Prior to changes set to come in 2015 only the top six car manufacturers in California were legally obliged to ensure that at least 10% of their sales were in the shape of the zero emission vehicles. This created an "unnatural" market, which received some criticism but in reality it has probably been a very useful catalyst for the U.S. EV industry. Changes set to go live in 2015 will expand this league of 6 to all car manufacturers selling vehicles in the state.
This has led to the creation of so-called "compliance cars", which are often seen as loss leaders so that companies are able fulfil their legal obligations regarding zero emission vehicles, while continuing their core operations.
California's role in the EV market
You will need to look back to the 1990s and the infamous General Motors EV1 to see the ongoing role which California players in the EV market. A variety of legislation changes brought in by the California authorities encouraged the creation of the General Motors EV1 although there were some U-turns, challengers, and behind-the-scenes deals that seemed to kill the industry and the EV1 overnight.
While others come and go, California State authorities have maintained their front-running position in the US EV market. The introduction of minimum sales requirements for zero emission vehicles has been in place for some time and the fact it will be expanded in 2015 has caught the attention of the worldwide media. Those who still suspect that this legislation will lead to more "compliance cars" maybe had a point a few years ago but the situation regarding the US EV market has changed dramatically in recent times.
Quote from ElectricForum.com : "Tesla has given its strongest hint yet that within 4 years the company will have a $30,000 EV available with a 200+ mile journey capacity."
Newcomers to the market
Over the last decade or so we have seen the likes of Tesla come to the fore and take the U.S. EV market by the scruff of the neck. The company has dragged the industry forward, often kicking and screaming, although in many ways other manufacturers are now adding to the momentum and the ongoing promotion of electric vehicles. There will always be niche players in the EV market but as and when some of the mass-market manufacturers manage to inject EVs into the wider marketplace we should see a significant shift in power and momentum.
There are those on the flip side of the coin who argue that legislative changes in California have encouraged the development and production of electric vehicles. Many of these electric vehicles do go on to be sold in other countries around the world and indeed often in other states around the U.S. Whether indeed compliance vehicles are as relevant today as they were is a matter for debate but whatever the reason for the ongoing improvement in the reputation of EVs, long may it last!
Initially, and maybe to a certain extent today, legislative changes in California certainly did encourage investment and production of electric vehicles. However this injection of technology, new vehicles and new modes of transport has taken on a life of its own over the last few years with momentum beginning to build. It will be interesting to see whether any more legislative changes are required to push the electric vehicle market towards the "mass market" or whether indeed the ongoing momentum would be enough to see it over the line.