California will require all autonomous vehicles to be zero-emission starting in 2030

Photo by Vjeran Pavic / The Verge

California will require all light-duty autonomous vehicles (AV) to emit zero emissions starting in 2030. On Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill sponsored by environmental groups that would eventually prohibit gas- and hybrid-powered autonomous vehicles from operating in the state.

It was the latest move by Newsom to restrict the sale and use of internal combustion engine vehicles amid a broader effort to rein in greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the governor signed two executive orders: one requiring all commercial trucks and vans sold in the state to be zero-emission starting in 2045 and another requiring only the sale of zero-emission passenger vehicles by 2035.

California was the first state in the US to prohibit the sale of nearly all fossil fuel-burning vehicles in its borders. At least 15 states have followed the state’s lead, passing similar measures that would apply to heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses.

California is the largest vehicle market in the US, with nearly 15 million registered vehicles on the road. AVs only account for a small fraction of that total amount, but some experts predict those numbers will grow as AVs become more capable and companies move to commercialize their use. Other groups have expressed worry that autonomous vehicles could usher in an era of even more traffic and pollution, especially if AVs are priced cheaper than public transportation.

California is ground zero for AV testing in the US, with over 50 companies licensed to operate autonomous vehicles for testing purposes in the state. A handful of companies hold permits to test fully driverless vehicles, without safety drivers behind the steering wheel. And an even smaller number have been approved to pick up and drop off passengers as part of a commercial robotaxi service. AVs registered in California traveled approximately 1.99 million miles in autonomous mode on public roads in 2020.

The two companies that comprise the bulk of that testing, Alphabet’s Waymo and GM-backed Cruise, both operate fully electric vehicles as part of their fleets. Waymo uses the Jaguar I-Pace SUV, as well as the non-electric Chrysler Pacifica minivan, though the company has declined to say exactly how many of each vehicle it owns. Cruise exclusively uses the Chevy Bolt, a vehicle that is currently subject to a massive recall because some of the batteries have been catching fire.

“We’re grateful for California’s leadership in ensuring this will be the industry standard,” said Prashanthi Raman, head of global government affairs at Cruise, in a statement. “The AV industry is primed to lead the way in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in cities, and it’s why we’ve operated an all-electric, zero emissions fleet from the start.”

Environmental groups praised Newsom for signing the bill into law. The Union of Concerned Scientists, which helped sponsor the legislation, said it was a “smart policy to ensure that driverless vehicles don’t contribute to the problem” of climate change.

Some AV operators have argued that electric vehicles are a bad fit for self-driving cars because of the extended charging requirements. In order to make a profit, autonomous vehicles need to maximize their time on the road, delivering people or packages, otherwise they’re likely to be a money-loser, they argue.

Updated September 24th, 10:59AM ET: Updated to include a statement from Cruise.


So will manufacturers make them almost-autonomous to get past the regulation?

There is a separate law for all passenger cars to be zero emissions by 2035 . So Almost Autonomous would only be for 5 years.

Autonomous and electric vehicles are great but man, is it hard to get used to it. The performance, reliability, sound, ease of repair, and overall platform of a good ole American V8 is an old habit that will die hard and personally, I don’t want a car to drive for me or try to for that matter either. Growing up and even today still, all I know are muscle cars and trucks. I know America is (for now at least) headed to electrification so I’ll keep the Mustang for the sake of holding onto it. Now, after the CyberTruck and F-150 Lightning have a few years under their belts and range improvements, I could myself switching if the charging infrastructure is there which in my area it isn’t yet.

EVs could be as simple, reliable, and easy to repair as a "good ole American V8". Outside of battery chemistry, all the technology necessary to build an EV drivetrain existed in the 1990s. Motor invertors, charge controllers, and other drivetrain components only require simple 8-bit microcontrollers or discrete logic.

