French car industry calls ban on combustion engine cars ‘industrial destruction’

There was a lukewarm response following the outcome of the vote from French economics minister Bruno Le Maire, who highlighted the “revolutionary but positive” decision, though “considerable work remains” to be ready on time for 2035. [Michael Gancharuk/Shutterstock]

The French car industry has unanimously condemned the European Parliament’s vote to ban the production of combustion engine cars from 2035, arguing it amounts to “industrial destruction” and a “step into the unknown”.

Given that German carmakers have already voiced their discontent, it remains to be seen if the two countries that are home to the largest automotive industries in Europe will embrace the ban endorsed by the Parliament on Wednesday (8 June).

French MEP Karima Delli told EURACTIV car industry had lobbied furiously to delete the year 2035 from the Parliament’s text. The conservative European People’s Party (EPP), the parliament’s biggest political group, had also sought to dilute the text.

EU Parliament passes ban on new petrol, diesel cars by 2035

In the face of strong conservative opposition, the European Parliament on Wednesday (8 June) narrowly voted to back a European Commission proposal for a total ban on new CO2-emitting vehicles by 2035.

Luc Chatel, president of the French car manufacturing trade union PFA, warned against such a decision on French television on Thursday (9 June): “I don’t think we will have the clients for electric cars; bear in mind they are twice as expensive as combustion cars”.

Electric charging stations, he added, are too few and far between at the moment, arguing that France would need “a total of one million charging stations by 2030”, up from the mere 60,000 that are currently in operation across France.

This comes as inflationary pressures hit the sector hard, raising the production costs of electric cars “by a further 26%”, according to Chatel.

There was a lukewarm response following the outcome of the vote from French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who highlighted the “revolutionary but positive” decision while underlining that “considerable work remains” to be ready on time for 2035.

Le Maire met with car industry representatives on Friday to look into ways “[the French government] can continue to support car manufacturers and their subcontractors”, ensuring at all times that “recharging stations be manufactured in France as much as possible”.

No statement was released after the meeting.

A car industry official told EURACTIV France that Le Maire’s ideas would “require the creation of thousands of jobs”. “We also need clear financial support from the state to develop the relevant infrastructure and enhance the production of electric batteries”.

Prior to the meeting, Le Maire had also signalled he would seek to introduce a review clause, though it is not clear whether this was confirmed to industry leaders.

‘An outright battle’ in the European Parliament

Karima Delli, French green party MEP and president of the European Parliament’s Transport Committee, told EURACTIV, however, that “a review clause doesn’t make any sense. We have an agreed-upon and feasible timeline up to 2035”.

“This vote only marks a beginning. We must now think hard about how to maximise battery production in France and Europe, and support workers’ transition into the electric car industry,” Delli said.

The 2015 “Dieselgate” scandal,  which revealed that car manufacturers were manipulating the engines of their vehicles to cheat on emissions tests, raised public awareness of road transport pollution, as well as the lobbying power of car manufacturers.

“I witnessed an outright battle between MEPs and lobbyists days before the vote,” said Delli. “Manufacturers went all in to delete the 2035 date, which would have rendered the legislation meaningless.”

However, PFA’s Chatel maintained that “the infrastructure simply does not exist today”.

“Not only would we need to expand electricity production, but it would have to come from a clean energy source,” he said.

While France gets 75% of its energy from nuclear, stark differences exist in other European countries.

‘Opening the floodgates’

Banning the production of combustion engine cars would mean “opening the floodgates” to China, said a PFA representative.

China has become a world leader in the production of electric cars but will simultaneously continue to produce cheaper combustion engine cars while European producers branch out, according to the industry.

However, MEP Delli dismissed this accusation altogether: “France remains a land of industry and automobiles. The vote marks the beginning of a major new industrial plan.”

“We have lost 100,000 jobs because of social dumping and relocation. It’s time to bring them back,” she added.

*Charles Szumski contributed to this article

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[Edited by Sean Goulding Carroll/Zoran Radosavljevic]

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