Biggest Driver of Cleaner-Car Rules Is California, Not Washington – By  Mike Spector Updated Feb. 12, 2017 9:21 p.m. ET


State has power to set mandate on zero-emissions separate from U.S. efforts

Volkswagen executives presented an electric prototype resembling its classic microbus at Detroit’s auto show last month.

Volkswagen executives presented an electric prototype resembling its classic microbus at Detroit’s auto show last month. Photo: Joe White/Reuters

Ford Motor Co. Chief Executive Mark Fields used a recent White House breakfast with President Donald Trump to argue for relaxing U.S. car-emissions standards.

But Mr. Fields and other auto executives need to travel 2,700 miles west of Washington to find the government officials who are pushing them the most on environmental regulations. When it comes to forcing auto makers to build cleaner cars, California is in the driver’s seat.

Car executives, under pressure from Mr. Trump to relocate manufacturing to the U.S., have often sought relief from national fuel-economy and emissions regulations. But California, the largest car market in the U.S., has its own rules that mandate auto makers sell more zero-emission vehicles powered with batteries, requirements that will endure even if federal rule makers relax other national environmental regulations.

“The conclusion is inescapable: California’s vehicle future is electric,” said Mary Nichols, head of California’s Air Resources Board, or CARB, upon the release of a state report supporting the mandate in January.

CARB is the state agency that polices tailpipe emissions, and nine other states follow its standards. California’s influence is a main reason auto makers are developing electric cars and plug-in hybrids even though such vehicles are unpopular among buyers responding to low gas prices.

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