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Nissan's fuel cell sedan. California's ARB is proposing to let carmakers substitute 250 vehicles similar to these for battery ZEVs.

Switching Gears

Part one of interview with Richard Varenchik, ARB deputy communications officer

By Bill Moore

To listen to PART TWO of our interview with Richard Varenchik, click the Play Audio 2 link at the right. Be sure to read EVWorld's Passion May Save EVs in California on the just concluded Air Resources Board meeting.

Part One: The headlines fairly shouted the news: California is getting ready to abandon its decade-old Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate. The implication was that the state had finally come to the realization that battery electric vehicles where a commercial failure and was prepared to shift its focus to hybrid-electric and fuel cell vehicles.

Various reporters reached this conclusion after reading a draft version of a revised proposal being floated by the Air Resources Board staff, a proposal intended to remove one especially irritating component of the previous 2001 mandate. A quick reading of the revised draft could lead one to the conclusion that battery EVs where being phased out, so in order to get to the heart of the matter, EV World contacted ARB and spoke with Richard Varenchik, the deputy communications officer for the El Monte, California office.

We asked Varenchik point-blank, Is ARB abandoning the zero emission mandate? His response was an unequivocal no, the board was not giving up on the mandate, but it was "switching gears" and offering carmakers what, in essence, amounts to two different technology paths, one that is based on a combination of battery electric, hybrid-electric and SULEV technology, and the other on hydrogen fuel cells.

Varenchik emphasized that first of all, these are only proposals and do not become fact until ARB votes on it, which is slated to take place late this March. He explained that the board is offering two options, one based on a revised version of the 2001 mandate that incudes a 2% allowance for ZEVs, essentially battery electric vehicles, 2% advanced technology partial ZEVs (ATPZEV), and 6% super ultra low emission vehicles or SULEVs.

The second option and new to the mandate is a proposal that would allow a carmaker to join a consortium of other interested automakers in producing a total of 250 fuel cell powered vehicles by 2008, in addition to meeting the remainder of their ZEV requirements with 4% ATPZEVs and 6% PZEVs or partial zero emission vehicles.

We asked Varenchik to elaborate on what the different classes of vehicles are. He explained that ZEVs are traditional battery electric vehicles with no local tailpipe or evaporative emissions. Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles also fall into this class. ATPZEVs make use of some ZEV technology, typically hybrid-electric drives. ARB has currently not certified any production vehicles at ATPZEVs. PZEVs have extremely low emissions and qualify for partial ZEV credits. Varenchik noted California has certified ten vehicles as PZEVs

Interestingly, of the ten vehicles listed, only one uses an alternative fuel, the Honda Civic GX, which uses natural gas. All the rest, made mostly by Japanese car builders including Honda, Toyota and Nissan, burn gasoline, but emit so few pollutants relative to other vehicles on the market, that ARB is willing to permit them 0.2 zev credits. This means for every five PZEVs sold in California, the carmaker gets one ZEV credit.

Varenchik took some pains to explain how ARB arrives at a PZEV rating. But first he noted that ZEVs are significantly cleaner than any gasoline vehicle, even including power-plant emissions. As ARB chairman Allan Lloyd has told EV World on several occasions, ZEVs are the "gold standard" for vehicle emissions.

The first criteria to be rated PZEV is the vehicle must have SULEV tailpipe emissions, the most stringent emission level in the world. Next, the vehicle must have nearly zero evaporative emissions, meaning it can't emit more than a mere trace of gasoline fumes from its fuel tank and fuel line system. Finally, the manufacturer must warranty the entire system for 150,000 miles. He added that hybrid vehicles can qualify once they meet these standards.

We asked Varenchik about the status of the law suit by GM and DaimlerChrysler that placed an injunction on the State preventing it last year from enforcing the mandate. He explained that there was a provision in the 2001 version that enabled carmakers to earn additional credits efficiency improvements. They objected to this on the grounds that it was tantamount to usurping the prerogative of the US Congress to determine fuel efficiency standards. The court sided with carmakers and forced ARB to redraft its proposal, eliminating the efficiency provision. CARB complied, adding that it also voluntarily decided to forego trying to implement the mandate for both 2003 and 2004 in order to give carmakers a chance to get their vehicle manufacturing plans in place.

He also emphasized that while the provisions for fuel cell option appears silent as to what happens after the 2008 target date when the envisioned consortium has produced its 250 FCEVs, ARB has left open the option to review the status of the program and technology. The language of the staff proposal provides for the appointment of an independent review panel that would investigate technology, market and infrastructure issues prior to 2008. ARB would then decide upon further revisions to the ZEV mandate.

"You have to remember that you have an extremely fluid, rapidly advancing technology here," Varenchik commented. "Some the changes that you're seeing the proposal that will go before the board on March 27th are the result of the fact that things have changed so quickly and we fully expect that after 2003, 2004, 2005 there are going to be other changes. And so it is very likely that in the future you will see new changes to the ZEV mandate based on how technology flows, advances and comes along."

Part Two Available As Audio Only

Times Article Viewed: 3982
Published: 22-Mar-2003

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