Cali Puts Kibosh on “Cool Cars” to Save In-Car Electronics

In California, an effort to reduce carbon emissions from vehicles came into conflict with the function of certain electronic devices — and the state’s Air Resources Board (ARB) has come down in favor of the electronics. ARB announced Thursday that the so-called Cool Cars rulemaking will now “cease.”

The decision to halt the rule, which would have required reflective metallic glazing on car windshields by 2012 and all windows in 2016 for vehicles sold in California, comes as a response to protests from stakeholders that the glazing would block or at least degrade in-car wireless reception for electronic devices.

Gadget makers, car companies and other groups have raised concerns that GPS navigation systems, mobile phones, toll-collection systems, ankle bracelets for monitoring parolees, and other devices would be affected by the glazing. This week’s decision points to the considerable influence of the auto and telecom lobbies, which campaigned against the mandate. In years past, as Edmunds has explained, ARB slashed requirements for fuel cell and all-electric vehicles (“zero emission vehicles”) to “accommodate automaker concerns that neither the technologies nor the marketplace are quite ready yet.”

This latest move marks a shift from the position suggested in an ARB report late last year. In November the agency released findings that the new rule, meant to help keep vehicles cool in the sun (and thus cut use of energy-guzzling air conditioners) could interfere slightly with signal reception for GPS devices, but probably wouldn’t block most mobile phone signals.

The Cool Cars initiative came as part of California’s Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32), which mandates a drop in greenhouse gas emissions for the state to 1990 levels by 2020. According to ARB’s estimates, the regulation could prevent more than 1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles.

ARB deletion window testARB explained in the November report that it researched ways to work around the reception problem and decided to allow a small “deletion” window in the glaze (pictured at left), where signals would be able to come through unhindered. Garmin International, Toyota, Nissan and other companies were not convinced this allowance went far enough for their products.

According to a statement in Thursday’s release from ARB executive officer James Goldstene, the Board now plans to, “pursue a performance-based approach as part of its vehicle climate change program to reduce CO2 from air conditioning and provide cooler car interiors for California motorists.”

That performance-based option was already on the table for the 2016 step-up in the original ruling. ARB explained back in July 2009 (PDF) that automakers would have the option to meet the state’s target — blocking 60 percent of solar heat gain — with “a combination”of the required glazing and other solar control technologies.

Some of the options that ARB suggested at the time, and that we might see rolling out in coming years as a result of the new performance-based approach, include solar reflective paints, passive or active ventilation systems, solar reflective or thermo-regulating materials and vehicle insulation.

Photos courtesy ARB

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