Autonomous mobility or automobiles? an issue posed by the energy transition

As players in the construction and urbanism sectors, we follow two key events during this month of October: The Mondial du Bâtiment (Bâtimat) + Interclima from 3 to 6 and the Mondial de l’auto from 17 to 23.

The news was also very dense on energy issues: the exhaustion of gas stations because of the strikes, the cost of the liter, the electrical restrictions announced for this winter, the government’s announcement of a wide consultation and a public debate on the future of nuclear energy (1) … Matters intertwine. My questions too.

Bernard Reinteau summed up Bâtimat well (two). Interclima was the occasion to establish a system that is likely to become common: the electric propane heat pump.
The Mondial de l’auto, in turn, will have made it possible to observe the Chinese wave in the field of the electric car.

Since the ratification by the European Parliament on June 8, 2022 of the ban on the sale of thermal cars from 2035, we are heading straight for a change in the automotive industry. It must be examined in the light of sustainable development, that is, at least according to environmental, ecological and social criteria. By car to this new “climate”.

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The electric car emits on average 90g/km in Europe against 55g in France

First there is electric car and electric car

Many received ideas circulate about the electric car. Journalist Jean-Michel Normand wrote an article evoking the ideas received on the subject (3) which can be summarized as follows:

1 – “Hybrid is a last resort”: remember first that it is necessary to distinguish 3 hybridizations:
HAS – Micro-hybrids that consist of using a small battery that is charged during the braking and deceleration phases; the stored energy is transmitted to the alternator starter motor during the acceleration phase. This allows for fuel savings of the order of one liter per 100 km.
B – “Classic” or “self-charging” hybrids that use an electrical unit associated with the internal combustion engine and capable of directly driving the transmission shaft. This results in savings of 1 to 2 litres/100 km in the city. Hence its success with taxis.
VS – Rechargeable hybrids, or “plug-in hybrid electric vehicle” (PHEV), where the car has 2 engines operating alternately depending on the mode of travel. According to some manufacturers, this “twin engine” vehicle concept could be abandoned. Furthermore, since July 1, 2022, the bonus has increased from €2,000 to €1,000.

2 – PHEV, the best of both worlds?
This system is mainly used in company cars. Profitability is only acceptable if the vehicle makes daily, short round trips, and rarely long trips that require discipline for recharging. Otherwise, the thermal engine must guarantee the displacement of 200 kg of dead weight.

3 – Switching to electricity: too complicated
Even if some models exceed 400 km of autonomy in electric mode, the terminals are still insufficient in number (43,000 public terminals so far). In addition to a much higher purchase price, we must add the cost of the terminal at home (€1,000 to €1,500). That said, the electric km is much cheaper than the gasoline km and there are platforms to organize “electric” trips: location of the terminals, their energy, places and restaurants with terminals, etc.

4 – Is it still ecological? »
In terms of CO2, an electric car emits on average 90g/km in Europe (55g in France) against 233g/km for petrol and 253g/km for diesel and produces fewer fine particles.
Two questions remain: what ecological and geopolitical impacts for the battery life cycle? What primary energy to distribute the electrical kWh to the terminal? For now, the electric car is mostly a coal-powered car! China, which produces one out of every two cars on the planet, has an electricity mix that is 2/3 supplied by coal. (4). Elon Musk’s cars produced in the US and Germany are no better off.

The mandatory electric private car?

In France, transport is responsible for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions (Eges), including 59% for private cars, ie 18% of the total Eges. Purely capitalist reasons drive as many customers as possible to continue using their individual cars. Political motives press the development of the use of the individual electric car having as main arguments, the end of fossil fuels, the limitations of pollutants and Eges.

These reasons are highly debatable.. This does not prevent the market from evolving with advertising juggernauts and financial aid for change.

In France, already 12% of new vehicle registrations are 100% electric, 20% are hybrids and 9% are rechargeable hybrids. (5). The transformation is accelerating. Toyota, Stellantis and Ford are investing around €30 billion each. However, the electric car remains expensive and we are seeing a boom in the long-term rental market and a development of very short-term rental services.

The electric car could be the “norm” in 2035 with 1.8 million charging stations. Meanwhile, the “electrodriver” must manage the shortage of these charging locations (6) planning any trip: available power (at the moment, 10% of the terminals have a power of 22 kW allowing accelerated charging), speed limits, stages equipped with terminals, ad hoc payment cards, etc.).

