to be tough to make EVs cost effective here unless the state forces electricity companies to charge less for EVs.


how much do you think that a replacement carbon fibre hydrogen
fuel tank is going to cost when the certification runs out five years
down the line?
I think the car manufacturers a counting on costs such as
these to keep them i shoe leather in the future!

Tony Belding

I have to question the assumption, taken by many, that PHEVs can be commercialized more quickly or more economically than BEVs. Some advocates seem resigned that the BEVs they really want are not yet practical, but that PHEVs are almost here and will be a transitional step leading to BEVs. It sounds logical at first blush, but when you look closer there is a lot of uncertainty.

A PHEV is much more demanding of battery cycle life than a BEV. This is why Tesla, for example, are forging ahead with production of BEVs while GM are holding out for improved battery technology to use in the Chevy Volt PHEV.

Large auto makers have outsourced most of their components, with the exception of the internal combustion engine. It is the one key component that they maintain almost cartel-like control over. Therefore, startup companies such as Tesla and Phoenix have a strong incentive to avoid using internal combustion engines in their vehicles. In addition, the design, engineering, testing and homologation should be much simpler for BEVs.

The only thing holding back BEVs right now is high cost of the battery pack. PHEVs, by their design, are almost as badly afflicted by the same disadvantage. If competitive mass production can bring down the cost of batteries, then PHEVs could take off -- but equally, BEVs could take off. I don't see one leading into the other, but rather I see them existing and growing side-by-side for a while . . . until battery technology improves to the point where PHEVs become mostly redundant, which could happen sooner than ARB imagines. Their chart shows full-performance BEVs reaching low-volume commercialization by 2015, which I think is overly pessimistic by about five years. They are projecting a 10-year span of time when PHEVs are fully commercialized in mass production but BEVs are still struggling. I don't see any way that can possibly happen.

Kit P

What CARB is discussing are various forms of elsewhere emission vehicles (EEV). CARB was lying when they stated, “However, fuel-cell vehicle development has not proceeded as expected.”

The FCEV has proceeded just as expected. Also as expected, BEV are MIA and PHEV are DOA. Calling me names will not help because it is not my job to improving California air quality.

Meanwhile California has a energy policy of burn LNG imported from our closest friends in the world. The CARB is clueless about where their energy comes from. One solution is already known to work in California. California has four large nuclear reactors that provide electricity 24/7/365 without contributing to air pollution.

People in California seem to have a for preference breathing air pollution rather than storing spent fuel in very robust shipping containers until Harry Reid dies of old age.


Was said "At this point BEVs are neither practical nor available for a reasonable cost."

Depends on what you mean by practical and available. I think of my electric motorcycle as both. Now in the dead of winter, you may have a point, but right now I am putting more miles on the EV than I am the Prius.

As far as cost goes, yes the factory built ones ( Tesla, Pheonix ) are hard to come by. On the other hand I built my EV for about 3500 dollars and on the web site there are about a thousand other people that have also built thier own EV.

If we wait for Ford and GM to solve the problem, we could all die of old age first.


CA government has surprised me by actually working hard on pollution and some other serious matters.

They could have just as well followed the usual course of politics. Put a hundred political friends on committees which meet once a year. Everyone is paid 110K+ and expenses. Award a dozen contracts for studies, advice, and reports. Stack results in a dark room. Repeat next year.

Anyway. This is good work and well worth studying. They are a less optimistic about fuel cells than the Japanese. But it is very hard to expect FCEVs in volume within a decade.

IMO. The best step to reducing emissions of every kind is to clean up power plant emissions. That mandates nuclear. Cheap and clean electricity displaces natural gas and any other fossil fuel.

The EVs and PHEVs as well as ICE improvements are well within our reach. US transportation emissions are probably as high as they will ever go.


"US transportation emissions are probably as high as they will ever go."

Now that's what I call optimism.


Nick: I think optimism is warranted. The posting EIA right here shows vehicle emissions have not been going up lately. But maybe I just feel good today.

There is no reason to expect an even hotter economy to boost diesel usage. I don't expect existing vehicles to get fewer mpg or get dirtier or be driven more. Or hybrid sales to fall. We keep getting more choices of vehicles with improved mileage.

And over time people do change their driving habits. It seems unlikely that fuel will get cheaper (even neglecting probable tax boosts.) People won't be eager to consume even more.

There are incremental improvements everywhere. Local utilities, governments, and delivery companies are shifting to electrics/hybrids. Cities are buying hybrid buses. Major companies such as Walmart are partnering with companies such as Eaton to improve their fleets.

