French Government Censors Report on Electric Cars

President Nicolas Sarkozy is accused of squelching a negative report about electric cars because of personal connections.

The French government commissioned a report earlier this year analyzing the best options for building more efficient mass-market cars in the coming decades, but is preventing the public from reading the results. The 129-page report produced by Jean Syrota, a former French energy industry regulator, warns that the cost of all-electric cars—roughly double that of conventional cars—is not economically viable. The report also identifies limited driving range and performance, and unsatisfactory battery technology, as major obstacles.

The report was completed to coincide with the 2008 Paris Motor Show in October, but “the government has continued to sit on it and seems reluctant to ever publish it,” according to a column in the Financial Times.

The authors point specifically to Mr. Sarkozy, and his relationship with companies developing electric cars, as the probable reason why France “spiked the report.” The Financial Times characterized Vincent Bolloré and Serge Dassault as Mr. Sarkozy’s “business chums.”

The Business Chums: Bolloré and Dassault

Vincent Bolloré, the French industrialist and corporate raider, is a major investor in Pininfarina, the maker of the B0 (B Zero) all-electric car. The company unveiled the B0 at the 2008 Paris Motor Show, where the government failed to release the Syrota report. Bolloré’s industrial conglomerate also owns a battery business.

Aerospace tycoon Serge Dassault and his family have an estimated net worth of more than US $6 billion. The French government recently awarded Dassault Aviation the sole contract to develop a military fighter drone. In 2003, Groupe Dassault, along with Hydro-Québec and Groupe Heuliez, announced plans to mass-market electric vehicles. Mr. Dassault said, “We are very confident we will succeed in implementing an electric vehicle in Europe.” In 2006, Dassault bought Heuliez, and formed a subsidiary SVE (Societe de Vehicules Electriques) to develop electric-drive systems and vehicles.

The Syrota report looked beyond electric cars to a multi-pronged approach to making cleaner and more efficient cars, including:

  • Improving the efficiency of traditional engines, and limiting vehicle top speeds to about 105 miles per hour to cut carbon emissions by 30 – 40 percent
  • Using stop-start systems, which avoid burning gasoline when a car has stopped, for carbon reductions from 10 – 30 percent
  • Avoiding the need to install costly battery recharging infrastructures by deploying hybrid gas-electric cars that can “run on clean electricity for short urban trips while switching over to fuel on motorways.”
  • Developing more energy efficient tires

According to LePoint, a French publication, the French government has not yet officially published the Syrota report because of political reasons. LePoint has obtained a copy of the report which it posted on its website.

By withholding the commissioned report, the French government has denied the ability of electric car advocates—who would certainly disagree with the report’s conclusions—to present countervailing arguments about the benefits and drawbacks of electric vehicles.

Under a recent tax reform in France, up to 50 percent of the expenses of developing an electric vehicle became deductible. Few, if any, of Europe’s electric cars are expected to be brought to US markets.

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  • Ben

    Jean Syrota report’s is not serious. He says that oil is the future !

    Syrota dont undestand the potencial of the BetterPlace concept.

  • jgh

    Good for him. I’d rather someone be bias for alternative modes of transportation than against them. Who knows how legitimate that report is. Everyone has their motives.

  • dirkalan

    they should develope an all electric car for in town use. then a small trailer with a gas electric generator for the few times long distance is needed. this generic trailer could power different brands of cars. could be shared between a number of people. could be rented.

  • The20YearBillionaire

    It just proves that however starry-eyed alternative energy companies are, there are still plenty of hurdles to overcome.

    I’m not against EVs in any way, but it’s a hard sell in tough economic times when you ask people to buy a inferior product. If gasoline was $5/gallon again , it’d be absolutely worth it. Unfortunately at the current time it’s not that way.

    France I believe is THE BEST candidate for a EV powered economy and highway system. They have a very high proportion of nuclear powerplants to everything else. This would put them ahead of everyone else, it’d be much harder to do something on the wide scale in the US.

  • Roland Mösl

    What a report?

    It’s the same discussion again and again with people not informed about plug-in hybrid and modern battery technology.

    I discuss often with this stuck in the mud people. I know every nonsens argument, they bring again and again.

  • Tim Griffetts

    In all of history nothing has ever changed like the flip of a switch, this too will require a transition from one form to another with hybrid and crossover models to facilitate the transition. With transition technology explored, improved, and expanded to allow the economy to absorb the movement from one form to the next. So too the consumer must experience a smooth transfer to alternative transportation. Europe is more likely to facilitate this change with their superior mass transit systems, and geographically smaller distances between destinations commonly traversed by the consumer.
    Personally I think the hybrid is the answer as this incorporates electric and potentially alternative fuels like hydrogen and/or Ethanol engines. Overall there will be an impact on the size, speed, and construction of these vehicles to improve their performance. Once people find the balance in cost and confidence in the product it will happen. I still feel surprised to hear people outraged or upset to hear that government is withholding or suppressing information for what ever reason. Do you honestly expect them to tell everything, share every finding? Technology being what it is, information being the key to power, I am little surprised that any government chooses to sensor information it has knowledge of. It is one thing to remain silent and be thought foolish and another to speak and be proven a fool. I personally feel it is an act of wisdom to endorse change knowing that the current fossil fuel supply will eventually run out or become unrealistic for consumer use, even restricted to commercial application when the supply becomes critical. What legacy are we leaving for the future generations unless we attempt to work on alternatives. I for one would hate to see the return to pre-industrial society because of short sighted, and a self centered generation of consumers.

