Five reasons to thank California for doing you a real (heavy-duty) solid

Saying that California has been a leader on electric vehicle policy would be like saying Cristiano Ronaldo is a pretty good soccer player. Both qualify as massive understatements. And while California has been leading the global charge on EV-promoting policies for passenger cars since the 1990s, the state’s latest vehicle electrification trailblaze concerns heavy-duty trucks. Yesterday, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) finalized a new Advanced Clean Trucks regulation that for the first time will require all manufacturers to sell a minimum number of zero-emission trucks in California starting in 2024.

The figure below summarizes the sales requirements for the three segments of trucks covered in the regulation. The most stringent requirements are for Class 4-8 rigid trucks—that is, trucks that most commonly operate in urban areas, such as delivery trucks and refuse haulers. By 2030, half of the Class 4-8 rigid trucks sold in California will have to be zero-emission, increasing to 75% by 2035. The Class 2B and 3 category includes pickups such as the Ford F-250, as well as the commercial vans like the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Zero-emission sales requirements for these trucks are 30% and 55% in 2030 and 2035, respectively. For the largest Class 7 and 8 tractor trucks, zero-emission sales requirements are also 30% in 2030, increasing to 40% and holding steady at this percentage through 2035. By 2035, we estimate that this rule will result in 55% of commercial truck sales in California being either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell.

Figure 1

The CARB regulation marks the first time that any government in the world has required the sale of zero-emission commercial trucks. So, it’s no exaggeration to say that this is a critical first policy step in transitioning to an entirely electrified trucking sector by mid-century.

Still not convinced that California is due some gratitude for this important milestone? Ok, that’s fair. Let me put forward five reasons why we owe the Golden State a ‘thank you’ no matter if you’re a policy wonk or not.

Zero-emission trucks:

  1. Will put money in your pocket. Trucks are responsible for delivering virtually all of our consumer goods. So, it’s no surprise that trucking costs make a sizable chunk of the prices we pay for everything from the screen you’re staring at now to the food that’s in your refrigerator. Over the next decade, as the costs of battery and hydrogen technologies continue to fall, zero-emission trucks will become a low-cost option for moving goods. And, with lower trucking costs, those savings will eventually be passed along to us in the form of cheaper stuff.
  2. Help you breathe easier. Heavy-duty diesel trucks are a major emitter of harmful pollutant emissions. Did you know that air pollution is the leading environmental health risk factor globally – responsible for nearly 4 million premature deaths every year – and that diesel engines are responsible for more than 80 percent of the health impacts in the transport sector? Across the world, heavy-duty diesel vehicles are a small percentage of the vehicles on the road but account for the majority of the transport sector’s health impacts. Moreover, research is emerging that shows poor air quality worsens COVID-19 outbreaks and increases mortality risk. So, trucks that emit nothing are much-needed and can’t get here soon enough.
  3. Are much easier on your ears. With our increasingly urbanized world, more and more trucks are active in and around cities. And, more recently due to widespread shelter-in-place measures, online commerce has surged and shifted even more truck traffic into urban areas. Quieter electric motors in an increasing number of trucks will reduce noise pollution significantly and even help us to relax. Namaste.
  4. Are coming soon to a street near you. Whether you’re a Californian or not, this rulemaking is likely going to speed up the rate at which zero-emission trucks hit the roads in your area. The truck brands that represent the majority of sales in California are owned by corporate parents that sell products across North America and around the world. As much as possible, these global companies, such as Daimler and Volvo Trucks, will spread out their research and development costs by selling similar products in multiple regions. Since these manufacturers are now required to develop and sell battery or hydrogen-powered trucks in California, you can bet that they have plans to offer those same zero-emission trucks in other markets.
  5. Are a critical part of our sustainable transportation future. Globally, greenhouse gases from heavy-duty vehicles are expected to eclipse passenger car emissions by around 2030. There is no getting around the need to electrify freight trucks and transition to low-carbon renewable electricity and hydrogen in parallel if we are serious about combatting air pollution and global warming.

California is setting the global stage for a zero-emission heavy-duty vehicle future with the Advanced Clean Trucks Regulation. But CARB has more work to do to transform the market for fleet purchases and for heavy-duty vehicle infrastructure. We will soon be publishing a policy update summarizing the key details of this rule. And with each step, we will support neighboring states and countries to find ways to follow.

Zero-emission vehicles