Stan Peterson

Reality has permeated into the heads of the CARBite treue beleivers. Lawyers and earnest true believers, who never built a damn thing in their lives believed they could "pass a law mandating it", and technology would magically appear; and all on their presposterous schedules, meant to "keep their feet to the fire".

Surprise ! Surprise!!

The Auto industry did spend over a billion dollars pouring it down a rathole to produce the EV1 ridiculous failure, in response to the CARB demands, and egged on by the zanies saying "Don't believe the guys who actually make things. They are lying."

And yet not a single manufacturer including the worshipped foreign makers, could produce a compliant vehicle to the original ZEV mandate.

ZEV vehicles are not really pollution free, if GHGs are considered to be pollutants, as the latest fashion seems bent on doing. 100% of the emissions is a GHG, 16 times as effective as CO2 on an equal volume for volume basis. The villain? Simple plain old water. the stuff that covers 70% of the Globe to a depth of several miles.

The ZEV should be more accurately be re-named the 100% ALL Emission Vehicle or AEV.


Stan - "The Auto industry did spend over a billion dollars pouring it down a rathole to produce the EV1 ridiculous failure, in response to the CARB demands, and egged on by the zanies saying "Don't believe the guys who actually make things. They are lying.""

That would be the ridiculous failure that the owners adored, had a waiting list a mile long and had to be crushed, over the vehement protests of the lucky owners, to keep the secret that it was a practical and useful car that could easily replace half the vehicle fleet.


Stan - "if GHGs are considered to be pollutants, as the latest fashion seems bent on doing. 100% of the emissions is a GHG, 16 times as effective as CO2 on an equal volume for volume basis. The villain? Simple plain old water. the stuff that covers 70% of the Globe to a depth of several miles."

Also if you are going to push that particular line of greenhouse denial you should get your facts right. Climate scientists regard water vapour as a feedback rather than a forcing.

"While water vapour is indeed the most important greenhouse gas, the issue that makes it a feedback (rather than a forcing) is the relatively short residence time for water in the atmosphere (around 10 days)"

joe padula

A friend of mine has a RAV -4 electric with NiMH batteries built by Toyota. He has solar panels on the roof and it runs his house and the car. He actually gets paid by the electric company since he produces more than he uses. He charges at night normally and with time of use metering . His typical trip is under 30 miles. His car has a range of 120 miles.He has 100.000 miles on the car.
What is he emitting with his All Emission Vehicle? An electic car in the Pacific northwest with hydro grid power? Geothermal? A combined cycle gasturbine steam plant burning US natural gas?
When I lived in Texas, all of my electricity came from windmills bought from Green Mountain energy, what was I emitting with my electricity consumption?
GM and Ford spent 750 million on one transmission alone they worked on together. A billion is nothing to them.
I do not worship toyota. the are no good, but they are far better than the 3 Stooges and that is all they need to be considered wonderful.

Every day the Grid gets cleaner as the power plants clean up, add scrubbers, put alternative energy on line etc. If the plants pollute the CEM system sends an email to the EPA so they can get a fine.

Lets hold the IC cars to the same standard. Make people upgrade pollution controls like microsoft business model does. Fine you when your car gets out of tune by email. As it is now in CA you have 2 years between inspections and you could be out of specs for 23 months without detection.
They took the EV-1's( I drove one they crushed) and all the battery cars and said they would make FCV's. Now they are trying to get out of that and/or move the date back.

Grid electricity is made for 99% US energy, cars get over 50% from imported fuel. The countries we get it from are part of an illegal cartel called opec and /or want to do us harm.
Electric cars work. At least the ones designed in 1989 (EV-1) and 1995 RAV-4 EV do. A plug in hybrid with PZEV emisions and a 60 mile range on batteries can deliver us from Opec and our middle eastern Friends.
Save your sarcasm for the joe six pack types who do not know enough engineering to fill a bottle cap of Bud ( but think they do).


Finally, without the unfair CARB credit advantages for FCVs, automakers are going to have to take the EV and PHEV routes. Brilliant.


Since when are BEV's impractical? I commute 90-100 miles daily in a BEV, from an elevation of 800 feet to 6000 ft. (That's a mile difference, for those of you who don't like to do the math)

And speaking of math, that 1 billion dollar figure for the development of the EV-1? That sounds like it came straight from GM's press releases. Recall that just a few years before, they spent that much on a solar car, which nobody described as a failure.
And most of the research was done before the CARB mandate. In fact, the mandate was inspired by the capabilities of the EV-1.

And as for the EV-1 being a failure, just because they were only able to lease 400 a year? They only made 400 a year! They cleared every vehicle off of their lot! What would have happened if they actually tried to make more? Maybe they could have paid off that investment?

Anybody know how much the automakers have blown on fuel cell vehicles, without any of them reaching production?

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