Policy Study

The Case Against Electric Vehicle Mandates in California

Executive Summary

Air quality has been improving in Los Angeles since 1966 in spite of brisk population growth (and much faster growth of the vehicle fleet and vehicle miles traveled). Yet, air quality standards have not yet been met; new proposals to meet Clean Air Act standards include mandated electric vehicle (EV) sales in California. Proponents have suggested that the mandate also serves long-term economic growth objectives for the region.

A survey of the literature reveals substantial evidence that the EV mandate is not costeffective; the air quality goals can be met at substantially lower cost. Resources for the Future, for example, shows that in terms of $/ton of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) reduced, reformulated gasoline or emissions-based vehicle registration fees are twenty times as cost-effective as EVs. In addition, there are many reasons to expect that the macroeconomic consequences of the EV mandate will be depressive rather than stimulative.

EVs will be expensive, yet short on what consumers prize most: range and power (witness the recent surge of “utility” vehicle sales). Massive subsidies and/or cost-shifts would be required that would have depressive effects on the California economy (including higher energy costs statewide). Taxpayers and/or utility ratepayers would also have to pay for new refueling infrastructure. In addition, it is not clear that EV maintenance costs will be below that of conventional autos. If consumers avoid EVs for any of these reasons, and keep their old cars longer, air quality gains will be lost.


Peter Gordon is Associate Dean of the School of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Southern California and a professor in both the School of Planning and the Department of Economics. He has consulted for a number of international agencies, government departments, and private groups. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania.

Harry W. Richardson is professor of economics and planning at the University of Southern California. He served as president of the Western Regional Science Association in 1988-89 and is currently associate editor of African Urban Quarterly and an editorial board member of Regional Studies. His current work involves economic impact models such as the Southern California Planning Model.