Driving in France: Is it time to switch to an electric car?

We look at the pros and cons, the financial help available for going electric, and the charging options

A sign showing a recharge station for electric vehicles in France
Now could be a good time to get an electric vehicle in France
Published Last updated

As electric car sales continue to rise in France, we explore the pros and cons of switching and recap the financial help that is available to help you buy an electric vehicle.

Why might now be a good time to switch to an electric car?

Electric car sales are soaring in France and the European Union. In Europe they exceeded diesel sales for the first time, new data shows.

  • Battery-powered electric vehicles are on the rise. In June 2023, new battery-electric car registrations in the EU rose by 66.2%, reaching 158,252 units. Year-on-year, the market share of electric vehicles hit 15.7%, up from 10.7% in June 2022.

  • France is a leader in the EU. France is among the countries with the highest year-to-date growth, in third place at 52% (behind only the Netherlands at 90.1%, and Germany at 64.4%).

  • Hybrids are also popular. New hybrid-electric car registrations grew significantly in France too, at 27.9%, just behind Germany (59.1%), Italy (29.9%), and ahead of Spain (22,7%). Overall, the EU saw a 32.4% rise in these registrations, to 254,100 units.

  • Plug-in hybrid electric cars are also still rising. These are growing in France, at 49.9% year-on-year, in contrast to the trend for this fuel type across the EU, which declined overall, due to Germany dropping registrations for this type by 39.2%.

Overall, these figures correspond to worldwide trends, with 14 million electric vehicles sold in 2023, of which two-thirds were in China.

What are the arguments in favour of going electric?

The main arguments in favour of going electric include:

  • It is better for the environment. In contrast to combustion engines, electric cars do not rely on fossil fuels to run, and they produce no emissions once they are running. This means that they do not contribute to air pollution, and emit relatively low amounts of CO2 overall.

  • They are allowed in low-emission zones. Even though restrictions in many of France’s low-emission zones are easing, electric vehicles are nevertheless guaranteed good access to urban centres

  • Could be cheaper to run. Much will depend on where you choose to recharge, but electricity could prove to be cheaper than petrol and diesel.

  • There is significant financial aid available in France. There are two national grants (the prime à la conversion and the bonus écologique), and others that may be available in your area. These can offer tens of thousands of euros, depending on eligibility, towards an electric vehicle, so they may be the difference between your being able to afford to switch or not. Many companies also offer finance to buy an electric vehicle, which may make the option more attractive (the average household in France dedicates around €182 per month to their vehicle).

The government has also pledged to make the ‘€100 per month’ electric car a reality.

Read more: France wants to make €100-a-month electric cars a reality

What are the arguments against going electric?

The major arguments against going electric include:

  • Expense. The vehicles are still expensive compared to many petrol or diesel vehicles, even with government aid. On average, the cost of a new electric car in France was €40,711 in March 2023. You will also need to account for the expense of installing a charging point at home and charging elsewhere.

  • Kilometrage. Electric vehicles are still considerably limited compared to combustion vehicles in how far they can go without a recharge or refill. This could severely limit your journey options if you need your vehicle for long trips, or are going places where charging stations may be rare. Similarly, even if you find a charging point, charging takes at least 30 minutes, adding to your overall journey time. Some electric car batteries also become less efficient over time.

  • Ecological impact. While the vehicles produce no emissions once on the road, the environmental impact of their manufacture should not be underestimated, the French consumer group UFC-Que Choisir has warned, in astudy published in June this year.

What should you consider when going electric?

The main points to consider include:

  • Does it represent a good ecological argument for you? Electric cars are not perfect environmentally and still demand resources to build. They also require electricity to run, which takes natural resources to be generated. Only you can decide if the trade-off is worth it just yet.

  • How much battery life do you need? What are your typical journey lengths, and will the electric vehicle you purchase be able to manage the distances you need without recharging? Can you factor in extra charging time into your journeys?

  • Are there charging points where you will need them? If you do find you need to recharge when away from home, where are your nearest charging points, or where are they along your typical routes? Are they in practical places that would work for you and your location? How much power do they offer and will you be able to wait long enough (30 minutes) to get charged?

  • What financial aid are you entitled to? How much aid might you have access to, to help you buy the best electric vehicle for you? How much can you afford to spend?

  • Would you be able to install your own at-home charger? This may seem obvious, but you will need to check that you can install your own charger at home. Is there access to your vehicle’s would-be charging spot, and do you have the correct permissions to make changes?

What are the options for charging away from home?

If you buy an electric car, you need to ensure you will be able to charge it while on the road. In France, the number of electric charging points has been increasing, in line with the government’s pledge to improve access.

In May this year, the country hit 100,000 charging points nationwide and they are becoming increasingly common in car parks and cities. France has the second-largest charging network in Europe, behind the Netherlands (125,000 charging points), but ahead of Germany (85,000).

However, public charging points are often more expensive to use than at-home points, and they vary in power.

Just 6% of the total charging network in France is made up of ‘fast chargers’, meaning those that give up to 150kW of power (which can give enough for several hundred kilometres in 30 minutes). Plus, most of them are on motorways.

Instead, the majority of public charging points are 22kW or less – a level that makes installation costs cheaper, but which usually only provides around 50-100km of driving range in 30 minutes of charging.

What grants are available in France for electric vehicles?

The grants for electric vehicles keep changing in France, but at the time of writing, the following grants and aid schemes exist:

  • Prime à la conversion(conversion grant). Nationwide. Maximum amount €5,000. Means-tested. Available for functioning vehicles at least a year old, up to 3.5 tonnes, to help them be converted from a combustion to an electric engine. The government has a page with more criteria, and an online calculator to let you see how much you could receive.

  • Le bonus écologique (ecological bonus). Nationwide. Maximum amount €7,000. Help to buy a new electric or hybrid car or small van. The aid is capped at 27% of the cost of purchase. This government page also features more on the eligibility criteria and a calculator for the bonus.

  • Regional and local help. Some regions, departments, and even towns may offer further financial help for residents. All local aid is able to be added to the national grants. The ‘Aides Locales’ tab on this page lets you choose your region to see what grants may be available in your area.

Read also

‘We tried out driving from Yorkshire to Dordogne in an electric car’
Driving to France in an electric car: the case against