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If France’s Environment Minister has his way, the country could join a small but growing list of countries that plan to ban vehicles running on gasoline, diesel or other fossil fuels.
The proposal was announced late last week by Minister Nicolas Hulot and appeared timed to coincide with the G20 meeting in Germany where many European leaders, including new French President Emmanuel Macron, challenged U.S. President Donald Trump over his decision to walk away from the Paris Climate Accord.
Several countries have already laid out ambitious plans to eliminate fossil fuel-powered automobiles. Environment Minister Hulot said it won’t be easy for France, either. “It’s a very difficult objective. But the solutions are there.” And, as the world’s sixth-largest economy, and with one of the world’s largest automotive markets, the proposed ban on the internal combustion engine could have significant impact far beyond France’s borders.
Going Mainly Electric Within Six Years?
France has two major automakers based in Paris, both of which have made electrification key objectives. PSA Group — which owns the Peugeot and Citroen brands — plans to have 80 percent of its fleet electrified by 2023. Renault, along with its Japanese alliance partner Nissan, has produced more pure battery-electric vehicles, or BEVs, than any other manufacturer over the past decade, including models such as the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe.
Sales of all battery-based vehicles dipped globally in 2016. In the U.S., for example, hybrids, plug-ins, and BEVs collectively accounted for barely 3 percent of the overall new vehicle market. But there have been signs of an upturn. Renault sold more of the battery-electric Zoe city cars during the first half of 2017 than it did all last year.
And the Renault-Nissan Alliance is expecting a major surge in demand for the Leaf with the remake due later this year. Like the recently launched Chevrolet Bolt EV and the upcoming Tesla Model 3, it will boost range to over 200 miles while keeping its price tag in the $30,000 range, the company has hinted.
In general, EV prices are expected to tumble sharply over the coming decade, even as range rapidly increases.
Europe, and France in particular, is already working to establish a network of public charging stations, making it easier to own and operate plug-based vehicles.
Even before the total ban on internal combustion engines was proposed, Paris was laying out plans to end sales of diesel vehicles which have taken much of the blame for that city’s worsening smog problem.
What About the U.S.?
Until recently, the United States was viewed as the country expected to most rapidly adopt electrified powertrain technology, especially more advanced, plug-based vehicles. The pace has slowed down and Trump's request for a review of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, standards could have a big impact on what happens longer term. Some experts, however, believe that more affordable, longer-range electric vehicles could win buyers over, even without U.S. government backing.
Other countries aren’t waiting for consumers to make the move. At least four countries intend to go 100 percent zero-emissions vehicles — which could mean either BEVs or hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles:
- Norway has laid out the most aggressive plans. It wants to get there by 2025. It helps that a full 24 percent of the vehicles sold in this oil-rich nation already are battery-electric
- India wants to get all of its vehicles switched to battery power by 2030 — and that means it not only wants to end the sale of internal combustion vehicles but convert or replace all other vehicles already on the road by the end of the next decade, a goal few see possible
- The Netherlands already has a relatively high EV sales rate, about 6 percent of its total new vehicles, but it has yet to formally lock down a switch to electric vehicles some would like to implement by as early as 2025
- Germany may also push to end sales of gas and diesel cars by 2030, but there is strong opposition, especially since half of its electricity comes from coal. Yet German automakers are launching major drives to electrify and that could help build momentum for a switch.
While it has not laid out formal plans to block sales of internal combustion vehicles, China has been pushing ever closer. It is prodding automakers to expand their production of electric vehicles — Daimler and its Chinese partner this past week announcing a $735 million investment to boost EV output.
China is using both the carrot and stick to increase sales of so-called New Energy Vehicles. There are now strict limits on the number of new vehicles that can be registered in major cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, but qualified NEV models are exempt, encouraging buyers to shift. With some of the world’s most polluted cities, some observers believe China could call for an outright ban on internal combustion technology in the not-too-distant future.