California Becomes World's First Government to Mandate Electric Heavy Trucks

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Freightliner eCascadia at charging station
California will require truck manufacturers to accelerate sales of zero-emission vehicles, setting increasing ZEV manufacturing standards starting in 2024 through 2035. Several other states are also choosing to adopt the standards. Combined, California and those states represent 22% of the national truck market.

The Biden administration on March 31 cleared the way for California to require that half of all heavy trucks sold in the state be fully electric by 2035, and the state becomes the world’s first government to require zero-emission trucks. California needed approval from the White House because its rule exceeds Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requirements.

"Last year, California became one of the first jurisdictions in the world with a real plan to end tailpipe emissions for cars. Now, thanks to the Biden administration, we’re getting more zero-emission heavy duty trucks on the roads, expanding our world-leading efforts to cut air pollution and protect public health," said California Governor Gavin Newsom. "We’re leading the charge to get dirty trucks and buses – the most polluting vehicles – off our streets, and other states and countries are lining up to follow our lead around the world.”

American Trucking Associations President and CEO Chris Spear said by allowing California to overstep federal regulations, "the EPA is handing over the keys as a national regulator. This isn’t the United States of California, and in order to mollify a never satisfied fringe environmental lobby by allowing the state to proceed with these technologically infeasible rules on unworkable and unrealistic timelines, the EPA is sowing the ground for a future supply chain crisis.“

Spear noted that in the last 35 years, industry and regulatory collaboration has produced a 98% reduction in truck emissions, adding â€śwe continue to be committed to the path to zero, and we hope EPA will, as it becomes clear that California’s rhetoric is not being matched by technology, reverse course and create a single, achievable national standard. ... We have, and will continue to work tirelessly with the EPA on aggressive, achievable timelines for reducing emissions."

California will require truck manufacturers to accelerate sales of zero-emission vehicles in the state, setting increasing ZEV manufacturing standards starting from 2024 through 2035. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington and Vermont are also likely to adopt the standards. Combined, California and those states represent roughly 22% of the national truck market. 

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On March 31, the EPA approved two Clean Air Act waivers for California’s heavy-duty truck regulations, including the Advanced Clean Trucks (ACT) rule, which requires 100% electric heavy-duty vehicles in California where feasible by 2045. The ACT rule requires truck manufacturers to increase new truck sales to 55% (Class 2b-3), 75% (Class 4-8), and 40% (semi-tractor) to zero emissions by 2035.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) in 2022 approved one of the world’s first regulations requiring 100% of new car sales in California to be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) by 2035. Nearly 19% of cars sold in the state in last year were ZEVs, but fewer than 2% of all heavy trucks sold last year were electric.

“This is another example of California approving onerous regulations that increase operating costs for truckers within the state. Whether its CARB emissions requirements or misguided legislation like AB 5, it’s no surprise we’re seeing small-business truckers and independent contractors looking for opportunities elsewhere," said Todd Spencer, president of Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA). "Vehicle reliability and affordability are top priorities for OOIDA members. We have yet to see proof that electric CMVs are a realistic option for most trucking businesses considering the price tag and lack of charging infrastructure. The bottom line is that the technology they’re trying to mandate does not yet exist."

    Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association (EMA) President Jed Mandel said March 31 that while he and his agency's member companies support the nationwide implementation of more stringent emission standards, and are committed to transitioning the commercial trucking industry to zero-emission technologies, "we remain concerned that limiting manufacturers’ lead time to produce compliant vehicles will present significant challenges."

    While recognizing CARB’s right to regulate air quality, Mandel added that "adequate lead time, regulatory stability and the necessary zero-emission recharging and refueling infrastructure are imperative for manufacturers to develop, build, and sell the customer-acceptable, effective products capable of meeting CARB’s zero-emission vehicle sales mandates. We are committed to continuing our work with EPA, CARB and other stakeholders to develop workable regulations that will achieve a zero-emission future.” 

    In a statement provided to CCJ, Navistar said it continues to invest in technologies that will drive toward a zero-emission future, including the development of compliant products for both U.S. EPA and CARB and "remains committed to working with the U.S. EPA and CARB to deliver real-world emissions reductions, which includes offerings of both our low-emission conventional and our electrified powertrain options to meet various application needs and customer demand."

    Jason Cannon has written about trucking and transportation for more than a decade and serves as Chief Editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. A Class A CDL holder, Jason is a graduate of the Porsche Sport Driving School, an honorary Duckmaster at The Peabody in Memphis, Tennessee, and a purple belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu. Reach him at [email protected].