France was a pioneer in the automotive industry and is currently the third-largest automobile manufacturer in Europe after Germany and Spain. However, the country imports more cars than it exports. In 2020, France imported $35.5 billion worth of cars and exported $18.9 billion. The French passenger car fleet has grown recently, increasing from around 35 million passenger cars in 2011 to over 38 million in January 2021. While cars in the European Union are on average 11.8 years old, the average car in France is about 10.3 years old. For context, Lithuania and Romania have the oldest car fleets, with vehicles almost 17 years old while Luxembourg boasts the newest passenger cars at only 6.7 years old.
In 2019, all passenger cars in France consumed an average of 6.29 liters to cover a distance of 100 kilometers. Over the same distance, a gasoline passenger car consumed an average of 7.1 liters and a diesel passenger car consumed an average of 6.04 liters. In 2019, the French passenger car fleet was composed of 58.9% diesel, 40.2% petrol, 0.6% electrically rechargeable (ECV), and 0.4% alternative fuels powered vehicles. Fuel economy among passenger cars in France has improved since 2005, particularly after 2009 with the introduction of mandatory EU fuel economy standards causing fuel consumption across new light-duty vehicles (LDVs) to drop at an average annual rate of 1.7% between 2005 and 2017. However, between 2017 and 2019, this trend reversed as fuel consumption increased on average by 2.3% per year in part due to the increasing popularity of small SUVs/pick-ups which slowed fuel economy improvements.
The push towards electric vehicles and hybrids is powered by an enormous public and private initiative to electrify an entirely renewed passenger car fleet by 2040. The target for electric car sales in the new car market in France is 35% by 2030, and 100% by 2040. A variety of policies are in place to encourage this shift, including the exemption of battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles from tax. Since 2010, a total of 786,274 light-duty plug-in electric vehicles were registered in France consisting of 512,178 all-electric passenger cars and commercial vans and 274,096 plug-in hybrids. Over 50,000 of these were fully electric light commercial vehicles. Various projections estimate over a million electric vehicles will be on the road in France by 2023, 4.8 million in 2028, and possibly 7 to 16 million in 2035. President Macron has announced a manufacturing target of two million electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids made in the country by 2030 as a part of the push toward total electrification.
While greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are decreasing in every sector of the European Union, in the Transportation sector they are increasing. Transportation is the highest emitting sector in France with 54% of emissions coming from individual vehicles. In 1998, the EU introduced voluntary carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions standards which were made mandatory in 2009. Corporate average CO2 emissions standards for the period 2015-2019 were set at 130 g CO2/km for passenger cars and 175 g CO2/km for light commercial vehicles. France met these standards ahead of schedule but now faces emissions standards for 2020-2024 which are set at 95 g CO₂/km for passenger cars and 147 g CO₂/km for light commercial vehicles. The “Fit for 55” initiative challenges France to reduce its emissions from passenger cars by 55% in 2030 compared to 2021. New targets for 2035 effectively call for all new light-duty vehicles to have zero emissions
Unfortunately, emissions data from passenger cars are not always reliable. For example, a 2018 report from the International Council on Clean Transportation Europe found that a study of more than 1.3 million cars in eight European countries demonstrated that the gap between “official” CO2 emissions measured in the laboratory, compared with those measured under real-world driving conditions increased from 9% in 2001 to 39% in 2017. Such discrepancies are attributed to the latitude in testing procedures afforded manufacturers as well as in some cases fraud, as was the case in the 2015 Volkswagen scandal in which assessments of nitrogen oxide were rigged. The gap between manufacture-stated performance standards and reality has significant impacts on household fuel budgets of up to 400 euros per car. In evaluating statistics on France’s passenger car fleet however it is worth noting that occupancy rates are not included in the evaluation of the road system which is assessed only by considering the number of vehicles on the road. In addition, 81% of all kilometers traveled by the French are done so by individual vehicles with an occupancy rate of just 1.3 passengers per vehicle. Increased occupancy rates through shared rides systems could have a profound and immediate impact on lowering emissions while we transition more slowly toward the electrification of the passenger fleet by 2040.
This Post was submitted by Climate Scorecard France Country Manager Liana Mehring
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