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By 2035, you won't be able to buy a new gas-powered car in California

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Today California officials approved a plan to phase out the sale of new gasoline-powered cars by 2035. California is the largest auto market in the U.S. It could set the standard for other states to follow. Kevin Stark with member station KQED is here with details. Hey, Kevin.

KEVIN STARK, BYLINE: Hi. Thanks for having me.

KELLY: Glad to have you with us. How big of a deal is this move?

STARK: Oh, it's a huge deal. It's hard to overstate it. Only brand-new electric cars will be rolling off the lots in California in a little more than a decade. This could be the beginning of the end of the tailpipe. And obviously, this is a major action to fight climate change. The state estimates it will cut carbon emissions from cars and trucks in half by 2040. That's the equivalent of not burning more than 900 million barrels of oil.

KELLY: Wow.

STARK: And this will just take a whack at the state's largest source of emissions, which is transportation. California has really struggled to decarbonize that sector. State officials are arguing that this will move the auto market across the country. Here's Governor Gavin Newsom's climate adviser, Lauren Sanchez.

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LAUREN SANCHEZ: It's also a game changer for the states that follow California's regulations and the countless countries and automakers around the world that have adopted similar goals.

STARK: Look, California represents a 10th of the nation's car sales. That's a large piece of the pie. And more than a dozen other states already follow California's clean car rules. Many of those states will likely sign on to this. In fact, the state of Washington already announced that it will.

KELLY: All right. Let's dig into the weeds. How is California going to do this?

STARK: Yes. Well, we've known about the goalpost for about two years since Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive order banning the sale of gasoline-powered cars. For the past couple of years, air regulators have been hashing out the details of how to get there, you know. And I just think these targets are really aggressive. The first interim target is 35% EV sales by 2026. That jumps up to 68% by the end of the decade. For comparison, right now, electric vehicles are about 16% of new sales in California. This rule also tightens restrictions on gas-powered cars in the meantime. So the gas cars that Californians are going to buy over the next decade are going to be cleaner.

KELLY: So just to be totally clear 'cause, as you note, these targets are aggressive, they are not optional, right? These are mandates.

STARK: Absolutely. You know, look, Ford, GM, most of the major carmakers have released electric vehicle commitments. You know, they plan to invest billions over the next few years. You want an electric F-150 truck, you know, a Mustang, a Volkswagen bus, those are available now or they will be soon. What's important here is that these are regulations on the carmakers and the manufacturers, and the targets are measured against the number of cars that they deliver to the dealerships. Liane Randolph is the state's top air regulator, and she made this crystal clear.

LIANE RANDOLPH: This is a legally binding, enforceable requirement. Most of the automakers who have set their targets have a lot of caveats about, well, if this happens or that happens. This is an actual legally enforceable requirement.

STARK: OK. So let's say the carmakers aren't hitting their targets. California is going to levy a financial penalty against them for noncompliance. That's $20,000 per car each year that they're short.

KELLY: Wow. That's a big penalty. Speaking of big price tags, electric vehicles are not cheap. So where does that leave the question of whether people in California will be able to afford electric vehicles?

STARK: Yeah, I think this is really important. You know, not everyone can buy a brand-new car, generally. The average cost of a new electric vehicle right now is north of $60,000. That's in line, you know, with the cost of a new BMW. EV prices, of course, are going to come down over the next few years as more electric cars are produced. California expects to reach cost parity between electric and gas cars by the end of the decade. For now, consumers can rely on rebates, you know, thousands from the federal government that were approved in its recent budget law. And then there's also local incentives.

KELLY: So what's the next move? What are we watching for?

STARK: Well, you know, all eyes are on the carmakers who have so far not opposed this. GM tells me they have a shared vision for an all-electric future with California. You know, Toyota recently announced that it would recognize some of the other California clean car rules. They had opposed them for years. Still, a lot of carmakers have pushed back on the targets. You know, they've said they aren't realistic. They want the state to invest in infrastructure to help make this happen.

Obviously, the oil industry isn't happy and says, you know, this will force consumers into cars that they might not want. You know, how many other states will sign on and how quickly? We just don't know right now. That will determine, you know, whether this is a California thing or if this is really going to actually change the market across the country.

KELLY: Thank you, Kevin.

STARK: Thanks so much.

KELLY: That was Kevin Stark in San Francisco, climate editor for our member station KQED. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Kevin Stark