All electric California?

Sergio Marchionne had a funny thing to say about the $32,500 battery-powered Fiat 500e that his company markets in California as “eco-chic.” “I hope you don’t buy it,” he told his audience at a think tank in Washington in May 2014 – reported in

He said he loses $14,000 on every 500e he sells and only produces the cars because state rules require it. Marchionne, who took over the bailed-out Chrysler in 2009 to form Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, warned that if all he could sell were electric vehicles, he would be right back looking for another govern­ment rescue.

So who’s forcing Marchionne and all the other major automakers to sell mostly money-losing electric vehicles? More than any other person, it’s Mary Nichols. She’s run the California Air Resources Board since 2007, championing the state’s zero-emission-vehicle quotas and backing President Barack Obama’s national mandate to double average fuel economy to 55 miles per gallon by 2025. She was chairman of the state air regulator once before, a generation ago, and cleaning up the famously smoggy Los Angeles skies is just one accomplishment in a four-decade career . . . .

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Nichols says she’s motivated in part by the fear that her three grandchildren, when they’re middle-aged, could be living in a state that’s hotter and drier, with eroded beaches and less-varied wildlife. But California emits only 2 percent of global green­house gases, which is why Nichols wants to export her clean-air programs and ideas, especially to emerging markets. Nichols is advising China about enacting its own electric car mandate, and she’s consulting with seven Chinese cities, including Beijing, that are testing a cap-and-trade program.

“There are only a handful of people who’ve had the impact on clean air Mary has had,” says Lisa Jackson, who was the Environmental Protection Agency’s chief from 2009 to 2013 and now runs green initiatives at Apple. “She’s implemented policies that are models for the world.”

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