Electric cars: Pros and cons of owning one in France

EVs represented one fifth of sales in November and December

Published Last updated

Electric cars will completely replace traditional ‘thermal cars’ in France from 2035 and already represent one fifth of sales. We look at the situation in March 2024 and weigh the pros and cons of owning one.

Of the 1,774,729 vehicles sold in France in 2023, 298,522 were electric, according to French industry watchdog Plateforme automobile (PFA). The proportion of sales that electric vehicles represent is also growing, from 16.8% in January to 21% in December 2023.

The growth in electric sales has of course been accelerating for the past decade. While there were only 110 electric vehicles (EVs) on the road in 2010, compared to nearly 900,000 today, this is still a small fraction of the 38.7million vehicles on French roads.

The government has been doggedly advocating electric cars as part of a strategy that will see the sale of ‘thermal’ vehicles end in 2035, with the aim of zero net carbon emissions by 2050.

Its plan to promote them has been threefold:

The government’s total budget for these measures was increased by 30% in 2023, up to €1.2billion, of which €905m was spent on the bonus écologique alone.

Pros of electric cars in France

  • Carbon emissions: Manufacturing electric cars (and making lithium batteries in particular) does generate CO2 as well as other various forms of pollution. French environmental agency Ademe estimates that making an electric vehicle produces on average 15 tonnes of CO2, which can be thought of as the vehicle’s ‘carbon debt’. This debt is paid over the vehicle’s lifetime use. By the time it has driven 70,000km the EV will be a greener solution than a thermal car.
  • Cheaper to run: Thermal cars cost an estimated 20 euro cents per kilometre, compared to around 3 euro cents per kilometre for an EV.
  • Fewer repairs: Since electric engines are cleaner and subject to less stress than combustion engines, they need less maintenance.
  • Parking in towns: Electric cars benefit from reserved parking (often with chargers)
  • Crit’air: Even though restrictions in many of France’s low-emission zones are easing, electric vehicles are nevertheless guaranteed good access to urban centres

Cons of electric cars in France

  • Cost: Despite the state subsidies, the average cost of a new electric car in France was €40,711 in March 2023. The used-car market is also much smaller, meaning options are more limited.
  • Maintenance: While they may need fewer repairs, they do require specialised knowledge that could leave village mechanics scratching their heads.
  • Range: Today this is perhaps more of a psychological barrier than a real drawback as the average electric vehicle today has a range of 150 km and even the Citroen Ami can go 70 km without a charge.
  • Battery life: Lithium batteries have a limited lifespan, often said to be around eight years or 160,000 km. After this they need to be replaced, and can be expensive, often around 20% of the vehicle’s purchase price.

Read more:

Here is the list of electric cars eligible for aid in France in 2024

Renault to launch electric car costing less than €20,000