Twisted path to the electric car

LThe Paris Motor Show opened on Monday, October 17, with motorists having the biggest problems filling up with petrol due to the strike affecting refineries and fuel depots. The situation could have been the best campaign for the electric vehicle (EV), which will be the undisputed star of this show. Above all, it shows that the car is still essential for daily travel and that the French are still very dependent on oil. This is enough to gauge the scale of the challenge that remains to be accomplished to succeed in this major industrial shift.

At this stage, going electric raises more questions than it answers. Whether it’s affordability or manufacturing, the EV isn’t the silver bullet, at least not yet. By setting itself the goal of banning the sale of internal combustion engine vehicles from 2035, the EU has put pressure on an entire sector, which must now deal with an injunction that may make sense from an environmental point of view, but whose milestones remain unclear.

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Availability, first. Manufacturers estimate that it will take between five and seven years to reduce the price gap between a thermal vehicle and its electric equivalent. Meanwhile, the number of potential buyers threatens to collapse.

The idea of ​​creating a subsidized rental system with the option to buy for 100 euros turns out to be more complicated than expected. The project will not see the light of day until 2024. Before then, Emmanuel Macron has just announced an increase in the purchase premium, which for the most modest households will rise from 6,000 to 7,000 euros. Despite these aids, the EV will remain out of reach for many French people. Although sales are starting to increase, although more than a million are already driving on our roads, electric cars represent barely 2% of the total fleet.

New uses

The technology must also overcome a number of obstacles. Only one in four French people believe in the advent of all-electricity in 2035. It is unlikely that the rate of installation of charging stations will reassure them. Of the 100,000 promised by the public authorities, barely three quarters have been installed, many of which are out of service due to lack of maintenance. Without an acceleration of investments in this area and an improvement in the autonomy of vehicles, the use of EVs will have difficulty becoming widespread. Above all, its adoption will involve a new relationship with the car. To be truly ecological, it must be smaller and it will not have the same possibilities of use as today.

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There are still many unknowns about the industrial consequences of the transition. Half of the value chain is still located in Asia. In addition, Europe has to import the main components needed to manufacture batteries, whose prices are exploding. If the French manufacturers try to accelerate to localize the assembly in their factories, nothing says that they will win the race against the clock with Chinese competitors, who are ready to sweep the old continent with cars that cost 20% to 30% less .

There is also the question of the availability of carbon-free electricity in sufficient quantity. Finally, the social aspect of this industrial revolution promises to be painful. The assembly of an electric car requires half the working hours of a conventional vehicle, which will result in tens of thousands of cuts in the sector. If the destination towards the all-electric is clear, the road leading there promises to be tortuous.

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