When will gasoline cars be illegal? France throws its Beret into the Ring

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

The answer to the question in the title depends very much on the precise question being asked and on the country. If we are talking new vehicle manufactures and sales, the Netherlands and Norway say 2025. Germany and India say 2030. And now France says 2040.

French environment minister Nicolas Hulot, a knowledgeable and committed environmentalist, has set a goal that all new automobiles bought in France in 2040 will have to be electric. It is not at all an unrealistic scenario, and, indeed, is likely ‘way too conservative.

Renault’s Zoe is the electric best-seller in France now, but it is slated to have lots of competition. People complain that electric cars are still a little expensive. The Tesla X and Chevy Bolt are, at $35,000, though lots of middle class families buy gas guzzlers in that range. But the first Tesla was three or four times as expensive, so the price is coming down quickly. When you can get an electric car for $10,000 and free fuel via inexpensive solar panels, the EVs will suddenly take over rapidly, as happened beginning in the early 20th century with the Model T.

Government policy is being driven by the dangers of human-caused climate change. The countries of the world except for rogue nation USA are committed to keeping warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees C.) above the base that existed at the time of the American Revolution. We’re already 2 degrees F. hotter than in the time of Thomas Jefferson, and the carbon dioxide we’ve already put into the atmosphere by burning coal, gas and petroleum is enough to raise temperatures another degree F. So we’re already scraping up against that 3.6 degrees F. increase, and we’re almost certainly going to miss the mark and go hotter. Scientists are afraid if we go to a 7 degrees F. increase (4 degrees C.), it may make the world’s weather system chaotic and produce serial disasters, including food shortfalls, mega-storms, and long-term droughts, not to mention rapid sea level rise. A 7 degree increase doesn’t sound catastrophic, but it is an average of the surface of the whole world, including cold oceans and the Antarctic. So where you live, if it is 112 degrees F. in the shade this summer, it may go on up to 125 F. That will dry out the soil and put people under a lot of stress.

In the US, at least, transportation at the moment accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions.

h/t the pre-Trump EPA

So Hulot is right that in order for most countries to reach the goals of the Paris Accord, we have to green the transportation systems. More public transport and more EVs are the only ways to do it.

People have often asked me whether the revolution in green energy won’t make petroleum so cheap as to then give it an edge whereby it can come back. My answer is that gasoline/ petrol will be outlawed. Sooner or later, climate change will produce some dramatic and undeniable calamity, and the public mood will turn ugly.

It matters that governments are setting these deadlines. Governments set access to markets. The European Union 28 buy roughly 16 million cars a year. Ford, GM and Chrysler want to sell to that market. But if they have to sell EVs (electric vehicles) in order to play, then they had better start manufacturing competitive EVs. In that regard, right now GM is best positioned for the future, with the Chevy Bolt (made and marketed in Europe as the Opel Ampera-E). At 250 miles on a charge and a price tag of $35,000, it is at least in the game. In fact the release date of the European version was moved up because of high Norwegian demand.

There are roughly 1.2 billion automobiles and other light vehicles on the road around the world, servicing 7.4 billion people. By 2040 there will likely be 2 billion cars on the road, servicing about 9 billion people.

Something like 88 million cars are sold every year. If all of them were EVs, after a while there would be no gasoline cars (governments may have to give tax breaks to get the petroleum vehicles off the road sooner).

Response to climate change is driven by three considerations: Public opinion, government policies and incentives, technology and its cost, and the market. The market is not, as some ideologues imagine, an independent driver of affairs; it plays by the rules set by the government and technology. But at the same time, the market is an efficient means of setting prices and distributing goods, and so has an enormous impact on consumer behavior.

Hulot is setting new rules for the French car market, and the market will respond over time.


Related video:

Renault ZOE e-Sport Concept

8 Responses

  1. The GM all-electric vehicle is the Bolt, not the Volt. The Tesla 3 is their US$35,000 offering, for which Job One (Ford lingo for the first production car) drove off the assembly line yesterday ( July 7, 2017).

    In electric transport, the single most important factor is weight. Batteries are heavy! That means, obviously, it takes more power to haul them around with the vehicle. A vicious design cycle ensues with the vehicle getting heavier because it’s heavier.

    Three big things need to happen for sales of combustion cars to cease. One is ubiquitous electric charging. When electric vehicles are dominant, apartments without access to parking spots with chargers will be the new slums. Subsidized public housing will be an awful trap if residents can’t charge cars, because they won’t be able to get to work.