The unreason for keeping the car private in urban locations

Studies on mobility habits show that half of trips of less than 1 km are made in private cars (7) !

André Gorz said in 1973: “for the car to triumph, there is only one solution left: eliminate cities, that is, spread them over hundreds of kilometers, along monumental roads, suburbs of highways”.

This premonition proved to be widely verified everywhere. In France, the end of city centers was triggered and generalized by large retailers with the interested blessing of politicians, despite the Royer (1973), Sapin (1993), Galland (1996) and Raffarin (1996) laws. The framing of urban extensions has been trampled by corruption, sales offers at a loss. As early as 1991, a parliamentary inquiry concluded that the commissions had been widely abused by local politicians of all stripes. (8).

The car disfigured the urban. A growing number of large cities are trying, sometimes successfully, to free up the center for non-motorized mobility. Pedestrians and cyclists are more numerous in the local shops; they buy less, but are more loyal and spend more (study for Ademe – 2003). A 2016 report by the European Cyclists’ Federation concluded: “fewer cars = more cyclists in the city centre”, estimating that a simple doubling of bicycle use would generate a €27 billion increase in revenue.

The reason for underemploying the individual car

Needless to say, the yellow vest crisis was not an urban issue. Imposing restrictions and deploying identical solutions in rural and urban locations with regard to mobility comes from Shadock thinking.

Remember that 81% of the kilometers driven in France are in individual cars with an occupancy rate of 1.3 people per vehicle.

A group of 11 experts analyzed how to get out of the “individual car” system (9), even in rural areas.

The structuring lever to achieve what still seems like a utopia is the occupancy rate (TO). Transporting a person weighing 70 kg on an object that is close to 2 tons is something grotesque. Responding to the National Low Carbon Strategy for 2030 already means increasing OT. The positive consequences will be an increase in purchasing power in the short term for those who live outside the city center and a gain in economic productivity and reduction of trade deficits: more TO = less oil, less lithium, less dependencies.

But how to do this? How to build a shared journeys system?

Technical solutions exist. The brakes are mainly political. It is necessary to work on infrastructure (example: dynamic reserved lanes), connect vehicles and develop applications that allow optimal vehicle sharing. The example of the Karos carpooling platform in Ile-de-France is encouraging: +30% in one year. About the false good idea of ​​the autonomous car, the Paris Motor Show seems to have forgotten it. That would be good news.
In addition, new territorial services could be contemplated with the establishment of services for “the last mile” in collective trips, reestablishing train and bus lines with hubs that offer individual or shared mobility.
In the smartphone era, the possibilities are numerous and already realistic.

as a conclusion

It is time to raise the heads of decision makers on the issue of fully electric in mobility. Certainly, we must get off fossil fuels as soon as possible. But if the answer to this restriction were reduced to the manufacture of 100% French or European electric cars, we would miss the mark again.

Imerys’ recent announcement to create a lithium extraction plant in Beauvoir on the Allier from 2027 seems to solve everything! The media has largely insisted on the possibility of equipping 700,000 vehicles a year with lithium-ion batteries. From there believe that we will be independent and virtuous…

We must not believe that purely technical possibilities and solutions would be enough to make the ecological transition a success. Forging accepted frugality, therefore happywill be much more efficient.

  1. “Consumption, nuclear, sobriety… citizens called to give their opinion on energy policy” – October 26, 2022 – Perrine Mouterde – Lemonde.fr
  2. “Mondial du Bâtiment: the low-consumption, low-carbon envelope… And more” – XPair website – October 20, 2022 – Bernard Reinteau
  3. “Five received ideas about electromobility” – Le Monde – 22 September 2021 – Jean-Michel Normand
  4. “The electric car has reinforced the weight of coal” – Le Monde – May 5, 2022 – Jean-Baptiste Fressoz
  5. “La Watture, the alternative to the norm” – Le Monde – June 23, 2022 – Jean-Michel Normand
  6. “Electric driving is still an act of faith” – Le Monde – June 23, 2022 – Jean-Michel Normand
  7. Example: “The car remains the majority for commuting, even for short distances” – Insee Première N°1835 – January 2021 – Chantal Brutel – Jeanne Page
  8. “The disfigured city. Devastation of motorsport » – Le Monde diplomatique, June 2021 – Philippe Descamps
  9. “The ecological transition requires revolutionizing the obsolete model of the individual car” – Le Monde.fr – April 30, 2022.

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