Meet the Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle, or ULEV

All About Ultra Low Emissions Vehicles

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ULEV is an acronym for Ultra Low Emission Vehicle. ULEVs release emissions that are 50 percent cleaner than the current average year's models. ULEVs take the LEV, Low Emission Vehicle, standard a step further but don't yet qualify for Super-Ultra Low Emissions Vehicle (SULEV) status.

Although already a concept in car manufacturer's wheelhouse, the rise in popularity of ULEV vehicles came after a ruling by the California courts in 2004 that all new cars sold in the state must have at least a LEV rating.

Similar measures passed by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on vehicle emissions regulations have also given rise to the popularity of eco-friendly vehicles. 

Origins of Low Emissions

As a result of the EPA's 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act of 1970, light-duty vehicle manufacturing began to undergo a series of phased implementation of cleaner emissions standards. Typically restricting the output of too much carbon monoxide, non-methane organic gasses, oxides of nitrogen, formaldehyde, and particulate matter, these regulations sought to downsize the carbon footprint of the automobile industry in the United States. The phases of this plan rolled out Tier 1 classifications from 1994 through 1999 with Tier 2 implemented from 2004 to 2009. 

As part of California's 2004 low-emissions vehicle initiative, which provided much stricter regulations for qualifying as a low-emission vehicle, the tiers were further broken down into six sub-classifications: Transitional Low-Emissions Vehicles (TLEV), LEV, ULEV, SULEV, Partial-Zero Emissions Vehicle (PZEV) and Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV).

In 2009, President Barack Obama announced a new initiative to further decrease emissions outputs for American auto consumers. This included expanding the classifications' definitions as well as standardizing California's 2004 bill as a federally mandated program, requiring manufacturers to produce a net emissions output of their vehicles (meaning the combined average of each vehicle's emissions rating) that equaled more than 35.5 miles per gallon.

Common Examples

The number of ULEVs on the road has exponentially increased annually since 1994, though it wasn't until the 2010s that the market for LEVs really took off. Still, decades of experience have taught car manufacturers one thing: eco sells. More and more, companies are rushing to meet requirements for their vehicles to qualify as LEVs. 

Examples of these Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicles have begun cropping up more and more frequently starting with 2007's Honda Odyssey minivan, the 2007 Chevrolet Malibu Maxx and the 2007 Hyundai Accent. Prices are typically midrange for these mid-range low-emissions autos, encouraging more consumers to be eco-conscious with their driving habits. 

Fortunately, the advent of such fuel economy measuring tools as the instant fuel economy display also helps further combat fuel waste by alerting drivers to the real-time miles per gallon fuel consumption their car requires to operate given the driver's handling of the vehicle. Most cars produced in the United States now qualify at the very least as LEVs, with emissions across the board now down to less than one percent of emissions allowed in the U.S. in the 1960s. 

Soon, hopefully, we will move further away from gasoline-reliant vehicles and instead switch to electric or hydro-powered engines.