Zero Emission Vehicle Program

What is a ZEV?

Zero Emission Vehicles – or ZEVs – are vehicles that do not emit tailpipe pollution while being driven. ZEVs include three types of vehicles: pure battery electric vehicles (BEVs), hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, and “transitional” ZEVs such as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) that operate part of the time on electricity. We need a large ZEV fleet on the road to help California meet its 2030 and 2050 greenhouse gas emissions reduction and air quality goals.

What is the ZEV Program?

California’s ZEV Program, administered by the California Air Resources Board (ARB), requires major manufacturers of passenger vehicles and light trucks (pickups and SUVs) to sell an increasing percentage of ZEVs in a given year. Automakers gain ZEV credits, a form of regulatory currency, for each ZEV they sell. ARB intended the program to result in over 15 percent of all new cars, pickups and SUVs sold in the state being ZEVs by 2025.

New analysis of the ZEV Program, however, shows that the actual number of ZEVs on the road in 2025 will be much lower than the 15 percent originally estimated because cars are going more than twice as far today than ARB expected them to be going. As a result, car companies are generating more credits than they need to meet the program requirements. ARB must take immediate steps to address this shortfall to reflect the real world conditions that will certainly be presented in the Midterm Review due to be released soon.

The ZEV Program has been successful in making California a clean vehicle leader with over 25 models of electric cars now available and over 200,000 ZEVs on the road to date. California developed this program using its unique authority under the Clean Air Act to issue vehicle emission standards that are stronger than federal standards.

In October 2016, California Governor Jerry Brown released the state’s updated ZEV Action Plan that increases state government’s ZEV purchases for light duty replacement vehicles in the state fleet to 50 percent by 2025 and expands the state’s vehicle charging infrastructure to at least 5 percent of workplace parking spaces at state facilities. The action plan also identifies the following priorities for ZEVS:

ZEV Program Background

California’s ground-breaking ZEV Program was first adopted in 1990. It has evolved over the years to align with technology advances and the consumer market, and is largely responsible for the automakers’ development of today’s hybrid vehicles and much cleaner gasoline vehicles.

California Governor Jerry Brown issued a 2012 executive order setting a goal of putting 1.5 million ZEVs on the road in California by 2025. The following years, Brown and the governors of seven other states with ZEV programs signed an MOU to put 3.3 million ZEVs on the road in California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont by 2025. SB 1275, signed into law in 2014, requires California to put 1 million ZEVs on the road by 2023 while spurring programs to ensure all Californians, especially lower-income households, benefit.


In 2015, California led the founding of the International ZEV Alliance, a collaboration of countries and subnational governments to accelerate the global development of ZEVs. The 14 states and countries in the ZEV Alliance are working together to share best practices for incentives, utility programs and consumer outreach. In December 2015 at the United Nations Climate Change negotiations, California joined 12 countries, states and provinces announcing that it would strive to make all passenger vehicle sales ZEVs as quickly as possible, and no later than 2050.

In October, 2016, Quebec’s legislature unanimously adopted a zero emission vehicle standard to help get 100,000 ZEVs on the road by 2020.