Is the State Order on Buying Electric Vehicles ‘Handwriting on the Wall’ for the Rest of Us?

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Step one in the campaign to rid California of internal combustion engine automobiles is to have the state set the example. Step one was taken last week when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered the state to purchase only electric vehicles with exceptions for public safety. How soon before the next steps occur to prohibit internal combustion engines by private owners? 

The idea has rattled around for some time. California Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols has spoken about a ban on internal combustion engines. A bill co-authored by three Democratic assembly members was introduced in the last session of the legislature to prohibit registration of non-zero emission cars by 2040. 

While those efforts did not bear fruit, with the governor’s pronouncement, you could say we are on the road to the ban.

The idea behind the governor’s order is to use government influence to change the market and have the people follow suit. The California Department of General Services made no secret of this motive in its press release announcing the move. “This is one of many steps California has taken, and will continue to take, to drive demand for green vehicles,” the press release stated. 

We are not at the stage of mandating to consumers what kind of cars they can buy…yet. But those in control of California’s government have made it clear where they want to go. 

With subsides freely handed out to encourage citizens to purchase electric cars, the flip side of an incentive to purchase is a disincentive to buy internal combustion engines. That could come in the form of steep taxation on such vehicles. 

Would the governor and legislature aim a tax increase effort against gas-powered autos, especially those manufactured by companies that sided with the Trump Administration in the battle over tailpipe pollution? Already, Newsom has declared those companies, including General Motors, Fiat, Chrysler, and Toyota, are not permitted to sell cars to the state. 

A tax on those vehicles is not far behind if lawmakers think they can make it stick. Of course, legal uncertainties hasn’t stopped the legislature from passing laws to send a message and do damage to the targets of the laws.   

More on the state using its power to influence car-makers in California’s fight with the feds from CalMatters Rachel Becker on this page today. 

For now, future car buyers in California take heed, consider last week’s move on the state electric car buying order as handwriting on the wall. 

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