California Unveils Plan to Phase Out New Gas-Powered Cars by 2035

If rolled out, will force automakers to prioritize zero-emissions vehicles.

An image of traffic in California on the highway.

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

California continues to push for electrified vehicles (EVs) as part of its quest to reduce the number of gasoline-powered cars on the road. The state wants to ban all new gasoline-powered cars by 2035 and disclose the details of the initial plan.

The California Air Resources Board proposed a new rule that will require 35% of passenger vehicles sold in the state to be powered by batteries or hydrogen by 2026. That’s up from the current 12.4% of new vehicles sold in the state that don’t emit emissions. By 2030 that percentage will rise to 60% and by 2035, California wants 100% of its new car sales to not be powered by fossil fuels. The board is slated to vote on the proposal in August.

It follows Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order to stop the sale of gas-powered cars by 2035, which was issued in September 2020. “This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change,” stated Newsom at the time. “For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn’t have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn’t make wildfires worse – and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn’t melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines.”

The rule also states EVs have to offer a minimum of 150 miles of range per charge by 2035 and each of them has to come with an 8-year or 100,000-mile battery warranty.

“Building on 30 years of work to electrify light-duty vehicles in California, the market is clearly poised for massive transformation,” the state plan said.

Why is this important? California is the largest auto market in the United States, so the new plan will force automakers to prioritize zero-emissions vehicles. Fifteen other states—including New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania—have adopted California’s previous initiatives to reduce tailpipe emissions, so they could also adopt similar proposals. Although no other state has announced a ban on gas-powered vehicles. Washington state’s legislature recently passed a transportation bill that states all cars sold or registered in the state have to be electric by 2030, but it’s not enforceable like California’s plan. 

The rule could forever change the automotive industry, but there are several hurdles preventing the full adoption of EVs. This includes a lack of charging infrastructure and accessibility to EVs for low-income communities. The current cost of EVs puts them far out of reach for low-income buyers, but it’s expected that the cost of EVs will eventually reach parity with gas-powered cars in a few years. 

The charging infrastructure will have to increase significantly since it’s estimated that the state will need around 1.2 million chargers to support the 8 million EVs that California expects to have on the road by 2030. Today there are only about 70,000 chargers available.

Several automakers have announced plans to transition to fully electric lineups by 2030, but not every automaker believes in California’s plan. The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which includes large automakers, said in a statement, "These draft requirements will be extremely challenging even in California and may not be achievable in all the states that currently follow California’s program.”

While the rule will help increase the number of EVs on the road, it doesn’t include a plan to remove the millions of existing gas-powered vehicles from California’s roads. Environmental groups are also pushing for the board to set a higher target of 75% zero-emissions sales in 2030.