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Saturday, December 20, 2008

French Government Censors Report on Electric Cars

The French government commissioned a report earlier this year analyzing the best options for building more efficient mass-market cars in the coming decades, but is preventing the public from reading the results. The 129-page report produced by Jean Syrota, a former French energy industry regulator, warns that the cost of all-electric cars—roughly double that of conventional cars—is not economically viable. The report also identifies limited driving range and performance, and unsatisfactory battery technology, as major obstacles.

The report was completed to coincide with the 2008 Paris Motor Show in October, but “the government has continued to sit on it and seems reluctant to ever publish it,” according to a column in the Financial Times.

The authors point specifically to Mr. Sarkozy, and his relationship with companies developing electric cars, as the probable reason why France “spiked the report.” The Financial Times characterized Vincent Bolloré and Serge Dassault as Mr. Sarkozy’s “business chums.”

Pininfarina B0

The Pininfarina B0 (B Zero) has a 153-mile range and a top speed of 80 miles per hour.

The Business Chums: Bolloré and Dassault

Vincent Bolloré, the French industrialist and corporate raider, is a major investor in Pininfarina, the maker of the B0 (B Zero) all-electric car. The company unveiled the B0 at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, where the government failed to release the Syrota report. Bolloré's industrial conglomerate also owns a battery business.

Aerospace tycoon Serge Dassault and his family have an estimated net worth of more than US $6 billion. The French government recently awarded Dassault Aviation the sole contract to develop a military fighter drone. In 2003, Groupe Dassault, along with Hydro-Québec and Groupe Heuliez, announced plans to mass-market electric vehicles. Mr. Dassault said, “We are very confident we will succeed in implementing an electric vehicle in Europe.” In 2006, Dassault bought Heuliez, and formed a subsidiary SVE (Societe de Vehicules Electriques) to develop electric-drive systems and vehicles.

Cleanova

Dassault-Heuliez turned a Fiat Doblo (closely resembling the Renault Kangoo shown here) into an all-electric vehicle to promote its “Cleanova” electric car technology at the 2007 Geneva Motor Show.

The Syrota report looked beyond electric cars to a multi-pronged approach to making cleaner and more efficient cars, including:

  • Improving the efficiency of traditional engines, and limiting vehicle top speeds to about 105 miles per hour to cut carbon emissions by 30 – 40 percent
  • Using stop-start systems, which avoid burning gasoline when a car has stopped, for carbon reductions from 10 – 30 percent
  • Avoiding the need to install costly battery recharging infrastructures by deploying hybrid gas-electric cars that can “run on clean electricity for short urban trips while switching over to fuel on motorways.”
  • Developing more energy efficient tires

According to LePoint, a French publication, the French government has not yet officially published the Syrota report because of political reasons. LePoint has obtained a copy of the report which it posted on its website.

By withholding the commissioned report, the French government has denied the ability of electric car advocates—who would certainly disagree with the report’s conclusions—to present countervailing arguments about the benefits and drawbacks of electric vehicles.

Under a recent tax reform in France, up to 50 percent of the expenses of developing an electric vehicle became deductible. Few, if any, of Europe's electric cars are expected to be brought to US markets.

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