The affordable electric vehicle Made in France: a necessity to enable carbon-free mobility for all

The Environment Council of Europe decided at the end of June, after the European Parliament and the Commission, the ban from 2035 on the sale of new thermal vehicles in Europe.

The car at the heart of the carbon double bond

While this decision is neither completely satisfactory nor sufficient, it echoes the need to get out of the double carbon constraint as quickly as possible, i.e. to limit global warming by drastically reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and out of dependence on fossil fuels. , whose supply will inexorably contract, in the more or less short term.

Mobility is now more than 90% dependent on oil[1] and the transport sector represents a quarter of European emissions and a third of French emissions. Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles alone account for around 20% of emissions in France.[2]

Transport and in particular car mobility are therefore at the heart of this double carbon constraint.

The date of 2035 is also not due to chance: the renewal of the car fleet taking 15 to 20 years, this date should make it possible to stop having vehicles consuming fossil fuels in 2050, the horizon of European carbon neutrality.

It is in this general context that the European decision must be read.

Decision may be necessary but insufficient

In the automotive sector, some players regret that technological neutrality has not been adopted, which would have allowed, in particular, to consider rechargeable hybrid vehicles or vehicles with carbon-free fuels as vehicles with zero CO2 emissions.

Low carbon alternatives to the electric vehicle (EV), such as hydrogen, biomass fuels or synthesis, will remain marginal, given their availability, the efficiency of the sectors or the necessary infrastructure.

The electrification of the car park by battery-powered vehicles thus appears to be the most effective solution to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. This electrification of mobility, which is not only seen in Europe (the 1ster electric car market is already China) is therefore now a stated goal.

While it is undeniable that its CO emissionstwo exhausts are null, the electric vehicle does not solve all the problems of automobile mobility.

It allows a very significant improvement in local air pollution due to the absence of combustion products, and noise pollution in low speed areas. However, it does not completely eliminate tire or brake-related particulate emissions.[3]

Nor does it reduce the space occupied by the car in public space or the congestion of urban areas.

In addition, its production and the extraction of the resources needed to manufacture it have a greater impact on the environment than an equivalent thermal vehicle (battery manufacturing doubles the vehicle’s manufacturing footprint). The materials needed for the battery, the electric motor, the power electronics will be under stress and we are in danger of replacing dependence on oil with dependence on minerals.

Finally, the approved regulations continue to address the problem through the prism of the sale of new vehicles without addressing the other determinants of GHG emissions: the number of kilometers traveled, the occupancy rate of the cars, their energy performance and the transfer to the more sober and less emitting transport modes.

It is on all these sobriety actions that it is essential to act, in addition to the technological levers of the electric car and the decarbonization of electricity.

However, the adoption of the electric vehicle comes up against many brakes

The market share of new 100% electric cars is increasing rapidly and reached 12% in the 1ster half of 2022, close to sales of diesel-powered vehicles[4] and more than 600,000 100% electric vehicles circulate in France[5]although it represents less than 2% of the cars in circulation.

However, there are many obstacles to the massive deployment of electric vehicles. 1er one of these obstacles, often highlighted, is the lack of charging infrastructure. It is true that the target of charging stations available on public roads is still far from being reached (about 65,000 by mid-2022 for an initial target of 100,000 by the end of 2021). However, the vast majority of charging takes place at home and, to a lesser extent, at the workplace. The availability of public charging points is only really central in urban areas where it is difficult to have a terminal at home and on major roads for long-distance travel. However, it is not necessarily for these applications that the electric vehicle is most relevant, where there are low carbon alternatives to the car.

While it is true that significant investments are still lacking to increase the number of charging points, public as well as private, the current insufficiency cannot be presented as the main obstacle to the implementation of the electric vehicle.

The lack of autonomy of the battery-powered vehicle is also pointed out as a major obstacle to its adoption. Advanced by manufacturers, often to justify the race for autonomy and increasingly larger capacity batteries and vehicles, and advanced by customers, anxious to not be able to make their journeys identically to a thermal vehicle.

