PZEV vehicles, and why you probably can’t get one in your state

Flickr photo courtesy of juancnuno.

I’ve been reading up on PZEV vehicles, ever since I saw a local advertisement for one here in Dallas.

What I didn’t realize until now is that you can’t buy PZEV cars in most states!

From the Green Car Advisor at Edmunds.com:

Vehicles with PZEV equipment are specially certified under California rules, which only six states now use. The total will jump to eleven in the next few years as Arizona, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Maryland join the green team.

The EPA doesn’t have a PZEV classification. And it  won’t simply recognize the California certification and let the cars be sold wherever there’s a market for them.

Nope, the Feds insist that if a carmaker wants to sell a vehicle all decked out in PZEV accoutrements, it must re-certify it under federal standards. That’s despite the fact, well worth repeating, that by attaining the California PZEV rating, a manufacturer already has demonstrated that the car is cleaner than anything required by EPA standards.

The Feds do provide one break, though.  Recognizing that a lot of people who live in one state might cross the border to buy in another, the EPA allows car dealers in states that share boundary lines with the “California Rule” states to sell PZEVs if the manufacturers will provide them. That brings to 15 the number of states in which PZEVs can be sold.

It also casts a shadow over the EPA’s insistence that it has to certify the cars itself.

“We try to be practical,” said EPA spokesman John Millett.

So, if you live in Nevada, Arizona or Idaho, for instance, your local Ford dealer can sell you a PZEV-rated Ford Focus, if he has one in stock or can get one from a California dealer.

Volvo spokesman Geno Effler said his company, which markets two PZEV models, even honors the 10-year emissions warranty in the nine states that share borders with the official PZEV states.

But if a dealership in  Kansas, gets its hands on a PZEV, heaven forfend!

There’s that fine of up to $27,000 for selling a California-certified PZEV car in any state that doesn’t use the California rules or doesn’t share borders with those that do.

But that didn’t explain why Subaru is selling one in Texas, until I found this article from the Dallas Morning News.

So why aren’t PZEVs in every showroom? The main reason, as you might guess, is cost. Although Subaru charges $200 for the option, some estimate that it costs as much as $1,500. If Subaru passed on the entire expense, it could hinder sales and slow the automaker’s compliance with ultra-low-emission laws.

Most PZEV builders don’t even offer them outside the hot-air – er, clean-air – states because they don’t want to multiply their losses. Subaru says it’s one of the few manufacturers that make PZEVs available everywhere.

Still, PZEV is one-tenth as expensive as hybrid hardware and technology. And if the cost were spread among a larger number of vehicles, it would probably drop further.

“That’s why test markets like Texas are important to us to see how much demand there is for PZEVs,” said Subaru spokeswoman Lisa Fleming.

So why are they only available in certain states? A columnist from MSN Autos spells it out.

Not only can’t you buy one, but the government says it’s currently illegal for automakers to sell these green cars outside of the special states. Under terms of the Clean Air Act—in the kind of delicious irony only our government can pull off—anyone (dealer, consumer, automaker) involved in an out-of-bounds PZEV sale could be subject to civil fines of up to $27,500. Volvo sent its dealers a memo alerting them to this fact, noting that its greenest S40 and V50 models were only for the special states.

So, just how green is a PZEV machine? Well, if you just cut your lawn with a gas mower, congratulations, you just put out more pollution in one hour than these cars do in 2,000 miles of driving. Grill a single juicy burger, and you’ve cooked up the same hydrocarbon emissions as a three-hour drive in a Ford Focus PZEV. As the California Air Resources Board has noted, the tailpipe emissions of these cars can be cleaner than the outside air in smoggy cities.

That’s amazing stuff. But what’s more amazing is how few people have a clue that the gas-powered, internal combustion engine could ever be this clean.

Naturally, no company wants to bring too much attention to a car that most people can’t buy, unless it’s Ferrari. And there’s the catch. PZEV models are already available from Toyota, Ford, Honda, GM, Subaru, Volvo and VW. They’re scrubbed-up versions of familiar models, from the VW Jettato the Subaru Outback. But chances are, you’ve never heard of them.

So now I’m looking to see if there is a list of PZEV vehicles that are nationally available. Does anyone know if there is such a thing as a nationally available PZEV car, and which makes and models they might be?

