It’s still crazy this embarrassment, around highway speed limits. I am not talking about what Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne expressed when she denied ever having declared herself in favor of 110 km/h on the motorway. No benefit from the great silence of politicians and the media around this issue, while fifty years ago, in the same context of war, threat of shortages and high prices, the government immediately set the first limitations, 120 km/h (then 140, then 130) on the highway.
No, I am referring to the fact that almost no French media have mentioned the end of free speed on German motorways, unanimously voted on two weeks ago by the Environment Ministers of the sixteen Länder.
A real fact is the abandonment of this totem that the German automotive industry has defended for half a century in the name of the reputation of excellence and performance of its “ahotos”.
It took a war not far from its borders and the prospect of turning off the Russian oil tap for Germany to end this exception that had become an aberration. A war and also the promise of carbon neutrality in 2050…
They will have to agree on the number after 1 and before 0: 130 km/h as in France and Italy it is more often advanced, but some ministers prefer 110 for the signal given to the population and neighboring states.
At 130 km/h, the king is naked
For the global automotive industry, the end of free speed on German highways is a major turning point. In fact, much more than for the German driver already acquired mainly at the recommended 130 km / h.
If even in Germany we can no longer roll the balls at full speed, the king is naked: those fast sedans, those powerful SUVs, those hundreds of horsepower, those huge wheels and brakes, all those expensive standards of excellence imposed along the decades from Detroit to Turin, from Shanghai to Sochaux, suddenly become absurd, useless.
Munich, Stuttgart, Zuffenhausen and Ingolstadt would no longer be engineers’ Meccas, the places where the canons of the good car were established. Unless they stay that way, adapting to the new situation.
And this is much more promising than the decrease – indeed anecdotal – of C02 emissions between Bonn and Berlin, Freiburg and Hamburg.
Because here is finally a chance to rethink our cars in a way that meets the needs of the time and break out of the ever-faster shackles that have made our cars superfluous, unnecessarily greedy despite engine progress (excluding Covid, volumes of fuel consumed in the Old Continent never decreased) and, above all, now overpriced.
Who to motorize the 750 million Europeans?
Because it’s not just about ecology, it’s about economy: an increasing and now a majority of Europeans can no longer afford a new car.
The rise in prices, and even more radical caused by the electric car, makes the renewal of our car fleets and their electrification even more utopian. We buy more and more used cars, which are always older and we make them last longer and longer.
Even the Golf is no longer Monsieur Toulemonde’s car. It’s true that it offers more than a ’90s Mercedes S-Class.
In this aberrant context in which the automotive industry no longer has customers other than wealthy retirees and prosperous companies and where the majority of the population runs out of the thermal fleet, which could motorize the 750 million Europeans within its reach ? I only see China achieving this: look at the prices of an Aiways or an MG, they are much cheaper there…
And by the way, who completely dominates the battery production chain, from raw material extraction to cell manufacturing?
Hold 130 without downshifting on hills…
Is the game lost? Not if we turn the tables.
The end of the myth of free speed and the straitjacket that he imposed makes it possible to finally revolutionize the car, to make it again conform to its real use and to the buyer’s means. And more than by chance, to escape its general and compulsory electrification.
That’s also why I ask for 110 km/h across Europe. If more cars are not likely to surpass this rate, the basics of their design could change radically. No more need for 100+ horsepower, oversized wheels, brakes, and extreme soundproof chassis to constantly rev up electronics. From the vicious circle that weighed our cars by 50% in 30 years, we would move to a virtuous circle that would alleviate them and make them much more affordable.
My cousin who is worried, when opting for the 90 hp version, of having to downshift on the A71’s climbs to keep the needle at 130, would finally get rid of that worry, and with it millions of pilots eager to maintain their position in the great european ribbon.
On the performance side, the bike has already shown the way, putting a damper on the climb. Beside the 1,000 cm2 of 200 horsepower and 200 kg that make people talk but hardly sell anymore, successful machines have reasonable engines, from 60 to 100 horsepower, but with high torque at low rpm. The result is canonical times with the usual look, flexible and lively engines, affordable prices and, even without resorting to direct injection, consumption on the road between 3 and 4 liters per hundred.
Avoid electrification? Or succeed?
Cars designed to run at 110, with a maximum speed not much higher, good aerodynamics and reduced weight below the ton would drop to 2l/100 km, which would have another huge advantage: they could respect the commitments of global reduction of CO2 emissions while escaping the electrical conversion. Or, conversely, they could achieve this by making do with smaller batteries.
Because the famous “100% electric cars by 2035” that the Strasbourg parliament is debating today is a utopia if we keep a standard car somewhere between the Zoé and the Tesla.
In this context, a general and compulsory electrification in twelve years is a chimera or a nightmare.
A chimera because the European car industry is incapable of carrying out such a brutal conversion without immediately offering itself to Chinese manufacturers and equipment manufacturers. Because materials and materials elude us, and maybe even Taiwanese microprocessors soon.
A nightmare because funding the infrastructure necessary for this conversion would consume public budgets to the detriment of all other priorities. We cannot simultaneously subsidize the insulation of 350 kW dwellings and terminals everywhere.
Not to mention the social damage that will have to be incurred with the collapse of entire sectors of industry and the loss of sovereignty when other sectors change flags. And I don’t even mention the ecological disaster resulting from the desperate search for lithium, nickel, cobalt and other rare metals to manufacture 600 kg of battery multiplied by the 300 million cars on the old continent.
Who pays for the unnecessary 100 km/h on the taximeter?
What surprises me the most is that on both sides of the Reno, the fiercest opponents of slowing are the ones that would have the most interest in it.
In Germany, manufacturers – apart from VW a priori – still cling to their sections without limitations, although they are by far the most exposed to the setbacks described above. It is also the best placed technologically, financially and industrially to rebuild the foundations of the 21st century automobile and thus challenge the Chinese by imposing a virtuous and innovative new standard, be it thermal, electrical or, probably, both. In France, it is the forty million motorists who are most strongly opposed to 110 km/h on the motorway. While they are the ones who pay dearly for the unnecessary 70 or 100 km/h on the meter, for the unnecessary sophistication it generates and for the maintenance bills (tires, brakes, mechanics) and fuel that come with it.
Everyone stands up against 110 km/h and Emmanuel Macron with him, but who protests against the 20,000 € for a basic 208 or Clio or the 5, 6 or 7 liters per hundred that, since we got the B license, we invariably consume?
We dream of Porsche on the autobahn as we finish 307s, C5s and Lagunas, but above all, don’t change a thing and don’t slow down…