    The other factor is battery weight. The good news is here: batteries are semiconductor products. The world has a solid half-century of experience figuring out how to make better semiconductors cheaper. Batteries are already no exeception: watt-hours per weight and per dollar are steadily declining as production goes up.

    The third is a change in the business of selling electricity. Vehicle charging is a time-shiftable load, so the utilities can use information tech (some sort of real time auction scheme, maybe) to spread out that load to avoid firing up their filthy and expensive peak-load generators. We aren’t even close on this one. I use an electric vehicle, and my utility doesn’t even understand the question “when should I charge up?”

    Government can have direct influence on the first and third points (charging infrastructure and loading factors) via regulations and standards-setting activity.

    It can have a DARPA-style effect on battery cost decline.

    But to exert those effects a vision is helpful. That’s why these goals in various European nations are good. It’s too bad for USA this opportunity is coming at a time when government vision is out of fashion.

    • Slight quibble – batteries are NOT semiconductors but energy storage devices that use atomic level Chemistry to store energy.

      Unfortunately we are approaching the limits of atomic chemistry to make energy storage devices that store lots of energy in a small space. There are some chemical combinations that will store energy with a higher density, but they can’t be manufactured commercially nor are they safe around humans.

      That being said, Li-ion batteries are very light weight and have very good energy storage density and we are now producing them for very low cost. Often 18650 batteries (3.7 VDC, 3200mh) can be purchased for as low as US$ 5 each in small quantities and in large quantities as low as US$ 1 each.

  2. Watch: A Standing Rock-style Encampment Sprouts Up in Amish Country

    Video of a people standing up for their culture and their land. Less than 5 minutes

    link to indypendent.org


    And a geography lesson in an 8 minute Lego video that portrays this book

    “The Birth of Territory was published by University of Chicago Press in September 2013 in simultaneous cloth, electronic and paperback editions. Some of it is available to read on Google Books.

    It was awarded the 2013 Association of American Geographers Meridian Book Award for ‘outstanding scholarly work in Geography’. It was also joint winner of the inaugural book award from the journal Global Discourse.”

    link to progressivegeographies.com

    There are many links to reviews of the books and at the bottom is the link to the video

  3. Trucks must be included next in the EV future, plus rail and other systems to replace them where possible.

    Trucking’s massive use of diesel is growing significantly. We need to think how to address this.
    link to oilprice.com

    • Trains use diesel-electric for very good reasons.

      The next step for trucks is probably constant speed diesel-electric with batteries to handle surges and recover energy from braking.

      Also for trucks, hydrogen replacing diesel is a possibility.

      In the long term quick replace battery systems will probably be what trucks end up with. This would be similar to the “pony express” model then swap out the battery for a charged one and keep going.

  4. Just to compare to the US:

    At scale (replacing the entire vehicle fleet), charging EV’s is a serious infrastructure challenge. Charging with solar is a doubly serious challenge. Most likely we’re really looking at wind power, when it is available (about 50% cap utilization in favorable locations). This is still a major improvement.

    This infrastructure challenge must be faced at the same time as retiring coal and nuclear.

    Norway and the Netherlands have ideal geography for offshore wind, their consumer fuel costs are higher, and their mass transit is better. For them it is a natural step. For Germany the conditions are less ideal, but they can afford it.

    Zero interest rates is essential, since the cost of building renewable energy is primarily construction and financing.

    The US is a more tricky situation. All the prerequisites have to be put in place from scratch. (1) the political will, (2) the availablility of mass transit (3) return back to near zero interest rates (4) raise the price of the competing power sources, which are absurdly cheap in the US, to the point where fossil fuel costs are comparable with interest payments on renewable projects, (5) additional challenges of geography in many parts of the US – more miles driven, longer power transmission distances, nonideal solar and wind availability for east coast population centers…

  5. in answer to your question, depends upon the country. European countries, China, Japan, any country with large urban areas where there is a good infrastructure. India, will take a long time as will many 2nd and 3rd world countries. Some countries such as Canada and Australia won’t outlaw them because of the distances needed to be traveled. the U.S.A. never. they’ll mount guns on them and have the NRA take up a fight against it except in some of the more progressive states. Although the 3 large western seaboard states may vote to leave and form their own country with a medical plan and a huge transit infrastructure.

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