Tale of Two EV Markets: France and Germany

By · October 09, 2013

BMW i3, an electric car to make EV sales peak in Germany

BMW i3, an electric car to make EV sales peak in Germany

France and Germany are neighboring countries. Both have high expectations about electric cars. And they're both looking at the goal of one million EVs on the road. But they have chosen different ways to achieve this objective.

France chose to help consumers. The French buyer of an electric car gets a very substantial €7,000 cash incentive ($9,500), whereas the German buyer of an EV doesn't get any financial help. There are also differences in the charging environment. There aren't many charging stations in France, but so far most of them are free. There are three large networks. The largest is owned by Renault, but Nissan has built a network too, and Leclerc (a retailer) has installed some chargers in its parking lots. All those chargers are free, except maybe the ones at Leclerc's where users are expected to shop at the supermarket. Germany is a different story.

A card to use EnBW chargers in South Germany

A card to use EnBW chargers in South Germany

Germany has some free charging stations, but they're not expected to remain free for a long time. EnBW, an utility company in South Germany, recently launched a network of 300 chargers, and users must pay to use them. It takes a card, with drivers having the choice of a subscription (from €9.90 each month), or buying prepaid electricity (€25 or €50).

You might conclude that France is doing much more than Germany, but that would be wrong. France is doing more for drivers, whereas Germany is doing more for the industry. The former German minister of economics famously said that EVs have limited appeal today, because of their short range and lengthy charging times. So instead of forcing drivers to buy a car they don't want, it's better to spend money in R&D to make the electric car better. That's Germany's strategy, and there are several teams working to improve battery cell chemistry. R&D takes time, and so far, there are no significant differences in products. The German-engineered Volkswagen E-up! and BMW i3 do not offer more range or efficiency than the French-designed Renault Zoé.

French and German EV sales compared

French and German EV sales compared

What about sales? With France's spending a lot to convince drivers to switch to an electric car, and Germany not doing anything, logic would dictate that France has more EV sales. But the chart above doesn't show that.

There was a huge peak last spring for the market launch of the Renault Zoé, but the market has stabilized once those eager first adopters were satisfied. Similar trouble is expected in Germany with the launches of the BMW i3 and little VW E-up! until the end of this year. Germany should regain the sales lead, which it had taken two months ago, but lost last month because the Autolib car sharing service added 70 cars.

The moral of this story is that politicians can talk and act in favor of electric cars, but they really don't control the market. The electric car will be successful when its time has come, and it's drivers who will decide when that will be. Politicians can blab, but it's up to the electric car to convince the average guy. Incentives do not make deals, they only make them easier.

New to EVs? Start here

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  3. Buying Your First Home EV Charger
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