Most electrics are just Compliance Cars
A host of electric cars are slated to release soon. These cars are the subject of regular headlines on automotive websites and in the press and are often the focus of manufacturer-organized events and presentations, but most are not really meant for mass production. Most exist only to make California regulators happy so the manufacturer in question can continue to sell cars in that state.
Before you begin sending me hate mail about being an EV hater or a Big Oil crony, realize that regulations play a very big part (for good or ill) in how carmakers run their production and public relations.
Before we get to naming names on which of the current and upcoming EVs are just compliance cars, let's define what that is and why it's come to being.
Last month, I explained what a PZEV is and mentioned California's Zero Emissions Vehicle law. The California Air Resources Board, an organization with a seemingly limitless budget, has mandated that auto makers larger than a certain size be required to sell a specific portion of their volume as zero-emission vehicles. Currently, the only sure way to do that is to make a battery electric or fuel cell electric vehicle. For now, the cheapest of those two options are batteries, but they have significant market disadvantages and a relatively low acceptance rate amongst the populace. The CARB rules do not allow plug-in hybrids or range-extended electrics to qualify as ZEVs.
So starting this year, certain automakers are required to produce a small number of electric vehicles in order to comply with the ZEV rule and thus stay on CARB's good side so they can continue selling cars in California and the other states that accept California's mandates - namely the East and West coasts.
This first round of CARB ZEV requirements applies to those car makers with the highest number of auto sales in the state. When you see the list, you'll likely put two and two together and realize why these same companies are the ones suddenly putting out an EV in the next year or two:
Those are in the order of their sales volume in California.
Judging a Compliance Car versus a Serious Electric
Just because the automaker is on that list doesn't mean they're necessarily putting out an EV just to comply with CARB. Only two of the companies on that list have an electric on the market right now: Ford and Nissan. The Leaf has been out for some time while the Focus Electric just released last month. Only one of those is a compliance car by the following definition: