A Californian Speaks: Can New Electric Cars and New Gasoline Performance Cars Coexist?
Last month when the Governor of California announced an executive order that the state (my home state) will outlaw the sale of all new gasoline engine vehicles by the year 2035, it naturally generated a lot of controversy among car enthusiasts.
While the order will not effect existing gasoline-powered cars, it does aim to completely eliminate their availability in the state's new car market over the next decade and a half. And that could have tremendous effects on the industry as a whole.
Political arguments aside, there are plenty of barriers to making all new cars electric, particularly in terms of the power grid and more importantly the increased charging infrastructure needed to keep millions of new electric cars moving at the same time. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about.
I’m here to talk about what the ramifications of this order could be for car enthusiasts not just here in California, but all across the United States and also the world.
As someone who loves cool cars with cool engines as much as anyone, any time something like this comes up it’s normal to worry about what will happen to the hobby we love.
Let me start by saying that I love electric cars. I have had one in my garage for the last six years and will probably always own one. For the daily grind of local driving, they are hard to beat.
They are silent, torquey, easy to maintain and it’s great being able to avoid gas stations and just plug them in at home. For a daily driver I actually prefer them over regular gasoline commuter cars. And for many drivers an EV makes a lot of sense.
But I also know more than anyone that a car often isn’t just a “logical” purchase. We often choose our vehicles based on much more than if it just satisfies our basic transportation needs.
For many people, cars are and have always been an emotional purchase. And the fact it is, If every car purchase was based on pure rationale alone, most of the cars we love would never have been built.
Now, obviously, electric cars can be extremely fast and can outperform their gas counterparts in many areas. Many EVs also satisfy the “want” side quite well. Just ask any of the hardcore Tesla fans if they see their cars as more than a driving tool.
Yet as much I like driving them everyday and appreciate what they do, I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel the same way about an electric car as I do about a Shelby Mustang, a Honda Civic Type R, a Mazda MX-5 or a Corvette.
While environmental activists and tech junkies may see all of those cars as wasteful relics that are becoming obsolete, a world without new sports cars, manual transmissions, turbochargers and V8 engines doesn’t sound too fun me.
I’ve discussed this with friends and colleagues over the last couple weeks and many of them say not to worry, that exceptions will be made so brands can still offer speciality gas cars to the enthusiast market. It’s not like all the gas stations are gonna be shut down after all. But my experiences here in California make me question that logic.
Right now with California’s stringent emissions laws and required smog checks for all cars newer than 1975, we’ve never had it easy. And unfortunately the state has been unwilling to differentiate between automotive hobbyists and regular motorists.
You can own a 1979 Pontiac Firebird that you drive 500 miles per year and only take to a car show once a month, but it still needs to visually and functionally pass an emissions tests every year—the same as a commuter car that sees tens of thousands of miles annually.
And even with the extra burden this puts on vintage car owners with the lack of parts and lack of mechanics with the knowhow to keep these old cars in compliance, California has refused to give up any ground.
And if you want to upgrade the performance of classic from the '70s or '80s it’s going to be even harder. Even a much cleaner running modern LS swap will come with a ton of extra steps that are both costly and time-consuming, even for identical tailpipe emissions.
Want to own one of those awesome 25-year old JDM imports all the other states get? Hopefully you’ve set aside several extra thousand dollars just to have a lab certify and convert it to CARB standards.
Whether imported or domestic, there is no "hobby option" for car ownership in California, and numerous attempts to develop a more acceptable alternative for responsible car hobbyists have all been shot down by the state, who prefers a blanket approach to things.
My concern is this same “all or nothing” mindset will be applied for new cars. Aside from laws, by 2035 there’s a strong chance most people won’t be buying a new Mustang or Miata or Porsche 911 to drive to work everyday. They’ll buy it for fun or to take to the track on weekends, just like many people do today.
Even before local mandates come into play, gasoline enthusiast powered cars already have an uphill battle ahead of them. If normal cars all move to electric, it will be that much harder for automakers to justify the costs of developing and building gasoline-powered cars for the enthusiast market.
Can Ford continue to develop V8 engines for the Mustang when all of their pickups have to be electric? Who knows?
Even so, given the genuine passion that people have these cars which seems as strong as ever, I’d always assumed gas cars would still be sold to those willing to pay for them. But states having halting their sale completely would likely be their last straw.
Even with their overall minimal impact on the environment, “bold” mandates against the sales fossil fuel cars will most likely make our favorite gasoline enthusiast cars extinct.
Like most rational people I am all for cars that run cleaner, air that’s easier to breathe and all the rest. Yet I worry that California is setting a precedent that will have long-reaching effects that will go well beyond the state’s borders.
For all of California’s environmental consciousness, the Golden State remains a huge market for the exact kind of emotional car purchases I’m talking about. And even if other states and countries continue to allow sales of new gasoline cars, the loss of this huge market could lead to carmakers abandoning these models on economic feasibility alone.
But then again I guess that’s exactly what our leaders want when they talk about California leading the way into a new era.
While it probably won’t happen in 15 years, the mass adoption of plug-in electric vehicles for daily use feels inevitable and as a long-time EV-owner and supporter I’m on board with that.
However, I’m very much hoping that we can find a way to accept electric vehicles as a great mainstream transportation choice while still allowing a rightful place for new and exciting vehicles with "real engines" to exist and thrive.
As a wise philosopher once said, “why not both?”