As Christophe de Charentenay points out, electric cars can both contribute to household purchasing power and reduce the carbon footprint: a dual contribution that is within reach, but which assumes a change of strategy in the deployment of charging stations.

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By Christophe de Charentenay (CEO of M@Air)

Published on May 23rd, 2022 at 13:04 – Updated on May 23rd, 2022

In the first quarter of 2022, the state spent about 150 million euros (1) to directly subsidize buyers of electric cars up to 5000 euros per car.

63% of this amount was used to help customers buy cars with a net subsidy price of more than 25,000 euros, which corresponds to the upper end of the car market for private customer purchases (2).

The main beneficiary of this French public manna was… Elon Musk whose Tesla 3 model is by far the one that has received the most subsidies from the French state with 33 million euros in 3 months. As this is a long-range car with batteries produced in countries with carbon-based electricity (USA or China), the immediate carbon impact of these purchases was very negative. It will be necessary to wait until these cars have covered more than 30,000 km in France to start emitting less carbon than a thermal car.

So in the first quarter of 2022 the French government subsidies for electric cars went mainly to the « rich » and their carbon footprint is poor.

Yet the electric car has the capacity to simultaneously tick both boxes: that of purchasing power by reducing the cost of transport for modest households and that of carbon reduction.

The French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne highlighted the economic opportunity that electric cars represent in her first interview on May 21, 2022.

At the current price of gasoline and electricity for domestic recharging, a driver who drives 2,000 km per month will effectively save €100/month on « fuel » with an electric car compared to a combustion engine car.

This double contribution of purchasing power and carbon footprint is within reach but on two conditions:

– First condition: Set up a large number of low-power charging stations near residential buildings

Rather than investing in a small number of expensive charging stations, we need to install low-power charging stations near residential buildings, where drivers park their cars in the evening after work.

A 3.7 Kw charging station is very inexpensive (250 euros) and provides the necessary service for everyday use. The cost of access to charging, which is added to the cost of electricity, is divided by at least 20 compared to multi-purpose accelerated and fast charging stations.

For the moment, the deployment of charging stations in France still looks too much like a duplication of traditional service stations in an electric version. The town hall often installs a visible multi-purpose charging station in the town center, but how do the inhabitants of the outskirts do it?

Without a public recharging solution in the vicinity, the inhabitants of the buildings, generally more modest, cannot use electric cars and are therefore physically excluded from subsidies for the purchase of these vehicles.

Here again, the number of recharging stations is increasing, but only in well-to-do areas: one public recharging station for every 37,000 inhabitants in Saint Denis (93) and 10 times more in Versailles, one for every 3,700 inhabitants (3)!

– Second condition: Maximize the carbon effect of subsidies by concentrating them on low range models

Subsidies have an environmental legitimacy, otherwise why promote electric cars? Therefore, they must be limited to cars equipped with the minimum necessary range, especially as long as the batteries are not produced in France or Scandinavia with decarbonized electricity (4).

Based on the study of French travel, it is confirmed that an average range of 250 km is sufficient, and only requires a battery with a capacity of less than 30 kWh.  Why then subsidize very expensive electric cars with large batteries that are rarely used to their full capacity and therefore emit carbon for nothing?

A simple calculation for the first quarter of 2022 shows that by reallocating subsidies to low range models, we could increase them from 5000 to 7000 euros per car and get closer to a net purchase price of 12000 euros for low range models.

By combining these two conditions, the electric car would be positioned at the purchase price of a new car for everyone and at a cost of use 4 times lower.  All the while saving on carbon emissions!

With its decarbonated electricity, its taste for small cars (2CV, 4CV, 4L, R5, …) France has a unique opportunity to succeed in this decarbonated transition of mobility for the benefit of all.

But if the current policy continues to deprive low-income households of access to electric mobility due to the lack of well-distributed charging outlets and to subsidize expensive and environmentally unfriendly models for the benefit of wealthy households, we can prepare for serious social unrest when the bans on access to Low Emission Zones come into effect.

By Christophe de Charentenay, President of M@Air – Decarbonized Mobility.

(1) Calculation based on the 10 best-selling electric car models in Q1 2022

(2) To situate the market, in 2021, private customers of new cars have placed a 10,000-euro car, the Dacia Sandero, as number 1.

(3) Map of European charging stations – HERE technologies

(4) Two new giant battery plants in France for Renault | Les Echos

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