“An ecological car does not exist” (Nicolas Meunier, car journalist)

(ETX Daily Up) – While the entire automotive sector is now involved in a major energy transition movement, automotive journalist Nicolas Meunier is more nuanced in his book “The clean car scam”. A few days before the opening of the Mondial de l’Auto in Paris, he looks back on the challenges of the coming years and the right decisions to be made, both on the political side and on the motorists’ side.

Today, everything is done to encourage motorists to buy a hybrid or electric car. But given the inadequate performance and infrastructure today, is this really fair?

The issue is not a performance issue. With the latest Tesla Model Y, for example, I managed to do Paris Rennes without charging. We stop for 40 minutes, enough time to have lunch in town and refuel, then we set off again for 350 kilometers. The problem is at what price. Today, the most sold car for private Dacia Sandero, which is between 14,000 and 15,000 euros, is fully equipped. Conversely, no car exists that provides the same services in fully electric mode. So this is where the problem comes in. We are not at all at the average price of what a person is ready to pay today.

And suddenly, do you think that reserving certain districts, so-called low-emission zones, for the latest vehicles and therefore the least polluting, is also a bit of a punishment?

The problem comes mainly from elected officials and mayors who work for their parishes, that is, the people who elect them and who do not necessarily want to see people from outside arriving in the city. If we take the example of Paris, there is a vast majority of Parisians who do not have a car and do not need one, given the availability of public transport. And then these people vote for programs that completely leave out the car, because it becomes a disruptive element for these people who live in these urban areas. The problem is that the people affected by these policies mainly live outside these cities. Then, with these low-emission zones, we create an expiration date for cars, a kind of planned obsolescence for products that are still in working order. But in terms of ecological impact, it is better to keep your car longer, even if it pollutes a little, than to buy one every three years, which is ecological nonsense.

Better take care of your car to make it last longer?

Yes, and unfortunately it is not an audible speech today. On the contrary, it even tends to get worse as manufacturers now present their leasing formulas. However, I’m not sure people really want to change their car every three years. There may be a few enthusiasts who want the very latest technology, but I don’t think the vast majority of drivers do. To me, leasing is the worst ecological scourge in the automotive industry today.

Today, how can you explain that an electric car also pollutes?

The degree of pollution of an electric car depends both on its production and on its use. When you look at the difference in mass between a thermomobile and an electric car, it is colossal. If you look at similar models, which are available in both thermal and electric versions, there is generally around 300 kilos of space. And the more we go into the market, the more this gap widens. A Tesla battery weighs e.g. easily 600 kilos. More mass therefore means more resources to extract from the earth, such as lithium or cobalt. In addition, many batteries are now being built in China, where there are factories that still run on coal electricity. So everything in use will depend on the type of power you put in your car and its consumption. This can almost vary from single to double from one model to another. If you are in France or Norway, you have power that is not too carbon-free, which will make it possible to offset the excess CO2 emitted during production over its entire life cycle. You therefore have a real ecological interest in driving an electric car. On the other hand, if you are in certain countries, such as Poland, where there is a majority of coal-fired power plants, it is better than running in thermals. It is even worse in China, which paradoxically is the most advanced country in these technologies.

In the end, won’t the cleanest solution be green hydrogen?

Not at all. All you have to do is look at how green hydrogen is made from electricity. Then we have a reaction called electrolysis of water, which separates you on the one hand the oxygen, on the other hand the hydrogen, which you recover, which corresponds to approximately 30% of the energy used. And it’s the same then, in reverse, with the fuel cell in the car, so you’re only left with about 15% of the electricity you initially put in, which drives the electric motor. There is therefore a huge loss between an electric car and a hydrogen car. Afterwards, it has a big advantage, which is that we can fill up in 5 minutes, just like with a thermomobile, but we have not yet arrived at something that is connected between the customer’s wish, the price and the benefits.

When will we be able to say about a car that it is truly ecological?

An ecological car does not exist. In any case, every manufactured item has an impact on the environment. The trick is to reason, from the purchase phase, to be able to limit its effect and make the right choice in relation to its needs.

Nicolas Meunier is a car journalist for Uddordinger magazine and author of the book “The scam with the clean car” (Hugo Doc).

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