The California Air Resources Board has proposed a new mandate to require car companies to install metallic reflective windows, which CARB Chairwoman Mary Nichols describes as “a common-sense and cost-effective measure that will help cool the cars we drive and fight global warning.”
CARB claims that reflective windows will reduce the interior temperatures of vehicles and reduce greenhouse gases by making air conditioners work less, thus using less gasoline. The mandate, unfortunately, ignores a host of practical problems.
Car manufacturers, for example, may be unable to deliver the actual product. Chrysler has already indicated that it may have to stop selling its new GEM electric vehicle — which doesn’t even have air conditioning — because it cannot meet the new standard. Honda, another leading green automotive company, has said the new requirement “is simply not feasible” on the current timetable.
The regulations would take effect in 2012, with a three-year phase-in that requires most vehicles to possess reflective windows that block 45 percent of sunlight by 2014. The mandate would increase to 60 percent blockage in 2016. The proposed regulation would apply to most new vehicles weighing 10,000 pounds or less — essentially most new passenger cars and light trucks — and exempt vehicles with flexible plastic windows.
The regulation calls for microscopic metal flakes to be embedded in or coated on windows. Such windows reflect not just sunlight but also radio waves. This can prevent drivers from using garage door openers, GPS technology, satellite radios, parolee ankle bracelets and cell phones.
In addition, it is highly likely that the reflective windows will interfere with California’s FasTrak toll system for bridges and highways. CARB readily admits the mandate creates problems with radio signals but has offered little or no indication on how it or drivers will deal with such problems.
CARB also seems to have ignored the experience of Toyota, a leader in green automotive technology. From 1989 to 1994 Toyota attempted to use similar reflective glass in Japan before being forced to drop it because of problems with consumer electronic products such as GPS, radio and cell phones.
Some observers have also suggested that the regulation may not be consistent with California’s vehicle tint law (CVC section 26708), which limits side windows to 12 percent light blockage, or with federal laws, which set a limit of 30 percent light blockage for safety reasons.
Beyond the practical problems, the cost considerations are worthy of reflection. According to CARB, the first phase of the mandate will cost at least $111 over the life of a vehicle.
The board estimates this will increase to $250 by 2016 with the more stringent standard. CARB says that it will take five to 12 years for consumers to recover these costs from reduced gasoline use.
These savings estimates are unrealistic. They ignore the costs that problems with radio, GPS, FasTrak and the like would impose. Glass repairs would be more expensive.
Further, the average car is only owned for six to seven years, so many of the claimed benefits would go to people other than those who paid the higher cost.
CARB has suggested that, in addition to claimed reductions in global warming, the mandate would protect against upholstery fading and prevent dashboard cracking.
Even if true, this hardly compensates for the obvious defects of the mandate.
Contrary to its claims, CARB’s new mandate is neither common-sense nor cost-effective.
Tom Tanton is a senior fellow with the San Francisco-based Pacific Research Institute. He wrote this article for the Mercury News.