Even with their low cost of ownership, some have speculated that the electric car movement is being driven more by regulations than by consumer demand. Specifically, they're referring to regulations in the state of California that demand major automakers sell a set number of "zero emissions" (i.e. electric or fuel-cell) cars in the state. Each of the biggest six automakers that sells cars in the state is subject to increasing quotas every year.
Now those mandates are being updated to require more automakers to sell more electric cars starting in 2018. The main change to the program is that almost all major automakers who sell cars in the state will be subject to minimum zero-emissions vehicle sales requirement.
The six companies currently subject to the mandate include the Detroit 3, plus the three largest Japanese automakers: Nissan, Honda, and Toyota. The current regulations are extremely complicated.
Governed by California's Air Resources Board (CARB), the regulations give partial credits for various emissions-reduction technologies on regular cars, additional credits for meeting targets ahead of the mandate's time frame, credits for certain zero-emissions technologies such as drive batteries and motors, and a more credit for longer electric vehicle range. Fuel-cell vehicles get more credits than battery electric cars, because of their longer range and shorter refueling time.
Starting in 2018, additional automakers, such as BMW, Hyundai and Kia, Mercedes-Benz, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Volkswagen, and Volvo, will be required to sell zero-emissions vehicles in the state. Only automakers who sell fewer than 20,000 total vehicles in California would be exempt. In addition, the new standards will get simpler. Instead of credits for lots of different factors, the 2018 requirement gives credits only based on the length of the electric range.
Ten other states have also adopted California's zero-emissions vehicle regulation. Since credits are banked, and can be bought and sold, CARB says it's hard to know how many electric or fuel-cell cars will actually be sold. But one thing is certain: we'll be seeing more of them in California and beyond in the years ahead.
See our guide to fuel economy and guide to alternative fuels.