Gov. Tim Walz’s pronouncement in late September that his administration would dictate, by rule, California car standards does considerable damage to Minnesota with no guarantee the environment and air quality will be improved. It’s government using a stick instead of a carrot.
The proposed policy would impose California’s Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) and Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) programs on consumers. The governor did not seek input from the retail car sector, which is his prerogative. If he had, he would have learned much.
His announcement was full of false promises and misleading facts. Here’s a primer on why California standards are a poor fit for Minnesota.
I’ll start with the obvious since it seems to be overlooked — Minnesota is different from California in many ways:
It’s colder here. On average Minnesota is 18.3 degrees colder than California.
California’s top selling vehicle is a Honda Civic, while Minnesota prefers the Chevy Silverado.
California’s new vehicle market is 55% trucks while Minnesota’s market is 82% trucks. California standards do not have any appreciation for trucks. To attain their standards will mean removing trucks, minivans, crossovers and SUVs from showroom floors.
Dealers also will not be able to trade with neighboring states for vehicles consumers want because those cars and trucks will fall under a different (federal) regulatory scheme. Think of the Midwest as a large new car parking lot. No dealer can keep every variation of every vehicle on its lot, so when a consumer asks for a trim or option the dealer doesn’t have, they simply trade vehicles with another dealer. If Minnesota adopts these standards, its dealers will only be able to trade with other Minnesota dealers.
Finally, California has 148 areas of the state that don’t meet federal air quality standards. Minnesota has none. The fact is that California, for all its bureaucracy, has done a terrible job managing its own air quality. So why do we want to become beholden to California standards?
California standards impose another layer of bureaucracy and expense. Consumers will bear these costs as Minnesota dealers are forced to sell only California cars. And right now, there is much uncertainty about what that means. California recently lost its waiver to regulate the emissions of model years 2021-2025. Even if the courts reinstate it, only four manufacturers have agreed to the rules. Dominant players in the Minnesota market, like GM and Fiat Chrysler, have not signed off on California’s regulations for those model years. Will Minnesotans lose access to those brands of vehicles altogether?
On top of that — California has yet to even propose its regulations for model years 2026 and beyond. Why is Gov. Walz pushing for Minnesota to follow rules that haven’t even been written yet? By adopting these standards, he is abdicating authority over Minnesota’s air quality to the California Air Resources Board (CARB). This is an organization so radical that its director recently suggested a complete ban on diesel- and gasoline-powered vehicles.
CARB is not accountable to Minnesota taxpayers or voters. It appears to blow apart the “One Minnesota” theme the governor loves to tout as we become “one” with California.
So governor, to sum up so far, by adopting California standards you’ve damaged consumer choice, consumer’s pocketbooks, dealers and our state’s sovereignty. And you’ve aligned yourself with a state with the worst air quality in the nation. So what have you gained?
Proponents will argue the ZEV mandate is still good to limit carbon and manufacturers will offer more choices here. But in most ZEV states, the manufacturers meet the mandate by buying credits or counting California sales (which apply to any state that’s part of this regulatory scheme).
Tell me again how that improves Minnesota air quality?
Our industry likes electric vehicles and has spent a lot of time and effort promoting their sale. But each year 98% of Minnesotans vote with their wallets and purchase safe and efficient combustion engine vehicles. Consumer safety is an important factor to most Minnesotans and not a priority for the California Air Resources Board.
Government can mandate that we offer more ZEV models all day long, but until there’s a breakthrough in the technology and reductions in the upfront price, the current electric vehicle options do not match up well with our state and what Minnesotans want and can afford to purchase.
All of this is for nothing. With Minnesota’s ability to adopt California rules tied up in litigation and the application of banked credits to comply with the mandates, this whole action is an empty gesture designed to satisfy environmentalists. It’s the most cynical type of politics where nothing is gained but much is lost.
Instead of using the heavy hand of mandates and aligning with a radical agency from another state, we’d prefer Gov. Walz engage legislators and interested parties on a solution that works for Minnesota. Much more could be accomplished.
Scott Lambert is president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association.