More than half of all trucks sold in California must have zero-emissions drivetrains by 2035, and no truck sales may be of the fossil-fuel variety by 2045, in a new landmark rule in California adopted on Thursday (US time).
The rule, which is aimed at significantly improving California’s air quality and would also have numerous health benefits, will require truck fleets to begin to transition from 2024.
According to a release from the California Air Resources Board (CARB) on the ruling, fossil-fuelled trucks account for 70 per cent of smog pollution and 80 per cent of particulate pollution from diesel despite accounting for less than 7 per cent of the state’s 30 million vehicles.
With many low-income neighbourhoods situated next to corridors frequented by the state’s 2 million trucks, CARB says the new rule will significantly improve the health of residents and lower the state’s premature death toll by 1,000 a year.
“California is an innovation juggernaut that is going electric. We are showing the world that we can move goods, grow our economy and finally dump dirty diesel,” said Jared Blumenfeld, California’s secretary for environmental protection, in a statement on the adoption of the new rules.
California is already a leader in the transition to electric mobility – as the home of Tesla, it accounts for half of the 1.5 million EV registrations in the US alone.
But with very few currently available all-electric options, the trucking industry remains a black mark on the state’s pollution scorecard.
“For decades, while the automobile has grown cleaner and more efficient, the other half of our transportation system has barely moved the needle on clean air,” said CARB Chair Mary D. Nichols of the new rule in a statement.
“Diesel vehicles are the workhorses of the economy, and we need them to be part of the solution to persistent pockets of dirty air in some of our most disadvantaged communities. Now is the time – the technology is here and so is the need for investment.”
The new rule has been met with some opposition, particularly amongst the California Trucking Association which represents the state’s truck drivers.
In an interview with local public radio station Capradio, Chris Shimoda, VP of government affairs for the California Trucking Association, said that if the state is to stipulate the transition to electric trucks, the industry will require financial support to make the transition.
“There is a lot of work that needs to be done on infrastructure, incentives and other important issues,” Shimoda was quoted as saying.
“In the midst of a coming recession, having the state’s support to incentivize the purchase of these vehicles has never been more important.”
Shimoda also says that there are just not enough e-truck options out there currently.
“There are probably less than 100 commercial electric vehicles in existence today operating in smaller scale pilot and demonstration projects,” Shimoda was quoted as saying. “What we’re really looking for is, I think, a small scale success rather than a large scale failure.”
There are, of course, more all-electric truck options on the way. Australia’s own Sea Electric is one case in point: in November 2019, it announced 100 Hino 195 trucks with Sea’s patented electric drivetrains would be deployed by commercial electric fleet provider Zeem Solutions in California.
Then there is home favourite Tesla, which is readying to start making its own electric Semi. The announcement by Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk in early June that volume production of the Semi was ready to commence sent the company’s soaring to become the world’s most valuable car maker, even above Toyota.
Another contender for the zero emissions trucking revolution is of course Nikola, the value of which eclipsed Ford the same week and which has three hydrogen fuel cell electric trucks planned.
California’s new rule echoes messages around the world that the opportunity to phase out heavy emitters of carbon such as fossil-fuelled trucks and cars must be seized.
On Thursday, the UK’s Committee on Climate Change published a report outlining a range of strategies that can be implemented to ensure the country emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic with a “green and resilient” recovery.
Key findings include retrofitting existing buildings and regulating new constructions for a low-carbon future, restoring peatland and forests as well as more “green infrastructure”, encouraging people to walk, cycle or work from home and developing a circular economy.
It also says that key to the UK’s future is strengthening energy networks, and includes potentially moving the UK’s planned 2035 ban on petrol and diesel sales forward again to 2032.
“The Committee’s assessment is that the date should be brought forward to 2032 at the latest, and backed by detailed policy arrangements to deliver it,” reads the report.
In Australia, the need to transition fleets to zero emissions is all the more urgent, according to a new report from one of Australia’s leading transport lobby groups.
As reported by The Driven, the “Decarbonisation of Road Transport Network Operations in Australia and New Zealand” from Australasian road and traffic agency body Austroads, identifies dates for when different segments of Australia’s road transport must be transitioned if Australia is to meet even its own moderate climate goals.
According to the Austroads report, in order to replace fossil-fuelled fleets by 2050, the last new petrol and diesel passenger cars must be sold in 2024. For trucks it is even more ominous, as the report states the last new fossil-fuelled trucks should have been sold in the year 2000.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018, and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emissions transport has to play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and has it available for hire on evee.com.au.