13 thoughts on “PZEV vehicles, and why you probably can’t get one in your state”

  1. Great info! We actually bought a 2008 Subaru Outback PZEV a couple months ago here in Colorado. The MSRP for the PZEV Outback was $200 over a comparably equiped non-PZEV Outback, but once the dealer gives you below invoice pricing, the price difference is closer to $50. My “Inner Treehugger” decided to splurge on the PZEV Outback.

    I’m not certain if the Subaru Outback PZEVs are available in every state, but they are available in Colorado. Unfortunately, the dealer and the sales people did not even suggest it. The only reason I even knew about the car was a random Sunday walk of the dealer lot and was trying to figure out what PZEV was. As you might imagine, Subarus are huge in Colorado with AWD standard. The Outback was already kind of the “Anti-SUV” wagon with the AWD and ground clearance capabilities of an SUV with better gas mileage, but now we can add the PZEV to the mix.

    I have run into a few other Subaru Outback PZEV owners that has no idea what the PZEV was. It was just the car they liked on the lot. Seems like Subaru could use the PZEV availability as a marketing tool, but that does not really seem to be the case just yet.

  2. I am stunned by this info! I, too, accidentally heard about the PZEV rating, after searching in vain for a responsible non-SUV to replace my 2000 Subaru Legacy wagon. And I intentionally wasn’t looking at Subaru because I felt that they haven’t improved gas mileage significantly since we bought our first one in 1996.

    This changes everything. I am in California, and I’m heading to the dealer tomorrow.

    I’m also going to contact Subaru – why are they not using this for marketing?

  3. Bought a pzev Forester yesterday here in New Mexico. They had tons of them on the lot here and made a point that this car exceeded the existing and pending California standards (we have a huge influx of californians here).

    $200 additional cost.

  4. I emailed Subaru about this and their response was,

    “There’s a $27,000 fine—never imposed but still on the books—for anyone who sells one of these vehicles in a state in which it hasn’t been certified. Our PZEV models are certified for sale in ALL 50-States. Subaru nor its dealers are not subject to a federal fine for national sale of PZEV.”


  5. i wish people would shut up…enough with the environment. ya wanna save the earth…kill the humans. every god damned person thinks they are the one doing the “right” thing. yet i watch “everyone” open a window instead of turing down the heat…leave open a shop door in 100 degree heat with the a.c. blasting…sit in an idling a.c. car while they watch the kids baseball game…drive a twentieth of a mile to the deli…drop pesticides and water all over their lawns enough! the planet “will” die.

  6. I have a PZEV Mazda6i that I adore. In CA, the dealer has to offer it at the same price, so the 4-cyl versions of the 6 in CA are all supposed to be PZEVs. This exempts us from 6-8 years of smog tests. The best part for me is that it does not say anything anywhere about being a PZEV, except under the hood where it matters. CA cars tend to splash their ‘green’ credentials all over themselves. This is just a normal sporty car that drives great and is actually cleaner than the ambient air in some places.

  7. I just wrote Subaru myself to ask them to make EVERY car they sell to be a PZEV. What an awesome marketing tool… “Subaru, the worlds cleanest car company.” They already have it available on most of their models, I think it would be relatively easy for them to do it standard on all.

  8. Does the California Air Resources Board audit Partial Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) warranty compliance?

    California motorists seem to be paying for repairs that the California Air Resources Board requires the car manufacturer to provide.

  9. What about Military? Any member could theoretically buy a PZEV in any of the “authorized” states and for whatever reason trade it in for a minivan or whatever (not that they would, but they could) and now the dealer in “pick-a-state-that-isn’t-authorized” could potentially get fined for having a PZEV on the lot? Doesnt seem practical or provable…seems rather like a scare tactic by some to ensure sales of gas-electric hybrid sales dont dwindle too much. I say ANY EFFORT by ANY MANUFACTURER is a nod in the right direction. There is no reason why the federal government couldnt monetarily incentivize the sale of any vehicle from any auto manufacturer that can prove city/highway above 40MPG…one day we will even have conversion kits for 67 Camaros that will enable the hot rodder in all of us to make peace with the tree hugger/environmentalist trying to be heard.

  10. @Jason

    You are correct, in that anyone could buy one if they are willing to go through the hassle of traveling to a different state to purchase it.

    You just can’t get them at a dealer in your own state, if your state isn’t one of the ones where they are available.

  11. We have the pzev models at our Indiana subaru dealership. The salesman told us that all of them will have it on them now. They only made a few cars without it being on them.

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