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It’s the 6,000-pund Tesla X in the room: California vehicle fees based on weight
Dennis Wyatt 2022
Dennis Wyatt

This is a morality tale of two SUVs.

One is a 2023 Ford Escape selling for $40,000.

The other is a Tesla X selling for $109,900

The initial registration fees for the Ford Escape is $580. Of that amount, $261 is for current vehicle license fee while $177 is for the current transportation improvement fee.

The initial registration fees for Tesla X is $1,044. Of that amount, $716 is for the current  vehicle license fee while $206 is for the current transportation fee.

Proportionately to the purchase price that seems fair.

But, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Or — in the case of California — exactly how the State Legislature going to backfill the inevitable drying up of the gas tax to maintain and repair roads.

It is the ultimate byproduct of the pending mandate that bans all new fossil fuel car sales in California starting in 2035.

The bigger winner in such a move, of course, are electric vehicles as opposed to other zero-carbon technologies such as hydrogen fuel cells.

The government, as usual, chose the winners by curing the technology herd by heaping boatloads of tax breaks and tax credits to spur EV development, investment and sales.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with the idea given that is how America works in 2023.

It’s the execution that really is lacking.

Some of the hurdles such as a more robust charging network and even shorter charging times will undoubtedly improve as time passes.

The jury, contrary to the sales pitch more reminisce of a shyster salesman working on 100 percent commission who plans to fold up the proverbial tent and hit the road after making his fortune, is still out on whether the green preferred renewable energies will be enough to keep America on the road.

Whether the entire concept works is someone else’s problem.

It’s head-in-the-sand thinking at best or trickle down arrogance at worst.

There are two not-so-little details that are glossed over: The fuel source to charge batteries and the tax flow to maintain and build roads.

Everything — not just our modes of transportation — is being forced to go to  electricity as its power source as opposed to natural gas or gasoline. That runs the gamut from cooking and heating to manufacturing concerns.

This comes at the same time the government is pulling the plug on fossil fuels to generate electricity.

Clearly, politicians and greenies intend to make energy companies the scapegoat for not moving fast enough or trying to profit when the mandated green energy sources are inadequate to replace the fossil fuel sources of energy that are being forced offline and therefore trigger a supply and demand issue that results in higher prices.

Politicians and green advocates can deflect blame for what their forced solution with EVs and 100 percent non-fossil fuel based energy creates.

But the one place they can’t appease the masses with rhetoric attacking the big business boogeymen is the bill to maintain and build roads.

Assemblymember Christopher M. Ward (D-San Diego) deserves credit for addressing the 6,000-pound Tesla X in the room even though if it is indirectly.

In January, Ward introduced Assembly Bill 251 to explore basing vehicle registration fees on weight instead of the value of the car. Keep in mind, the current fee schedule drops as years go by as the vehicle ages and loses value. The curb weight of the vehicle never drops.

His bill also would require a California Transportation Commission study into the connection between vehicle weight and injuries to and deaths of pedestrians and bicyclists.

As it stands now, in low-speed crashes insurance data indicates there is little difference in the outcome for pedestrians and bicyclists if they are hit by a smaller or a heavier vehicle. That changes as the speed of the impact enters the “immediate” range.”

Before you say “duh”, there is an agenda.

Ward’s bill would use such study to determine whether higher fees would affect drivers' behavior, and how the revenue from the fees could be used to improve safety features on the roads for pedestrians and cyclists.

In reality, it is not about replacing the gas tax that generates $7.1 billion a year for road work by charging 51.1 cents per gallon of gas  at the pump per se

But if definitely opens the door.

It hasn’t been much of a “state secret” — pun intended — that road wear is tied into the weight of vehicles as well as miles driven.

The “tax-you-as-you-go” approach of basing annual vehicle fees on miles driven using a device on board that the DMV can download to send you a monthly or quarterly bill is by far the most equitable in terms of those who use and wear down the roads pay more.

Such an approach, though, tends to trigger harsh pushback across the political spectrum from the end users which are drivers.

Ward’s plan is to tie the vehicle fees into weight to charge those in heavier vehicles for basically owning heavier vehicles regardless of whether they ever get into an accident.

As such, it likely will have little traction.

But with the looming $7.1 billion annual loss of gas tax revenue that will dwindle slowly down as 2035 approaches with more  EVs on the road, it is a great way for politicians to avoid incurring the wrath of voters by making “tax-as-you-go” monthly bills for driving.

That’s because the tax — and honestly the actual cost of what it takes to build and maintain roads — is too transparent.
As such Ward’s bill — whether it was the intent or not — could provide be the means to kill the demand for SUVs, heavy-duty pickups and larger sedans.

The behavior that would be modified under Ward’s bill, of course is the financial decisions people make when buying a car. A couple hundred dollar annual registration premium on owning an SUV clearly wouldn’t peel off very many buyers. But make it a good sized hit and it will.

And since the SUV never gets lighter, it will kill — or at least weaken — the secondary market for used SUVs and heavier/bigger vehicles as well.’

Ironically, the vehicles it would hurt the most are larger EVs and those equipped with much heavier long-range hatteries like the Tesla X.

If a useful life of a battery pack is 150,000 miles at best, you’re going to think twice about plunking down big bucks for a used “big” SUV with 100,000 or so  miles on it that has a sky-high registration fee that never goes down as the value of the vehicle drops.

As for this being far-fetched, consider this: There is now a small but growing segment of the green movement that believes the environmental impacts needed for battery packs to move heavy weights and go farther between charges are too costly to tolerate at least for individual vehicles driven by the masses.

They see a Ford F-150 Lightning as being as bad as a gas-powered Ford F-150. Or, if you will, a longer-range Tesla X is no better than a gas- powered Chevy Suburban.

Their bottom line is a world where all-electric Chevy Bolts and all-electric Nissan Leafs are the lithium standard.