What is the future for electric vehicles in France?

electric car future

The sales figures for electric vehicles in the first half-year in 2012 have been rather flat in France. Is this cause for concern? We consider two completely different scenarios about the future of electric vehicles in France.

New registrations for electric cars in France were rather disappointing at the end of June (analysis available here). Nonetheless, in an overall market that is trending downwards, the market share of electric vehicles went from 0.45% at the end of June 2011 to 1.09% in the first half-year of 2012.

Here are two scenarios for EV sales for the remaining months of this year.

Scenario 1: A house of straw

“We are at the beginning of 2013. The EV market has collapsed. In fact, once the early adopters bought their cars and the Autolib fleet was equipped, the last few electric vehicles buyers were from government administrations who were called on to save this sector that was going nowhere. Fortunately all the planned investment in public charging station infrastructure was not been implemented.

The infrastructure would have been useful though, as the autonomy offered by the (still expensive) batteries is low: 150 km for the best model, the Renault ZOE. It also has to be stated that it was very difficult to choose which charging stations should have been installed as no agreement was reached on which norms the plugs should have used.

The ZOE was completely overshadowed by the launch of the Clio 4, which arrived in the showrooms at the same time, and created even more confusion for consumers as the latter model offered very economical driving, and didn’t tie potential owners into a battery leasing contract. Renault eventually stopped manufacturing its batteries at its Flins facility and turned to partnership agreements with its ally, Nissan and then even to LG.

The new government didn’t to anything to help the new 100% electric subsidiary as it got rid of the 5000 euro ecological subsidy for each new EV registration, and controlled the prices at the pumps so that petrol fell to historic lows. In any case, households still preferred to stay with tried and true traditional motors. Without the ecological subsidy, EVs became more expensive in comparison to traditional vehicles. Mia declared bankruptcy at the end of November.”

Scenario 2: A good start

“We are at the beginning of 2013. The demand for electric vehicles has exploded. Following the huge response to the 90 euro monthly lease offer from Citroën and then Peugot, the turning point was really in September. Once petrol reached 2 euros/litre, the government decided to close all city centers with more than 70 000 habitants to combustion motor vehicles, and the Autolib’ car sharing system was rolled out in 35 of the 70 cities concerned. Partnerships with Bolloré, PSA, Renault, Mia and Smart were set up.

The latter 3 manufacturers quickly gained sales thanks to government measures that favored sales of EVs manufactured in France. The Zoe, Mia and Fortwo were eligible for subsidies, to the great delight of the driving public. ZOE happened to be the model that the market was waiting for in terms of design, autonomy, and all the other aspects that the French driving public had been calling for. This model alone accounted for 2% of the total market since its launch.

The arrival of new models via manufacturers such as Ford (with the Focus and Transit Connect), Smart, Volvo (the C30) and the dramatic arrival of Volkswagen and the Golf only drove the market further, especially among younger users who are more ecological and trendy. Competition among these manufacturers drove down prices, which in turn benefitted consumers.

Public charging infrastructure availability also went through the roof. In addition to local government buildings, a number of larger and smaller grocery chains and restaurants invested in charging stations to attract drivers by providing charging stations in their parking lots. And they were not wrong to do so.”


From fiction to reality, these two tales are extreme caricatures: one positive and the other, not.

Which of these two scenarios is more likely to be true at the end of the year? Lucky he who knows the answer. Government measures, prices, and the vehicles themselves are still to revealed. Let’s meet in six months to hear how the story ends.

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