The majority of Tesla’s software and OTA updates are superfluous. The fancy infotainment screen and "self driving" features could all be applied to a gasoline car, but creates the impression EVs are "high tech" and made Tesla’s electric cars appeal to affluent Silicon Valley techies instead of the poor tree-huggers that other early EVs tried to appeal to. Now all that computerized nonsense serves a more nefarious purpose – it allows Tesla to lock down the hardware to block independent shops from repairing or modifying their cars.

Reliability… Of an American V8? That sound you’re hearing might be an exhaust leak :).

Don’t get me wrong, big loud engines can be plenty of fun. But reliability is about the last thing I’d associate with the bulk of them. There have been enough made that you’ll still see plenty of survivors, but I’ll take a little old Toyota R-series for ICE reliability every day of the week (my own 22R pickup truck is pushing 40 with only the carb having been replaced). And even then I’ve eyed an EV conversion kit a few times.

This is a terrible idea. I love the idea of all electric vehicles and can’t wait for a car that can drive itself but forcing everyone into the technology before it is ready is the wrong thing to do. It takes 15 to 25 minutes to charge a Tesla currently and you will have to do it every 200 miles. At home it takes 8 to 12 hours. If you have to plug it in to a regular outlet, it can take up to 40 hours. Let’s hold off on the utopian laws until the technology is ready.

Let’s hold off on the utopian laws until the technology is ready.

Technology is ready… it’s just the infrastructure that is not quite there… but 10 years would be enough for autonomous vehicles (I’m skeptical there will be that many by 2030). Those will be high price vehicles, probably managed by a third party robotaxi service…

15 years doesn’t seem too bad for all new cars sales either in California. You have to remember that new vehicle purchase only account for ~25% of all car purchases. and there will be over 16M used vehicles, most of them ICEV in California alone. So it will be another 1-2 decades before most homes would actually own an EV. And let’s not pick a strawman that Californian politicians are going to start enforcing the ban on new car sales if the California isn’t ready by then – they will just delay it, or pass loopholes for the communities that it doesn’t work by then (you can look at the existing 25-year import rule for foreign vehicles that don’t meet US emission rules as an exam)

Let’s go back through your other points.

It takes 15 to 25 minutes to charge a Tesla currently and you will have to do it every 200 miles. At home it takes 8 to 12 hours. If you have to plug it in to a regular outlet, it can take up to 40 hours. Let’s hold off on the utopian laws until the technology is ready.

A few points about autonomous vehicles being EV by 2030

1. The lowest range 2021 Tesla today is 263 miles of range and EV actually get better range in local driving (which is what AV will primarily be doing). Even if you are sticking to 0-80% that’s 210+ miles… and EV ranges are growing as batteries price continue to fall. 2030 is roughly in 10 years… I don’t think median range will quadruple like it did in the past 10 years… but it will easily exceed 300 miles in the near future.

2. Because of quirks of physics/chemistry… the charge rate depends on state of charge of the batteries… not the range of car. So 2021 Tesla going to a V3 supercharger have a 2-80% of 28 minutes (Porsche does it in 22.5 mins). So if you have 300 miles range… that means you are going from ~10 miles-240 miles in 25 minutes via a DC fast charger… and if it isn AV car… it can go to the charger itself to charge.

3. 8-10 hour to full charge at home if fine because 90% of the time you are only commuting 30-50 miles a day.

It would be possible to add similar L2 chargers at libraries, gyms, restaurants, train stations, parking garages, malls, movie theaters, laundromats, etc… which would allow you to keep yourself top off the majority of time.

Right now, there are road maintenance taxes on gasoline. High mileage driving pays their fair share. That might be replaced by increased license fees, which would mean low mileage driving would have to pay the same as high mileage driving.

Autonomous vehicles will first be practical on long freeway drives. Long freeway drives are incompatible with electric vehicles due to the frequent and long charge times. California is legislating itself out of the autonomous vehicle market. Watch as all the companies developing them are forced to leave the state. Brilliant! Why not legislate that lithium will become common and that electric batteries will no longer catch fire in in a crash and burn for hours while spewing noxious fumes?

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