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Electric car owners let down by lack of fast chargers in France

Demand for electric vehicles is growing and an EU ban on new fossil-fuel cars approaches but the French EV charging system already needs an overhaul

Electric car in France

Electric vehicles made up 9.8% of new cars sold in France in 2021 Pic: Aimur Kytt / Shutterstock

The EU’s decision to ban the sale of fossil-fuelled new cars by 2035 has spurred the French government to find ways to improve the country’s network of fast electric chargers. 

A lack of charging options is often cited as a reason not to opt for an electric car.

Fast chargers take 90 minutes

At the moment, there are around 40,000 public charge points in France, but only around a tenth of them are the most powerful 100kWh or more.

These allow some vehicles to fully charge – giving around 500km for cars with the biggest batteries – in approximately 90 minutes, which French advertisers push as being long enough to enjoy a restaurant meal.

Less powerful public chargers, which fall between the fast chargers and domestic plugs, take at least four hours for the same level of charge.

User experience of the network is mixed, with many complaints of not being able to find working chargers, especially along motorways.

Most drivers charge up at home, which means electric vehicles are not practical for many flat-dwellers.

€1 a minute to use high-power chargers

An early pioneer of the fast charger network is German company Ionity, which has Volkswagen as one of its shareholders. 

It now has 99 charging sites with 512 chargers (418 of which are high power) on French motorways. 

Operators have complained about the cost of installing fast chargers in France, and the complicated system of obtaining permission to do so.

Estimates put the price of installations at €100,000 per charging point, with motorists consequently charged high costs to use them. Most operators now charge by the minute for high-power chargers, with prices of €1 a minute becoming standard.

Installation project up for tender

As well as the cost, motorists have to contend with the array of cards and mobile phone apps required to use different chargers, which quickly becomes tiresome.

To improve the situation, the government is opening a tender for projects supporting the deployment of high-power charging points. 

It hopes to see more installed around urban areas, where people are least likely to have access to garages where they can charge cars from a domestic supply.

Grants of up to 40% of the cost of building the network are promised, out of an allocation of €300million from the 2030 investment budget.

Manufacturers will not bid for tender to simplify network

Renault, the European leader in the sale of electric vehicles, has said it will not get directly involved in the supply and management of charging points – in line with the strategy it formulated in 2007 when it started selling electric vehicles. 

It does have charging points at 450 dealers and 600 agents who have signed up to be E-Tech specialists, although most of these are available only when the garage is open and accessed via Mobilize cards and apps.

The card is slowly being extended to other charging networks.

Most other manufacturers are following Renault’s line, although Volkswagen Group has a stake in Ionity and recommends that network.

Many municipalities are also installing chargers, often linked to department-wide schemes which run via specific mobile phone apps, with various tariffs.

Leclerc supermarkets and hypermarkets have charging points, but the retailer’s initial free charging has been changed to a pay model, again with its own app.

Help to install at home

The French government gives a 75% tax credit, limited to €300, for registered taxpayers to put towards the cost of home chargers. 

These can be at a main or holiday home, with the credit applied twice for a main home lived in by a couple. 

Work has to be carried out by qualified professionals.

What help is available to buy an electric car and what are the rules?

The government’s bonus écologique, available for cars with CO2 emission levels below 50g per km and hydrogen-powered vehicles costing more than €60,000, has been tweaked.

From now on, any car obtained with the help of this grant must be kept for at least one year before it can be resold. 

Previously, the deadline was six months.

The modification was announced in April, no doubt to limit abuses of the system, which is not means-tested and will cover 27% (up to a limit of €6,000) of the cost of a vehicle priced at less than €45,000. 

For an electric vehicle costing €45,000-€60,000, the bonus is €2,000. 

Buyers must also commit to driving the purchased car for at least 6,000km before selling it, a long-term condition of the scheme.

Plug-in hybrid drivers under fire for fuel consumption

Environmental groups have questioned the green credentials of plug-in hybrid rechargeable cars, claiming drivers who do not top up the battery have worse fuel consumption than standard petrol or diesel cars.

The vehicles, which can travel for up to 50km on battery power before they need to be recharged, are popular company cars because of the tax advantages.

Orange has a fleet of 2,000 electric and hybrid cars. It says plug-in hybrids such as the Peugeot 3008, with official consumption figures of 1.4 litres per 100km, use 3.2 litres per 100km if driven 60% of the time in electric mode and 40% using the petrol engine, and 8 litres per 100km if driven solely on petrol.

Drivers are given special training on how best to use their cars and, if fuel consumption remains high, have limits placed on their petrol charge cards.

Related articles

EU votes to ban new petrol and diesel cars in Europe from 2035

France’s electric car for €100/month scheme: who is eligible?

Can I buy an electric car in France and drive it in the UK?

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