Electric car, ecological car: what if we were all wrong?

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Is the electric car as eco-friendly as it is said to be? Can Europe and France fight the Chinese who stepped forward?

Is the electric car a miracle or a mirage? Will it allow Europe to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 or will it bring its entire automotive industry under the control of China, the world leader in batteries? And in the end, for drivers, will the electric car be cheaper than the traditional thermal car? As the Mondial de l’Auto just opened in Paris on Monday, these questions are jostling in the minds of politicians, manufacturers and customers at a time when the war in Ukraine has driven up the price of electricity.

And a doubt arises among some: what if we were all wrong to bet on the electric car and go there so fast, since the European Union ended the sale of thermal cars in 2035, without the industry and infrastructure not being fully ready .

A strong political will

There is a real stake here, industrial, ecological, political and social. By voting last June in favor of banning, from 2035, the sale of new petrol or diesel vehicles, the European Parliament supported the European Commission whose objective is, by 2030, to reduce CO2 emissions by 55% compared to 1990. , then to climate neutrality by 2050, as envisaged in the Green Plan for Europe.

This change is supported by member countries that have established financial aid to enable the acquisition of electric vehicles, whose acquisition cost is 40 to 50% higher than that of their thermal versions. In France, where much aid has already been implemented in the past, the ecological bonus will be increased from 6,000 to 7,000 euros for half of the poorest families who buy an electric car, Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday. “Because we want to make the electric car accessible to everyone”, insists the President of the Republic, who makes other devices available. Car rental at 100 euros per month, even for the most modest homes, should be launched in the second half of 2023. And the tariff shield on energy prices will also be extended to recharges at electrical terminals.

Sales are growing strongly

These measures will support a thriving market, as around 174,000 100% electric light vehicles were sold in 2021, compared to 28,300 in 2016. The electric fleet in July 2022 was estimated at 620,000 vehicles.

For electric car supporters, we must remove the brakes that prevent mass adoption of the electric car. In addition to the cost of vehicles, which must be reduced, the network of charging stations must be developed. While Europe recommends one terminal every 60 kilometers, the French network had only 1er last September that 69,428 charging points open to the public (that is, 1 for 1,000 inhabitants or 1 for 14 vehicles according to Ademe. And 91% of these charging points, two thirds of which are on the road or in public car parks , are less than 22 kW…

“Even though this network has a significant growth rate (+49% in one year), the perception of the lack of charging stations in the territory continues to be a major obstacle to the implementation of electromobility”, explains Ademe. Finally, the question of the autonomy of electric vehicles in relation to their thermal counterparts is central because between the announced estimate and the reality, there is sometimes an abyss…

Concern about China’s ambitions

But this idyllic picture is contested by those who believe that the switch to all-electric is too rapid, ill-prepared for the challenges to be faced, will have heavy economic consequences for the sector and put France – and Europe – dependent on China.

Electric cars from the Chinese brand Ora

“The European Union has rolled out a red carpet in front of Chinese manufacturers”, denounced Tuesday in Franceinfo the director general of Stellantis Carlos Tavares. He accuses the EU of having offered “Chinese manufacturers much more favorable conditions of competition in Europe than Western manufacturers in the Chinese market: 10% [de taxe] to return to Europe and 25% to enter the Chinese market”. “The Chinese have not yet fully disclosed their pricing intentions, but we can expect them to be relatively aggressive. We will have to fight for the accessible dimension of the products”, fears Tavares. And the fight will be tough.

In this price war, the Chinese obviously have an advantage: their expertise in batteries, which represent half the price of cars, and the materials to produce them (lithium, rare earths, etc.) whose exploitation can harm the environment.

European manufacturers are trying to recoup investments in battery factories with various strategies: Stellantis is betting on European independence, Renault is focusing more on Chinese technology. “France thus finds itself facing an insurmountable wall: a park to be renovated without the necessary industrial capacities, a ridiculously insufficient national coverage of charging stations, a market handed over hand and foot with the Chinese, a massive social rupture, an unprecedented cleavage between the affluent and the more modest French…”, evaluates journalist François-Xavier Pietri in an accusatory book that shows that the switch to electric will not be a long calm river…

“Electric car: they went crazy! », Ed. The Observatory. 224p. 19 €.

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