“If we don’t move towards lighter vehicles, the electric car will struggle to become more democratic” – Liberation

The number of new cars sold in France has never been so low since 1975. A good sign for the energy transition of the automotive sector? Transportation energy transfer researcher Aurélien Bigo is more quantifiable.

With 1.53 million new cars sold in France in 2022, i.e. 8% less than last year, the fall in the automotive market continues according to figures from the association of manufacturers. Since 2020, the number of plate distributions has continued to decrease. If the health crisis is the main factor, with a 25% decrease in sales in 2020 compared to 2019, it is not the only reason for this year’s poor results. Unlike air traffic, the automobile market did not experience the expected recovery from the crisis. Not since 1976 have sales been so low. However, this is not a good sign for the environment.

The specialist research firm AAA data talks about a “historic turning point”, why?

It is hard to know if this turn will last or not. The turning point, if any, occurred before 2022. With this expression, AAA data indicates that this trend is likely to continue in the coming years, especially in 2023, where relaxation is not planned some obstacles. This is a cyclical change and is rather turned on the supply side. However, demand is still high. This is not a sign of more sustainable practices, but rather of supply-side constraints. If supply becomes available, sales may start to pick up again.

There were several obstacles, such as the lack of some electronic components, delays in delivery and the war in Ukraine. The increase in raw material costs has also caused an increase in vehicle prices. And in the background, there is the strategy of manufacturers to move towards more expensive vehicles where they make more margins, which may also affect consumer demand. Cars are therefore less accessible.

While sales of electric cars are on the rise, this new strategy from manufacturers is not good news …

If manufacturers do not turn to lighter vehicles, more sensible and suitable for daily travel – the complete opposite of current SUVs – the electric car will struggle to become more democratic. This will make it possible to have a lower purchase price for users. A one-ton electric car is sold for around 20,000 euros while another two-ton is sold for 50,000 euros. It will be kinder to the size of electric vehicles for everyday travel. Of course, you need different vehicles, but the market tends to move towards large and heavy vehicles, when there is a need to offer more affordable ones. Although in 2022, there will be 13.3% of sales of electric vehicles, the majority remains, at least in part, thermal.

Can the energy transition emerge victorious from this crisis?

Yes on the one hand, some elements can go in the right direction. The fact that there are fewer constructions in volume means that there are fewer emissions during construction. This is not negligible. A new car sold is about five to ten tons of CO2 equivalent. A sales drop of 400,000 to 500,000 vehicles represents 2.5 million to 5 million tons less CO2 equivalent. These are far from negligible reductions and we won’t get them quickly on the emissions side of things.

The decline in the number of vehicles sold is also delaying the renewal of the vehicle fleet. Currently, the park is not aligned with our climate goals. It needs to be renewed into better, more electric and more sensible vehicles. This renewal is too slow. In 2022, the number of new vehicles sold will represent the equivalent of 4% of the fleet. If we maintain a constant fleet of vehicles in the future, with a renewal rate of 4% per year, it will take us twenty-five years to succeed in renewing the entire fleet. For it to be 100% electric by 2050, so that it does not emit greenhouse gases (GHG) and does not consume oil, it will be necessary to stop selling thermal cars by 2025 at the latest. is an impossible goal.

What would be the solution?

European manufacturers will have to turn again towards more sensible or small cars. Otherwise, China may succeed in capturing this market. This will show the very short-term strategy of European manufacturers who may be surprised by this type of vehicle. Declining sales of new heavy-duty and combustion-powered vehicles could be positive in the short term, until more production capacity is available for lighter electric vehicles. But that is a favorable scenario. And that is not what we live in today.

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