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Sometimes all it takes is one state with a very large population to influence changes in industry.  That’s been the California story more than once, and the state added a new chapter this week. Air regulators for the state passed, by unanimous decision, new auto emission standards that call for 1.4 million electric and hybrid vehicles motoring on the state’s roads by 2025.

The rules that the California Air Resources Board enacted on Friday, January 27, 2012—requiring 1 in 7 news cars sold in 2025 be electric or no emissions vehicles—will have huge effects on the automobile industry. With such sweeping revisions to regulations by the Board, California changes the automobile market and creates greater opportunities for the sale of zero emission vehicles. Currently, the state has roughly 10,000 zero emissions vehicles on the road.

More than once, California has been on the cutting edge of air quality. The state has auto emissions standards that are stricter than federal ones, and 14 other states have followed California’s guidelines. California’s leading role in pursuing air quality have caused changes in the auto industry before. Through its ban of leaded gasoline, its requirement that vehicles have catalytic converters, and its limits on greenhouse emissions from vehicles, California has reshaped the vehicles that auto manufacturers have produced for the nation. The new air quality regulations will alter the automobile market once again.

In addition to the requirement that a greater percentage of vehicles on California’s road be electric by 2025, the state has also set new standards for gasoline and diesel vehicles. These include a dramatic reduction in carbon dioxide and other greenhouse emissions, as well as greater fuel efficiency. Newer vehicles must achieve a performance with greater miles to the gallon. Faced with these stricter new requirements in a huge, auto-buying market, car manufacturers will, of necessity, have to produce far larger numbers of fuel-efficient gas vehicles.

For consumers, the Board predicts added costs to the purchase price of a new car, which could be $1,900, will be offset by a savings in gas purchases which could be as much as $5,900 over the life of the vehicle.

The benefits of the new regulations will be many. Anyone old enough to remember what it was like in California’s cities in decades past will remember the ugly, dark smog that dirtied the air and made it difficult to breathe for some. While smog is still a problem in the state, California’s groundbreaking legislation decades ago went a long way to improving the air quality. Of course, there’s always the pleasure of not having to fork over so much money to fill the tank. As the price per gallon of gasoline skyrocketed, car manufacturers learned that the public wouldn’t let new fuel-efficient cars sit on dealership lots for long.

With global pressures continuing, and the demand for gasoline rising in new markets, the price per gallon of gas is no doubt going to continue to increase. That makes fuel-efficient and all-electric vehicles more appealing to the buying public, increasing demand which will further lead to greater numbers of these vehicles on the road. In a short while, all-electric vehicles could be very commonplace in the U.S. A poll last year by the Public Policy Institute of California showed that a vast majority of Californians—84 percent—wanted the new rules that would require car manufacturers to improve gas mileage.

Improving air quality is a win for everyone. After all, we’re all breathing the same thing.

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