In addition to the fact that it is evident that the use of an EV differs from the use of a thermal vehicle, it is important to underline 2 main points with regard to the perception of autonomy. The vast majority of trips can be covered with a range of 200 or 300 km (i.e. a battery of around 50 kWh). With this vehicle, for 80% of drivers, recharging on the way will be necessary for a maximum of 5 days a year.[6]

In addition, many potential vehicle buyers systematically underestimate the ability of batteries to meet their range needs by as much as 30%.

The race for autonomy, therefore, is not justified by needs, but pushes the supply of electric vehicles towards ever larger batteries, and makes this a commercial argument in the competition between manufacturers and in the valorization of their offers. This drives up sales prices, making it difficult for the greatest number to access electric vehicles. This issue of the price of access to the EV is central to its massive deployment. The gap grows between traditional manufacturers that legitimately want to keep their margins and therefore offer ever better equipped, ever larger vehicles with ever bigger batteries and potential customers limited in their mobility choices with the price. fuel on the rise, the injunction to “drive clean electric vehicles” and financially unaffordable.

It is more than likely that this lack of supply from French and European manufacturers of affordable electric vehicles will be quickly filled by Chinese vehicles, while French manufacturers were, just a few years ago, the champions of small vehicles.

The used electric vehicle market is almost non-existent due to the small number of electric vehicles and recent shortages, mainly of semiconductors, which are putting pressure on rental companies, traditional used vehicle suppliers, to keep their vehicles longer. Also, used electric vehicles are very likely to be more expensive than their thermal cousins.

New vehicle electrification is an important but partial lever for low carbon mobility

Even if these brakes were quickly removed, electrification of new cars would not be enough to allow France and Europe to reach the targets of the “fit for 55” package, that is, to reduce emissions by -55% in 2030 compared to nineteen ninety.

Therefore, it seems necessary, if we want to maintain a strong automobile industry in the territory and, to allow those who need it to have access (ownership, rent or sharing) to the electric car, guide the regulation (CO emissionstwo throughout the entire life cycle, energy efficiency in kWh per km), taxation (subsidy on vehicle weight and more severe fines, directing aid to the most needy families) and public and private investments in lighter and more sober vehicles than currently, that meet the right mobility need and that, in fact, will be offered at more affordable prices.

This weight reduction (today’s cars weigh 300 kg more than 30 years ago) will have other beneficial effects: it will limit the carbon footprint of vehicle manufacturing and the need for materials, in particular copper, a critical metal for the transition energetic. Finally, fuel-efficient vehicles and reasonably sized batteries will limit the oversizing and cost of the charging network, as well as the need for electricity.

Faced with the scarcity of components, the increase in the price of raw materials and electricity, simplicity and weight reduction are levers for controlling sales prices and resilience for mobility.

The traditional, light, simple, aerodynamic and attractive car will obviously have a role in the future panorama of low-carbon mobility, alongside what are now called “intermediate vehicles”, between the bicycle and the classic car. This name includes, for example, electric-assisted bicycles, special bicycles, two-wheeled vehicles or electric quadricycles, such as Citroën AMI or Renault Twizy.

These intermediate vehicles have their place in everyday mobility and many initiatives are emerging to bring this type of vehicle (see Extreme Challenge by ADEME).

But the key lever to decarbonize our mobility will be the transformation of the uses of mobility and a significant shift in our practices towards sobriety, that is, using the most efficient mode of transport to meet a proven need for mobility.

The way we “consume” the car will also have to evolve towards a more shared use: car sharing, carpooling, rental for occasional needs.

The use of walking and cycling should be favored for short trips, carpooling should be encouraged for short and medium distances (especially in sparsely populated areas) and massive investments should be made in public rail transport or road vehicles to effectively replace the car when needed. .

It is under these conditions, technological with electrification and organizational with sobriety, that the transition from the car to carbon-free road mobility can be done in a fair, acceptable and even desirable way!

Tribune written by Jacques Portalier and Laurent Perron, project managers for the automotive industry – The Shift Project

[1] MTES – Data and Statistical Studies – Key Energy Numbers


[3] Emissions from road vehicles: non-exhaustive particulate matter – ADEME – April 2022

[4] PFA/AAA data

[5] AVERE-France Barometer

[6] BEUC electric cars are already the cheapest option today for many consumers, according to new study, 2021

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