Why is the electric car struggling to establish itself in Hauts-de-France?

Amid gasoline shortages and while electric and hydrogen cars are popular at the Paris Motor Show, what is the future of thermal cars? On the Hauts-de-France side, the region is currently working on creating Low Emission Zones (ZFE), with its share of challenges for a transition to greener cars.

The hours of waiting at gas stations for a full tank, which has almost become customary this October, would almost make you regret having a thermal car. And it may be better, because in a few years the most polluting diesel or gasoline cars will be gradually banned from circulation in certain areas.

To reduce the spread of CO2 and fine particles in the air, the Mobility Guidance Law in 2019 created a mandatory national system: Low Emission Zones, also called ZFE, where cars can drive – or not – according to its Crit ‘Air environmental classification.’

Since the 2021 Climate Law, the establishment of these ZFEs, which is done on a long-term basis, has even been extended to all agglomerations with more than 150,000 inhabitants. And that, regardless of the air quality in cities.

In France, there are already eleven areas like this in the metropolitan areas: Aix-Marseille, Grand Paris, Grenoble-Alpes, Lyon, Montpellier, Nice, Reims, Rouen, Saint-Etienne, Strasbourg, Toulouse.

As for the European Metropolis of Lille (MEL), it could have been proud of being a pioneer of the ZFE: in June 2019, it had effectively committed, without anything obliging it, to ban, as of January 1, 2021, the circulation of more polluting vehicles. 11 municipalities volunteered.

But even today, no zone is configured…. and it will not be before the beginning of 2025. In question, a first postponement to 2022 decided during the health crisis and a new climate law that expanded the scope of application: more than 50% of the population must be worried, but the 11 municipalities previously involved represented only 32%. The newly defined future low-emissions zone will therefore apply to the 95 municipalities that make up the community, as announced by MEL President Damien Castelain.

An ambitious scenario that could include the Via Expressa Urbana (VRU, national 356), the A25 and the A1 in the municipalities crossed, and for which studies and a consultation phase were launched. MEL, on its website, indicates that it wants to establish “the exact scope, exemptions, communication, user support, control, monitoring and measurement of effects”. On this basis, a citizen consultation will be organized in 2023.

With this new calendar, which also applies to the city of Amiens, the ZFE must therefore enter into force on December 31, 2024, the latest deadline according to law. A period of pedagogy of at least six months will then start before the application of sanctions, namely a fine of 68 euros in case of non-compliance.

Individuals and professionals will be covered, regardless of the type of vehicle: motorized two-wheeled vehicles, cars, SUVs, buses, vans, trucks and heavy goods vehicles, unless there is a derogation. The first wave of traffic bans currently target Crit’air 4, 5 and unclassified vehicles. These are vintage cars registered before 1997, 2000 and 2005 respectively.

However, no element, so far, on a date of banning the Crit’air 3 or 2. Far from the goals of the greater Lyon area, where it is planned that, in 2026, only Crit’air E vehicles, 100% electric and hydrogen powered are allowed to circulate.

On the contrary, the MEL is betting on the long term to prevent the ZEFs from becoming, as Damien Castelain puts it, “Strong Exclusion Zones”. Indeed, in the Hauts-de-France, cars with Crit’Air 5, 4 and unclassified stickers, which will thus be affected by the ban on driving, still account for 13.5%, against just 0.5% for Crit’air E. proportions as in France, with a majority of Crit’air vignettes 3, 2 and 1.

However, uses have already evolved considerably in a decade: while there were 103 electric and hydrogen cars in 2011 in Hauts-de-France, their number will reach around 17,400 in 2021. Despite a stronger presence of green vehicles, those with Crit’air 2 sticker remained the majority: more than a million in 2021 in the region.

In the same way as gasoline and diesel, which still make up the majority of the Hauts-de-France car fleet, as this other graph illustrates:

The entry into force of the ZFE thus presupposes a global policy, for example with the reinforcement of the offer of public transport and financial support, so that the inhabitants can invest if necessary to adapt. All these are essential elements to make this new regulation socially acceptable.

And this, while the European Union intends to go even further, stopping the sale of thermal cars until 2035, according to the objective it has set itself. If the Mondial de l’Automobile, organized in Paris from Monday 17 to Sunday 23 October, is precisely the opportunity for the French government to reaffirm this objective, giving pride of place to electric and hydrogen vehicles, the price of a new vehicle of this type is usually between 20,000 and 90,000 euros for electric and more than 60,000 euros for hydrogen. It’s a considerable investment.

A few days ago, on the set of franceinfo, the general manager of global automaker Stellantis, Carlos Tavares, was asked about the matter: “In our predictions, in 2026”, electric vehicles will be cheaper than their thermal engine versions, with “an equality of the cost structure of the two technologies”, he assured.

The French government also wants to secure financial support for the purchase of these new vehicles, some of which, such as the 4L and the Kangoo electric, will be partially manufactured at Renault’s Maubeuge plant in the North.

First option available nationwide? The conversion bonus, which can go up to 5,000 euros for the purchase of a new or used vehicle in exchange for the scrapping of an old vehicle.

Aid that is combined, for the poorest families, with the ecological bonus, this bonus for the purchase of an electric or hydrogen vehicle, new or used, as long as it costs less than 47,000 euros.

During the opening of the Paris Motor Show, the President of the Republic, Emmanuel Macron, rightly announced the revaluation of this aid, from 6,000 to 7,000 euros. This bonus also applies to electric vehicle rental contracts at 100 euros per month “for a period of at least two years”.

As for the Hauts-de-France, at this stage, apart from a subsidy to run on bioethanol, the region does not offer any financial assistance for the purchase of a vehicle.

Another precondition for the establishment of ZFEs and the achievement of European and French objectives: the presence of charging points for electric cars. On October 13, the Ministry of Ecological Transition and Territorial Cohesion specified that around 67,000 charging points had been opened to the public in August. “This represents an increase of 49% in 12 months and makes France the third country in the European Union with the most charging points open to the public”assured the ministry.

However, the charging point network still differs by region: 128 per 100,000 inhabitants in Occitania, the region where there are more publicly accessible charging stations, compared to 93 per 100,000 inhabitants in Hauts-de-France. It is worth noting that its presence in the region has increased by 50% in the last twelve months.

These accumulating transport and mobility-related problems form so many levers for action for regions to take advantage of. Because improving air quality and limiting the impact of pollution is a public health issue.

During the June 28, 2019 metropolitan council on ZFEs, the MEL shared figures from a Public Health France study: 6,500 premature deaths would be preventable per year on the scale of the Hauts-de-France region and nearly 1,700 on the MEL . In addition, poor air quality would decrease life expectancy by 11 to 16 months.

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