Electric car, ecological car: what if we were all wrong?

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Is the electric car as ecological as it is said? Can Europe and France fight against the Chinese who have taken a step ahead?

Is the electric car a miracle or a mirage? Will it allow Europe to reach its goal of carbon neutrality by 2050, or will it put its entire automotive industry under the thumb of China, the world leader in batteries? And in the end, for motorists, will the electric car be cheaper than the traditional thermomobile? With the Mondial de l’Auto just opening in Paris on Monday, these questions are on the minds of politicians, manufacturers and customers at a time when the war in Ukraine has driven up the price of electricity.

And doubts arise among some: what if we were all wrong to bet on the electric car and drive there so quickly, since the EU has put an end to the sale of thermal cars in 2035, without the industry and infrastructure not being fully prepared.

A strong political will

There is a real stake here, industrial, ecological, political and societal. By voting last June to ban the sale of new petrol or diesel-powered vehicles from 2035, the European Parliament backed the European Commission, whose aim is to reduce CO2 emissions by 55% by 2030 compared to 1990, and beyond. for climate neutrality by 2050, as set out in the Green Plan for Europe.

This shift is supported by member states, which have set up financial support to enable the acquisition of electric vehicles, whose purchase costs are 40 to 50% higher than their thermal versions. In France, where many aids have already been put in place, the ecological bonus will be increased from 6,000 to 7,000 euros for half of the poorest households that buy an electric car, Emmanuel Macron announced on Monday. “Because we want to make the electric car accessible to everyone,” insists the President of the Republic, who supplies other units. Car rental at 100 euros per month, still for the most modest households, should be launched in the second half of 2023. And the tariff shield on energy prices will also be extended to include recharging at electricity terminals.

Sales are growing strongly

These measures will make it possible to support a booming market as almost 174,000 100% electric light vehicles were sold in 2021 compared to 28,300 in 2016. The electric fleet in July 2022 was estimated at 620,000 vehicles.

For supporters of the electric car, we must remove the brakes preventing mass adoption of electric. In addition to vehicle costs, which must be reduced, the network of charging stations must be developed. While Europe recommends a terminal every 60 kilometers, the French network had only 1eh last September that 69,428 charging points are open to the public (i.e. 1 to 1,000 inhabitants or 1 to 14 vehicles according to Ademe. And 91% of these charging points, of which two thirds are on the roads or in public parking lots, power is less than 22 kW …

“Even if this network has a significant growth rate (+49% in one year), the perceived lack of charging stations in the area remains a major obstacle to the spread of electromobility”, explains Ademe. Finally, the question of the autonomy of electric cars compared to their thermal counterparts is central, because between the announced estimate and reality there is sometimes a gap…

Concern over China’s ambitions

But this idyllic picture is disputed by those who believe that the switch to all-electricity is too fast, ill-prepared given the challenges to be met, will have major economic consequences for the sector and places France – and Europe – in a dependency of China.

Electric cars from the Chinese brand Ora

“The European Union has rolled out a red carpet in front of the Chinese manufacturers”, denounced the director general of Stellantis Carlos Tavares on Tuesday on Franceinfo. He accuses the EU of having offered “Chinese producers much more favorable competitive conditions in Europe than they are favorable to Western producers in the Chinese market: 10% [de taxe] to return to Europe and 25% to enter the Chinese market”. “The Chinese have not fully revealed their pricing intentions yet, but we can expect them to be relatively aggressive. We will have to fight for the affordable dimension of the products,” fears Mr. Tavares. And the fight will be tough.

In this price war, the Chinese obviously have an advantage: their expertise in batteries, which represent half the price of cars, and the materials to produce them (lithium, rare earths, etc.), the exploitation of which can damage the environment.

European manufacturers are trying to catch up with investments in battery production plants with different strategies: Stellantis bets on European independence, Renault focuses more on Chinese technology. “France thus faces an insurmountable wall: a park to be renewed without the necessary industrial capacity, a ridiculously inadequate national coverage of charging stations, a market delivered hand and foot tied to the Chinese, a massive social breakdown, a split without precedent between the wealthy and the most modest French…”, assesses the journalist François-Xavier Pietri in an incriminating book that shows that the switch to electric will not be a long, calm river…

“Electric car: they have gone crazy! », ed. The observatory. 224p. €19.

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