Jerry Brown Hastens Death of the Internal Combustion Engine

Jerry Brown Hastens Death of the Internal Combustion Engine
Traffic jams up on eastbound 91 freeway near Corona, Calif., on Dec. 29, 2010. (AP Photo/Orange County Register, Bruce Chambers)

A trucking industry publication, Commercial Carrier Journal, criticized Gov. Jerry Brown’s (D) thinking behind a quest to follow China’s lead and ban internal combustion engines in California as misdirected, misguided, and well, a mystery.

However, General Motors, seeing the writing on the world’s wall, has decided to leapfrog ahead of whatever plans China and California might be making for their nation’s cars and trucks by committing to the production of only electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.

The Commercial Carrier Journal staff thinks it would be a huge mistake to dump the internal combustion engine in favor of electric vehicles.

“Given that the California Air Resources Board recently awarded its lowest emissions score ever to a natural gas-powered vehicle — and not an electric vehicle — it’s odd that the state and its strict emissions regulators recently indicated a plan to follow China’s footsteps in phasing out entirely the internal combustion engine,” the CCJ staff wrote.

Mary Nichols, chairman of the California Air Resources Board, told Bloomberg News in September that Brown had been asking her why there was a delay in enacting a ban on fossil-fueled engines.

“I’ve gotten messages from the governor asking, ‘Why haven’t we done something already?’” Nichols said, referring to China’s planned phase-out of fossil-fuel vehicle sales.

In California, the CARB said, “The transportation sector is responsible for nearly 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and is also by far the largest source of smog-causing pollution and fine particle pollution.”

“The governor has certainly indicated an interest in why China can do this and not California,” Nichols added.

Bloomberg opined that such a strategy would put new pressure on automakers to switch to all-electric vehicles and would “send shockwaves” through auto companies, not just in California or the U.S. but around the world.

“We have been working with California on intelligent, market-based approaches to emissions reductions beyond 2025, and we hope that this doesn’t signal an abandonment of that position,” John Bozzella, chief executive officer of the Association of Global Automakers, said in a statement.

Nichols’ revelation of Gov. Brown’s fascination with eliminating internal combustion engines, just as China plans, should not have come as a surprise.

“In order to achieve California’s climate goals, we need more electric cars and more hydrogen fuel cell cars that are charged with renewable energy,” Brown said in June following a meeting with China’s leading automakers and battery manufacturers.

Brown and Nichols also said California would establish what a CARB press release described as “a new working group through the China-US ZEV Policy Lab at UC Davis to expand cooperation with Chinese zero-emission vehicle and battery technology companies.”

However, casting even more doubt on Brown’s embrace of electric vehicles, Tom Quimby, the editor of Hard Working Trucks, pointed to a California Air Resources Board study that awarded the lowest emissions score ever to renewable natural gas (RNG) produced at an AMP Americas Indiana facility.

“The cleanest possible vehicles at this point, according to CARB, would be those running on RNG, that is if the agency follows its own math,” Quimby wrote. “But, in following the money, we see that in 2016 California paid $9 million for electric drayage trucks from China-based BYD, the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles.”

“It’s not just how Nichols and Gov. Brown ignore AMP’s stellar CI score that’s disappointing,” Quimby added, “it’s also how their narrow fixation on electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles excludes the impressive strides made by engineers to drastically reduce emissions from internal combustion engines.”

China is not the only nation that wants to ban internal combustion engines. Although Chinese officials had not released a timetable for such a ban, the United Kingdom and France have set a 2040 deadline for such action.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany would phase out non-electric vehicles, without releasing a timetable.

But, in a decade or two, neither the plans of China, the United Kingdom and France, nor concerns expressed by Quimby or even Gov. Brown, may matter much.

General Motors proclaimed Oct. 2 that it would phase out production of internal combustion engines in a move to a vehicle fleet powered by either batteries or hydrogen.

Beginning next year, all Volvo models will use either hybrid, plug-in or pure battery-electric drivetrains. Volkswagen AG has said it will work on developing new electrified products. And of course, there is Tesla, a manufacturer devoted to electric vehicles.

But GM is the most significant auto company to take the full alt-energy leap, and it’s a giant step ahead of all but Tesla because it is going to abandon the internal combustion engine.

“General Motors believes in an all-electric future,” GM Executive Vice President Mark Reuss said.

In the next 18 months, GM will introduce two new all-electric vehicles based off learnings from the Chevrolet Bolt EV. They will be the first of at least 20 new all-electric vehicles that will launch by 2023.

“Although that future won’t happen overnight,” Reuss said, “GM is committed to driving increased usage and acceptance of electric vehicles through no-compromise solutions that meet our customers’ needs.”

John Bozzella told Bloomberg the world’s consumers just are not ready to be forced to go all-electric, especially since EV cars are so much more expensive than gas-powered vehicles.

But prices could come down. The Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecast shows electric vehicles becoming more affordable as the cost of building the cars falls.

“This is economics, pure and simple economics,” BNEF’s lead advanced-transportation analyst Colin McKerracher said. “Lithium-ion battery prices are going to come down sooner and faster than most other people expect.”