The California Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Credit System Makes Electric Cars Affordable

tesla-car.jpgContrary to the title of the documentary released last year (“Who Killed the Electric Car?”), the electric car is alive and well. Independent car companies like Tesla Motors and Phoenix Motorcars have demonstrated that all-electric battery vehicle technology is feasible, sexy, and (almost) affordable. While the Tesla Roadster is still out of most people’s price range at $98,000, the Phoenix Sports Utility Truck will be available for fleet purchase in 2008 for $35,000 ($45,000 – $10,000 CA State ZEV tax refund).
How can an independent car manufacturer offer such a great deal on an electric vehicle? The Phoenix actually costs around $130,000 to manufacture, so why are they selling the vehicles to city governments and taxi services for less?

After listening in on a recent Phoenix Motorcars presentation given to the Southern California Electric Vehicle Association meeting, I found out that the State of California Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Mandate makes this possible. Under this mandate (which has been contested and amended several times over the past ten years by major car companies and the EPA), car manufacturers must provide a small percentage of vehicles for sale that have no tailpipe emissions, no evaporative emissions, and no emissions from gas refining or sales. If a car company is not able to produce the required number of ZEVs, they may purchase ZEV credits from other car companies that have already met the required number.
Major car companies initially rose to the challenge by offering all electric vehicles to customers, such as the Ford EV1 and the Toyota EV Rav4. They stopped production of these cars, however, by claiming that hydrogen fuel cell and hybrid technology are more feasible for them to produce. While hybrid technology is now proliferate around the country, and compose 2% of the entire car market in California, they do not meet the ZEV “Gold” standard. Hydrogen vehicles meet the ZEV Gold standard, but they currently cost manufacturers one million dollars to produce.
That’s where the Phoenix SUT comes in. By producing all-electric vehicles that meet the ZEV Gold Standard at a fraction of the price of a hydrogen fuel cell car, Phoenix Motorcars can sell their excess ZEV credits to major car companies. In this way, they can reduce the price of the car so that it becomes affordable for the rest of us. This is one of the intended benefits of such a system – to provide incentives for car manufacturers to provide clean, green, and stylish vehicles for the masses.
Given the forthcoming IPCC report on the acceleration of climate change on our planet, we desperately need more legislation like the California ZEV mandate to help innovative car companies bring us the next generation of transportation. Unfortunately, the ZEV mandate continues to be contested by major car companies. The California Air Resources Board (CARB), appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger, is set to review the ZEV mandate in February 2008. Hopefully, we can count on our representatives to do what they can to get more all-electric vehicles on the road.
To sign an online petition to Governor Schwarzenegger and CARB to get more electric vehicles on the road, go to

Shannon Arvizu, Ph.D., is a clean tech educator and cutting-edge consultant for the auto industry. You can follow her test drives in the cars of the future at