California regulators moved Thursday to require all new vehicles in the state to run on electricity by 2035, an ambitious goal by the country's most populous state to phase out gasoline-powered automobiles and curb carbon missions.
The decision by the California Air Resources Board came two years after Gov. Gavin Newsom first directed regulators to consider such a policy. If the goal is reached, California would cut emissions from cars in half by 2040.
Californians can keep driving and buying gas-powered vehicles after 2035, but no new models will be sold in the state thereafter.
"This is a historic moment for California, for our partner states and for the world as we set forth this path toward a zero-emission future," Liane Randolph, chair of the California Air Resources Board, said during a public hearing before the vote.
The move could prompt other states to act in a similar fashion. The policy still needs federal approval, something considered very likely under the Biden administration.
One-fifth of automakers’ sales in California after 2035 could be plug-in hybrids, which run on batteries and gas, but the rest must be powered solely by electricity or hydrogen.
California climate officials say the state’s new policy is the world’s most ambitious because it sets benchmarks for ramping up electric vehicle sales over the next 13 years.
The first mandated threshold comes in 2026, when one-third of all vehicles sold in the state must be zero-emission. Automakers could be fined $20,000 per vehicle sold short of that goal.
About 16% of cars sold in California in the first three months of this year were electric.
Newsom has pledged to spend billions to boost zero-emission vehicle sales, including adding chargers in low-income neighborhoods. The new rules approved by the California Air Resources Board say that the vehicles need to be able to travel 150 miles on one charge.
Driving an electric vehicle long distances today, even in California, requires careful planning about where to stop and charge, said Mary Nichols, former chair of the California Air Resources Board.
"This is going to be a transformative process and the mandate for vehicle sales is only one piece of it," she said.
Elon Musk, the CEO of electric carmaker Tesla, said last year that electricity production needs to double to transition to electric vehicles. In 2020, the grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda warned against the pitfalls of electrifying all cars in Japan.
The cost to create an infrastructure to power all electric vehicles in the country would cost between $135 billion to $358 billion, the Observer reported.
Current electric vehicles depend on lithium for their batteries, which store and use energy produced elsewhere. According to Statista, most lithium is produced overseas, chiefly in Australia, Chile and China, with batteries primarily manufactured in China. The United States has just one lithium processing facility and currently is not among the world's top 10 lithium-producing nations.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.