California Assembly Bill 2350, titled “Vehicular air pollution: Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project” is on a mission to extend government incentives normally offered to those who buy new electric cars to those who convert their vehicles from gas to electric, or who buy a vehicle that has already been converted. It’s actually totally logical; let’s dig into this proposed bill.
I visited legendary electric vehicle conversion company EV West a few weeks back (I’ll have a story on that soon), and while giving me a tour of his incredible facility, the boss, Michael Bream, told me about some bill SEMA was working on related to EV conversions. SEMA, of course, stands for Specialty Equipment Market Association. It’s a trade association of companies (including EV West) involved in the automotive aftermarket, and it’s probably best known for its annual SEMA show in Las Vegas — a show that usually features wildly modified vehicles like absurdly-lifted Jeeps and trucks and amazing restomodded old muscle cars.
Michael put me in touch with Christian Robinson, a member of SEMA’s D.C.-based lobbying team. Robinson told me that the 2021 SEMA show had featured quite a few EV conversions, and that the excitement surrounding those conversions had sent the trade association “looking at the laws that were on the books as it relates to EVs, particularly in California.” What SEMA found were plenty of government incentives, but not for EV-converted used cars. “All the programs they’ve got on the books,” Robinson told me, “are for new cars…Why don’t we do something for this segment of the hobby — people that are looking to turn a used car into an EV?”
SEMA got in touch with Tim Grayson, who represents the San Francisco-area’s 14th Assembly District, and who Robinson tells me is a car-nut (he was SEMA’s Legislator of the Year for his work related to California’s strict exhaust sound restrictions a few years back). Grayson’s got quite a big automotive presence in his district; the city of Benicia, for example, is home to Red Line Oil, a SEMA member who is partners with engine tuning company Arrington (who, incidentally, showed a hydrogen-powered 1948 Chevy Truck called “Zero” at SEMA 2021).
Anyway, after chatting with SEMA, Grayson introduced the proposed “Vehicular air pollution: Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project” bill, which you can read here. It is rather short and, per Robinson, really just represents a starting point for EV conversion incentives. Here’s the summary, which essentially describes an addition to the already-existing Clean Vehicle Rebate Project that gives Californians up to $7,000 off their plug-in hybrid, fully-electric, or fuel-cell vehicle (most rebates for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project appear to be in the $1,000 to $4,500 range). The goal for the proposed “Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion project” is to provide folks with up to $2,000 to help purchase an old car that has been converted into an electric vehicle. From AB-2350:
Existing law directs the State Air Resources Board to coordinate efforts to attain and maintain ambient air quality standards. Existing law creates the Air Quality Improvement Program, administered by the state board, to fund, upon appropriation by the Legislature, air quality improvement projects relating to fuel and vehicle technologies.
[…]The state board shall establish the Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project (ZACP) and shall allocate up to two million dollars ($2,000,000) annually from the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, established as part of the Air Quality Improvement Program established pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 44274), to provide an applicant with a rebate for an eligible vehicle that has been converted into a zero-emission vehicle.
The proposal also mentions that “The state board shall develop guidelines for the program, define qualifying conversion-types for used vehicles, define eligible replacement motors, power systems, and parts, and establish minimum eligibility criteria for an applicant to be eligible for the rebate described in subdivision.”
Here’s a look at some of those guidelines:
(1) An eligible zero-emission vehicle shall have a range of at least 100 miles.(2) The equivalent of any manufacturer suggested retail price limit established for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project for a comparable vehicle category shall apply, based on total zero-emission vehicle cost, including the value of the donor vehicle at the time of conversion and the cost of conversion.(3) Any income limits established for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project shall apply.(4) In establishing rebate amounts, the state board shall ensure that the rebate issued for a converted zero-emission vehicle provides cost-effective benefits to the state in reducing air pollution that are equivalent to the benefits to the state in reducing air pollution with respect to the issuance of rebates for new zero-emission vehicles.(c) A new vehicle frame may be installed on an eligible vehicle so long as it is installed to accommodate a zero-emission vehicle conversion.(d) A rebate issued pursuant to the Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project shall be limited to one per vehicle and have a value of up to two thousand dollars ($2,000).(e) A minimum of 25 percent of the rebates issued pursuant to the Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project shall be issued to those eligible for the Clean Cars 4 All program, as established in Section 44124.5.(f) The state board shall coordinate the Zero-Emission Aftermarket Conversion Project with the enhanced fleet modernization program, established pursuant to Article 11 (commencing with Section 44124) of Chapter 5, the Charge Ahead California Initiative, established pursuant to Chapter 8.5 (commencing with Section 44258), and the Clean Vehicle Rebate Project, established as part of the Air Quality Improvement Program established pursuant to Article 3 (commencing with Section 44274).
A few notes on the above guidelines. Clean Cars 4 All is “program that focuses on providing incentives through California Climate Investments to lower-income California drivers to scrap their older, high-polluting car and replace it with a zero- or near-zero emission replacement,” as the state of California puts it on its website. Also, note that number two relates to the $45,000 maximum MSRP for vehicles to be eligible for the Clean Vehicle Rebate Program (incidentally, Tesla’s recent price hikes mean its cars are now ineligible).
I’ve put the more interesting notes in bold. First, you can install a new frame if you like, which is great, because some of the coolest cars out there are just not quite built on the best bones for an EV conversion. More than anything, this just allows for flexibility, which I like.
The 100 mile minimum range requirement could be a bit problematic. Most people probably live well within 50 miles of work; a vehicle that offers 65 miles of range, for example, could allow someone to ditch the 1990 Ford Explorer they’ve been commuting with for years. Or, better yet, convert it. Perhaps more problematic is the testing; how will the California Air Resources Board determine whether a vehicle meets the 100-mile minimum range requirement? This seems like something that will fall off the bill at some point, and be replaced with something similar like a minimum battery size requirement.
“We see this as logical step in terms of what consumers are going to be looking for,” Robinson told me about SEMA, who is sponsoring this proposed bill. And I tend to agree. The auto industry has been around in the U.S. for well over a century. It has engrained itself into our very psyche; the idea that everyone’s going to drive around in 2012-or-newer cars in the near future is absurd. Americans love old cars — the way they look, the way they feel inside that cabin, the way they ride. As states like California push for mass EV-adoption, they’re essentially pushing for the extinction of old cars, which just doesn’t jibe with many, many Americans. So it’s time to do something about it; it’s time to incentivize EV conversions. I’d like to see something like this on the federal level — an addition to the current program that offers up to $7,500 in credits for new EV purchases, and something more than just $2,000. Possibly even more than $7,500, as EV conversions are expensive, but they reuse a lot of components, which seems good for the environment. I can see how it’d be a tricky thing to regulate, but you can’t expect people to stop buying their 1966 Ford Mustang to drive a 2020 EV. Yes, we need to preserve the planet, but we’ve got to preserve soul, too.