A measure in the Legislature would provide additional tax rebates for electric and fuel cell pickups used for work in agriculture and other sectors. Yet critics are warning it would dilute the waning incentive funds reserved for low-income Californians.

Under Gov. Gavin Newsom’s direction, the Air Resources Board (CARB) last year approved a ban on the sale of gas- and diesel-powered passenger cars and light-duty trucks by 2035. It updated the state’s initial goal of putting a million ZEV and near-zero-emission vehicles on the road by 2023. To build the ZEV market, CARB had established the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project (CVRP), incentivizing purchases and leases with rebates of up to $7,500.

State Senator Josh Newman of Fullerton is proposing to increase that by $2,500 for pickup trucks. He is arguing the state must update the CVRP “if California hopes to realistically meet its aggressive decarbonization goals,” according to Senate Bill 425.

In a policy committee hearing on Monday, Newman pointed out that the state registered more than $250,000 new pickups last year. Around five million pickups in total were already on the road, accounting for nearly 12% of all vehicles.

“The state of California has by far the largest pickup truck population in the country, handily surpassing Texas by over half a million vehicles,” he said.

Josh NewmanSen. Josh Newman, D-Fullerton

Newman called pickups a prime example of a vehicle class in high demand but desperately in need of ZEV options. According to a committee analysis, only one ZEV pickup is commercially available—the Ford F-150 Lightning, while the Rivian R1T and the Tesla Cybertruck are available for preorder. With high upfront price tags, the models are ineligible for state and federal incentives. The Lightning starts at $59,000, while the Rivian is more than $70,000 and the Tesla truck is expected to start at around $50,000.

Offering rebates up to $10,000 would “ensure hardworking Californians can and will participate in our transition to a zero-emission vehicle fleet,” according to Newman.

The California Hydrogen Coalition is backing the technology-neutral approach. Coalition lobbyist Rosanna Carvacho Elliot said fuel cells make more sense than battery-powered trucks in certain situations, such as towing products long distances when downtime is not available for charging. But fuel cell vehicles make up less than 1% of all ZEV sales and the California Energy Commission has spent 28 times more on hydrogen infrastructure per vehicle than for battery-powered ZEVs.

Regardless of the technology, time is quickly running out with the conversion to ZEV pickups, according to Chris McGlothlin, who directs technical services for the Western Agricultural Processors Association and the California Cotton Ginners and Growers Association.

“California has set aggressive goals to decarbonize the transportation sector,” said McGlothlin. “In just three years, one of every three new vehicles sold in California must be zero-emission.”

Don’t miss a beat! It’s easy to sign up for a FREE month of Agri-Pulse news! For the latest on what’s happening in Washington, D.C. and around the country in agriculture, just click here.

He described pickups as vital to agriculture and said SB 425 would encourage the expansion of renewable fuel options, making ZEVs “more affordable for our working women and men, who need them to feed and clothe not only California but the world.”

While SB 425 has garnered nearly unanimous support through several committee hearings and its first floor vote, it has gained detractors. Asm. Christopher Ward of San Diego voted against the measure, reasoning it is “a bridge too far.”

“If this was growing that pie [for the CVRP] to be able to encompass more vehicles at greater rates, that's something that I could support,” said Ward, adding that he would rather incentivize more lower-price ZEVs to reach more Californians than “carve out” more money for a class of larger vehicles.

Newman countered that SB 425 would apply to smaller pickups as well.

“It's about work trucks,” said Newman. “The most underserved area right now is working people—particularly ag.”

Yet SB 425 may be too little, too late. At the end of May, CARB announced the CVRP will run out of funds by November, before the bill would take effect. No new funding has been included in the current budget cycle, owing to a $30 billion state deficit, though budget trailer bills over the summer could change the situation.

CARB, meanwhile, has planned for several years to phase down the CVRP rebates as ZEV sales increased. In 2016 the agency defined a self-sustaining ZEV market as one that has reached 16-20% of total new car sales. California hit 21% in April.

For more news, go to Agri-Pulse.com.