Sales of electric cars that don’t require a licence to drive are booming in France during the Covid-19 epidemic, as are sales of electric bikes - in contrast to sales of normal vehicles, which are down.
French brand and market leader Aixam has seen a rise in sales this year, in contrast to traditional new vehicle sales, which have seen a drop of 25-30%, largely due to the Covid-19 epidemic.
The electric cars - dubbed “voiturettes” in France - are small electric vehicles that can be driven legally without a full driver’s licence, by anyone aged 14 or over.
To drive one, you only need an “AM licence”, which requires eight hours of training – the same as for a scooter. This includes a theory test which can be taken at school, aged 14, plus a few hours in a driving school.
No training is needed for anyone born before 1988 - but drivers who have been banned from driving normal vehicles, due to issues such as drink-driving, must pass certain conditions before they are allowed to use the cars
The electric vehicles are not allowed on motorways, are limited to 45kph, and are 3 metres in length and 1.5 metres in width.
They still require insurance, which depends on the type of car, and the history of the driver. For many they are seen as a safer alternative to a scooter.
Rise in electric voiturette sales
Axiam’s six factories in France were forced to close during the first confinement, but they restarted manufacturing on April 24 to respond to growing demand, which began to increase significantly at the start of June.
Between July and September, its sales have jumped 23% year-on-year.
It is thought that sales have soared due to people seeking more means of independent, private travel as a result of travel restrictions and safety concerns about using public transport in the time of Covid-19.
Philippe Colançon, head of Aixam, told news service BFMTV: “With the pandemic, we are attracting all sorts of people [who are looking for] individual mobility. This adds to the social role that a non-licence car plays, which allows many people to move around everyday; and its safety, offering a mobility solution to young people that is safer than a scooter for young people from age 14 up.
“Given the year that we have had, the trend is clearly good.”
Mr Colançon said: “We launched a new range just before the pandemic, so we have also been able to profit from this novelty.”
The trend does not only include Axiam - other major manufacturers in France, including Microcar, Ligier and Chatenet have also seen an uptick in popularity.
AAA Data shows that there were 11,219 “voiturette” registrations in mainland France from January to the end of October 2020 - over 100 more year-on-year.
Major car manufacturers are also joining the trend: Renault launched its Twizy in 2011, and Citroën launched Ami, an 100% electric non-licence car, this year.
Last year, Axiam reported sales of 13,415 non-licence electric cars in France, according to figures from AAA Data. The vehicles are still far less popular than “normal” cars though - of which more than 2.2million were registered in France last year - although these have dropped by almost a third in 2020.
Sales of electric bikes in France have also risen during lockdown, as people seek to maintain independence without reliance on public transport or more expensive petrol-fuelled vehicles.