  • Roland Mösl

    I have tested the Cleanova II myself on the EVER Monaco end of March 2007.

    The car ist listed with a norm consume of
    14,4 kWh/100km city traffic
    19,6 kWh/100km outside town

    In city traffic, the energy efficiency is more than 4 times better than the natural gas version

    Natural gas version: 8,3 kg natural gas/100km
    Cleanova II: only 1,9 kg natural gas/100km when the natural gas is converted to electric power in a CCPP with 58% efficiency.

    So this supressed “report” contains only unresponsible nonsens.

  • K.


    I just read the report, and it is actually quite accurate. As always, the press is not fair in extracting some of the parts and citing them in inappropriate context, but we are used to it. I also dislike the fact that the President would *arbitrarily* conceal a repport he himself ordered just because the conclusion does not fit is understanding of the situation (which is quite poor). I can’t honestly believe this repport to be biased towards fuel powered vehicle industry since the panel of reviewers and experts were chosen by *the government itself*. I would expect them to be biased towards electric vehicles, if at all.

    As for the repport itself, it points out some flaws of the actual electric car technology (meaning the technology that is already in place and ready to be mass developped and marketed).
    The flaws are :
    – relative inefficiency of actual batterie technology and the need to shift to lithium based batteries to achieve reasonable performances.
    – the need of a *strong politic will* to develop electric vehicles (both to educate people and to go against the regular car industry).
    – the need of a vast country or continental wide infrastructure to allow someone to charge his electric car wherever he goes. You certainly do not want to switch car at a border because the country you are going to does not have any electric car infrastructure right ? It might not be seen as a problem for big countries like the US, but in many small European countries (Belgium, Netherland, …) in a one hour drive, you are actually out of your country !.

    So in itself, the repport is not against the technology of electric car per se, but warns that if things stay as they are and the governents just wait for the electric car to becomes the default, then nothing will change. It also points out that to ease the transition, hybrid cars may be a possible solution. That’s it.

    I’m French and think of myself as environment-friendly (I don’t even own a car).
    I would really be glad if electric car could be massively adopted. However, I only want this to be so IF this is the right technology, and the pros and cons have been fairly discussed. Even if you see a critical report or objections to your point of view, the right way to deal with them is to argue against with facts, not conceal them from the public. I’m even less keen to endorse what our President did knowing is past behaviours and knowing that he has personal interests in the matter.
    Let us not repeat the error of ethanol (how is it for a green vehicle which shifts the energy crisis to the food crisis ?). Any contribution is useful to a discussion so that the right solution is adopted. If we plan to develop electric vehicles as a standard, we must do it right the first time.

  • AP

    It’s really good to see the rational comments above. I also thought that if any country could justify electric cars, it would be France (80% nuclear-generated electricity, high fuel taxes, high congestion). You would think that there, the extra initial cost of the vehicle could be justified in future fuel savings by the customer.

    France was smart to do a study like this to evaluate the time-frame where the electric car market could be self-sustaining. However, the suppression of the information points out the danger of governments choosing technologies. The fact that they don’t want to know the answer after asking the question is reminiscent of Bush’s treatment of global warming.

    Governmental policy needs to be results-based, not politically-based or picking winners and losers in the technology wars. While many people want to jump to the final answer immediately, it makes more sense to optimize what we have now. In America, we seem to be fixated on the powertrain, but the whole vehicle needs to be treated to make it low-mass, low drag, low rolling resistance, but still functional. A little here and a little there adds up. Why just have aero-kits on hybrids? Sell mileage specials without conventional powertrains too.

    Since the battery is still the weak point in the system (too heavy and too large for the energy stored) continued hybrid development is probably the right way to encourage the necessary improvements, while avoiding pushing half-baked technology onto the market through an EV mandate. This way, you get more production-geared urgency (rather than the research lab pace), without causing another no-win situation like the EV1.

  • Zero X Owner

    Of course, that massive infrastructure has already existed for a century. We access it through electrical outlets, of which there are already many, many more than gasoline stations. Different outlet types are no problem, with a cheap adapter, already easily available.

  • French Engineer

    TO Zero X OWner: the whole reasoning about recharging infrastructure for pure BEV is around p. 78 of the report. see the link in the article.

    Sounds quite convincing to me. Executive summary: standard electric plugs give 3kW, do the maths for the time you have to stands still waiting for recharging.
    Interestingly, I learned (p.11) that the PSA and Renault started a mini infrastructure of charging point in the public space in the 1995, at the times where they were the majors (only?) producers of BEV. They cut the loss some years ago after PSA sold 10.000 cars, and Renault a bit less.

    So I believe they paid the learning price, and you should not discard their opinion so hastily.

  • French Engineer

    By the way, no offence, it is one of the point for which the report was an eye opener for me.
    I work in a tangentially related field, albeit more the automotive than the chemical and battery side, and have access to good sources. And I found the report very informative and well done. A must-read, keeping in mind the premises of the exercise: a 360° picture of the today technology and its signification for the consumer and the government policy in 2030.