The powerful California Air Resources Board was, at press time, preparing to deconstruct its long-held and highly controversial mandate requiring auto makers to sell zero-emitting electric vehicles in the state.

But EVs apparently remain CARB's vision of the ultimate in “green” personal transportation.

Chief Deputy Executive Officer Tom Cackette says the agency sees today's hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) as bridging technology that will contribute to a long-range target of developing a new generation of EVs that operate solely on battery power.

Cackett explains CARB is seeking approval of regulations that give different levels of emissions credit for vehicles relative to their technological contribution to the agency's original EV objective. To this end, so called “plug-in” HEVs that can run a significant distance — believed to be 10-60 miles (16-97 km) — on battery power alone, then switch to gasoline engine charging, will earn the most ZEV (zero emissions vehicle) credits in California.

Auto makers reportedly are against this idea, as it means such vehicles would need two complete power systems, electric and gasoline, making them the most expensive type of HEV — and hardest to sell.

Cackette says HEVs earning the next-highest level of credit toward ZEV are high-voltage hybrids whose electrical systems likely will contribute to future EVs. He explains low-voltage HEV systems (often called “mild” hybrids) will be given the least ZEV credit, because they are expected to contribute the least to future EV development.

“The goal is to incentivize the production of those HEVs, especially the high-voltage ones, to cut future EV costs,” Cackette says. Industry sources interpret this to mean “developing the needed battery.”

Cackette also tells Ward's the proposed ZEV credit system will result in roughly one-half of all new conventional vehicles sold having the long 15-year/150,000-mile (241,000-km) emissions-components warranty of today's partial zero-emissions vehicles (PZEVs). He points out, however, “This depends on the mix of vehicles a manufacturer produces and approval of the regulation by our board on April 24.”

A California source tells Ward's a CARB official recently indicated informally at a meeting its target for vehicle sales in the state by 2008 includes 250 fuel cell vehicles, 5,000 plug-in HEVs, about 200,000 HEVs and 1.6 million conventional vehicles with the PZEV emissions warranty.

A number of PZEV-rated vehicles now are for sale in California and some Northeast states, and General Motors Corp. has indicated its PZEV-compliant vehicles will begin to enter the market in late 2004 as '05 models.