In an irony probably lost on General Motors, California has banned until further notice the sale of the Chevy Camaro SS and ZL1, the Camaro’s high-performance versions, based on environmental studies on brake pad emissions.
The fade-resistant high-performance pads used in these models emit trace amounts of heavy metal dust such as copper and asbestos during braking. These emissions are set to be illegal on January 1, 2021, with legislation coming from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s era.
The reason: these brake dust emissions are a threat to fish.
By 2025, only four model years from now, California will require that all brake pads be zero emissions, a clever regulatory assault on all cars that aren’t electric. EVs rely entirely on brake pads to slow down. And so they wear faster and emit more.
Electric cars have brakes, too, but rely on engine braking or rather motor braking to slow down. The motor that spins to propel can also apply drag to slow and recover charge in the process, converting the moving vehicle’s kinetic energy into electricity rather than heat (and brake dust).
This is why an EV’s brake pads usually last longer than a non-electric car’s.
It’s a perk if you don’t count the electric car’s expense, which is the way it’s usually presented. You’ll save so much money on brakes! And oil changes! Which is true. It’s also true you’ll pay through the nose for all those savings, as would be the case if you sold your $200k home with single-paned windows and bought a $320k home with triple-paned windows to save money on utilities.
There’s a more subtle threat on deck, too.
While the focus of the moment is on California not allowing the sale of a small number of brand-new high-performance cars equipped with high-performance brake pads, the pending 2025 ban on brake pads generally could accelerate the economic obsoleting of all cars in California that aren’t electric, not just the sale of new ones.
The parallel here is the ’90s-era regulatory of Freon-based car AC systems. The refrigerant was also banned due to environmental considerations. It is no longer possible to buy Freon over the counter without special certification from the government. Even if you have the necessary permission, the cost of the stuff is astounding.
Without a working AC, a car isn’t worth much. So, also are working brakes.
There are, of course, alternatives to Freon (all cars made since the late ’90s use a different refrigerant), and there will probably also be alternatives to the forbidden materials currently used in brake pads. But the cost of these replacements will function in the manner that costs always do—as a disincentive.
People buy less the more things cost.
Nathan Medina, an attorney representing car dealerships who stand to lose a lot of money on account of these costs, explains:
“Today, it’s only a few types of car, but these regulations are only going to get stricter, including that all-out ban in 2025. The U.S. auto industry isn’t doing so hot. These regulations are costing automakers money by being unable to sell them and forcing them to spend more time figuring out ways to make them compliant. So far, it’s two types of high-end cars that need those kinds of brakes. But in the coming years, we could see a lot more types of cars failing to meet those higher and higher standards.”
It won’t be just California, either. What California decrees usually applies everywhere—as far as what’s applied to new cars generally goes. The car companies find it easier to cave to California and impose the California Way on the rest of the country.
This brings up the irony mentioned earlier in this post.
GM had opposed California’s attempt to de facto decree national emissions standards by dint of imposing them in California and thus, making it necessary for car companies to either build two variants of cars, one for CA and another for the other states, or build one California car for all the states.
But due to the changeover of the federal government, GM now supports California-for-everyone cars, which means it will have trouble selling cars like the Camaro and all other non-electric cars everywhere.
But that may not be irony at all.
Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
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