Thanks to elegantly effective incentives and penalties rewarding electric cars, and charging high emitters, France has become the fifth nation to buy 100,000 plug-in electrified vehicles.

The country that was home to last year’s landmark climate change accord has been on a roll, with its domestic press stretching to compare to Norway, which actually just crossed the 100,000 threshold of plug-in hybrids and all-electric cars with a far-smaller population.

France also just took second place ahead of the Netherlands, and the ambition to push the percentage of zero-emission cars is growing along with the market.

Ségolène Royal, the country’s minister of environment, energy, and sea observed the landmark at the Paris Motor Show noting “the number of electric vehicles has tripled since 2014.”

“Electric vehicles” being encouraged in France – as is true in the U.S. and most major markets – include hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, but the 100,000 milestone does not count these which Royal otherwise said “must now be a priority.”

Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E.

Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E.

The milestone consists of 61,686 all-electric cars, 24,696 light electric utility vans, and 12,857 plug-in hybrids.

Royal announced at the motor show 100,000 had already been achieved, but counting the above vehicles registered from 2010 through September 2016, our tally is 99,239, and the 100,000 was otherwise almost certainly achieved last week.

At the present sales rate, a worst-case estimate would be 700 per week which would be enough for the total to have just crossed the 100,000 threshold.

Picking Up The Pace

During the first three quarters of 2016, plug-in electrified vehicle (PEV) registrations totaled just over 25,000 units. To date this year, an estimated approximate 30,000 new plug-in vehicles are on the road – Royal said 32,000 – and a more revealing statistic is the percentage of market share.

In 2014, the PEV share was just 0.59 percent. In 2015, this jumped to 1.19 percent, and calendar year to date through September it’s at 1.57 percent. By comparison, the U.S. through September is at 0.83 percent this year.

Attentive readers may have noticed by the totals adding to over 99,000 that the French by far prefer all-electric cars over plug-in hybrids, though this also correlates to incentives which are only one-sixth as much for PHEVs, as for EVs.

Nissan Leaf, and e-NV200.

Nissan Leaf, and e-NV200.

Notable also is the French prefer French cars.

The best seller is thus the Renault Zoe – which for 2017 is getting a 41-kWh battery in addition to the pre-existing 22-kWh offering. This small EV has seen 30,098 cumulative sales through September.

Its cousin, the Kangoo Z.E. commercial van accounted for 15,032, and the other EV from the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the Nissan Leaf, has sold 8,979 for third place.

Until 2014 plug-in hybrid sales were negligible. In 2015, about 5,000 were sold compared to more than 20,000 pure EVs. This year through September, another 5,000 have been sold.

All-time top PHEV sellers are the VW Golf GTE with around 2,500 units, Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV with nearly 2,000, Audi e-tron with more than 1,600. Models on the rise this year include the Volvo XC90 PHEV, and VW Passat GTE.


Challenges remaining in France are similar to what we hear in other markets, including complaints about still-high costs, perceived payback period, “autonomy,” or range, and insufficient number of charging stations, but carrots and sticks are driving things forward.

One of the most tasty metaphorical carrots for PEV consumers is a 6,000 euro ($7,060) purchase bonus based on its environmental value. For plug-in hybrids emitting between 21-60 g/km, a 1,000 euro ($1,120) bonus is available.

These incentives are called bonuses as the French incentive program is called the “bonus-malus” system. The term “bonus” is self-explanatory, and “malus” is a penalty or fee.

No PEVs get the “malus” so what does? That would be perceived offenders. Want to drive a gas guzzler, with higher emissions? OK, that can cost a malus fee up to 8,000 euros ($8,960).

So, while the metaphorical carrots are attractive, the metaphorical stick is not just a passive prop to the hold carrots from a string; rather, it is a whip to make it cost extra for gas guzzlers – and diesels in France, meanwhile, are treated as public enemy number one.

That said, the incentive plan is elegant. Unlike other programs which must deprive the tax base, the bonus-malus system derives revenues from malus fees and turns them around to pay for the bonuses. As for those old diesels, these are weeded from French roads with a super bonus sweetening the deal.

Specifically, there is a 3,700 euro ($4,150) scrappage bonus for someone who ditches a 10-year-old or older diesel and buys a shiny new EV. For qualified plug-in hybrids, those who trade in a diesel of the same age requirements are eligible for an extra 2,500 euros ($2,800).

For reformed diesel owners, the total is thus up to 10,000 euros ($11,200) for EV buyers, and 3,500 euros ($3,920) for plug-in hybrid buyers.

At the Paris Motor Show, Royal cited the U.S. “dieselgate” metaphor for the global VW emissions scandal as a further “boost” to electric mobility industry.


“The electric car, the hydrogen car, it must now be a priority; manufacturers have to reduce prices and expand their range,” she said, praising the government’s actions to increase their scope.

With new vehicles including the German Opel Ampera-e, it may be something to keep track of whether nationalistic loyalties keep the now-186-mile real-world range Zoe atop the charts, or the new 240 or so mile larger GM product gains share.

Meanwhile, policymakers urge more is needed to combat emissions, and continue the switch toward electric vehicles.

Thanks to Mario R. Duran for assistance with data.