By Nichola Groom
(Reuters) - California's powerful air quality regulator on Wednesday proposed sweeping new rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles, including putting 1.4 million electric, plug-in and hydrogen cars on the state's roads by 2025.
In addition to curbing climate warming gases, the program will also save drivers $22 billion in fuel costs, the state's Air Resources Board said.
The proposals are part of the Golden State's aggressive plan to reduce climate warming emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and come three weeks after the Obama administration proposed doubling auto fuel efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon nationwide by 2025.
The ARB will consider adoption of the rules at a meeting on January 26.
California is the biggest U.S. car market and has had the distinction of being able to set policy independent of federal rules, making it over the years into a laboratory for change.
The United States developed its new greenhouse gas standard for 2017 vehicle models and beyond jointly with California, which has long had separate, more stringent regulations. The new standard will reduce greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles by 34 percent compared to 2016 levels.
The state also said that though new, fuel-sipping technologies will increase the cost of a new vehicle by about $1,900, those costs will be more than offset by $6,000 in fuel cost savings over the life of the car.
About 40 percent of California's greenhouse gases come from vehicles, and the state's new rules also aim to stimulate production of so-called zero-emission vehicles, or ZEVs, which include cars that run on electric batteries and fuel cells.
The state wants ZEVs such as Nissan Motor Co Ltd's all-electric Leaf or plug-in hybrids like General Motors' Chevrolet Volt to make up more than 15 percent of new vehicle sales by 2025.
But, the state said, plug-in hybrids would be transitional vehicles, adding that 87 percent of the cars on the road will have to be pure ZEVs by 2050 for the state to achieve its goals.
The target is an aggressive one considering that such vehicles make up well below 1 percent of the market, and California has been forced to scale back its ZEV goals in the past because vehicle technology lagged the state's hopes for putting clean cars on its roads and highways.
In 2008, the ARB reduced the number of pure ZEVs to 7,500 for the three years from 2012 to 2014 from a previous requirement of 25,000.
Since then, however, automakers have stepped up their investment in more fuel-efficient vehicles, including battery electric cars.
Still, the new rules include a provision to allow automakers that over comply with their fuel efficiency requirements across their fleet to offset their ZEV requirement, an apparent acknowledgment of the slow pace of getting such vehicles into the mass market.
But some green car advocates said that while the new requirement was strong, California should not give automakers a mechanism to offset their ZEV requirement.
"With more than 30 models of electric cars expected from automakers in the next few years, California should feel confident enough to eliminate special credits that could undermine the proposal and set a 30 percent more aggressive sales target," Don Anair, senior engineer with the Union of Concerned Scientists' clean vehicle program, said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nichola Groom; Editing by Richard Chang)