Electric vehicles, fantasies of an outdated individualism

” Who destroyed the electric car? ”. This is the title of a documentary by the American Chris Paine, which traces the fascinating epic of the electric car EV-1 (Electric Vehicle 1), put on the road by General Motors (GM) in 1997 before being scrapped. Ten years later, the EV-1 has completely disappeared from circulation and GM is bankrupt. The petrol car is no longer up to date, but the automotive industry, subservient to the oil industry, missed the appointment. Result: the American electric car has gone into the dustbin of history and the Toyota Prius hybrid has conquered the Californian highways. In the United States, GM received approximately $ 50 billion from the US state which repurchased 65% of the company’s shares. However, the environmental counterparts were long overdue. Of course, GM sold its Hummer 4×4 wholesale brand to China’s Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery group, the first Chinese-based acquisition of a subsidiary of an American automaker. And the commercialization of GM’s plug-in hybrid sedan, the Chevrolet-Volt, was announced for 2011. Meanwhile, the Prius has become the emblem of the hybrid vehicle. And the American auto giant has faltered.

Saturation of space, minds and the market

However, the automotive myth remains in the imagination. Roland Barthes, in a text on the DS published in his famous Mythologies (1957), describes the automobile as “the quite exact equivalent of the great Gothic cathedrals”. The globalized Western imagination is shaped by the dream of the omnipotent individual self, with the support of advertising campaigns. Without the scruple of greenwashing, BMW, in a recent campaign, praises the joy provided by its domineering metal gear: an entire existential program. Whose influence is real. This modern fetish that is the automobile has managed well and truly to obscure other ways of looking at mobility. See Ivan Illich’s seminal text, Energy and Equity (1973), where the thinker identifies travel and the search for speed with a mania that results in depriving the user of his autonomy, confusing freedom of movement with freedom. to be transported, whose “traditional perception of space, time and one’s own rhythm has been distorted by industry. ” Similarly, the historian of techniques Jean Robert distinguishes the velocity of circulation and the generalized velocity of a of transport, which takes into account the amount of work necessary to acquire the means of transport. If we consider the generalized speed as a result of dividing the annual mileage carried out by the time spent in this means of transport and, outside, to earn how much to pay for it, only the very rich save time by car. The others only make transfers between working hours and transport time. Result: the industrial companies of say between a quarter and a third of their social budget to produce the conditions for the existence of speed. It is the largely unthinkable opposite of what the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk designates as the complete “self-mobilization” of society: “Whoever drives a car approaches the divine, feels his little self expand into a higher self that gives him preferential lanes as his homeland and which makes him aware of the fact that he has a vocation for a life superior to the semi-animal existence of the pedestrian ”, he jokes in The Infinite Mobilitation (1989).

Between the celebration of enjoyment and the project of metaphysical emancipation, the manufacturers focus on the addiction of consumers, who are not willing to give up on the individual car. However, the market is showing signs of weakness. In France, one million fewer cars leave production lines than in 1990. Industrial capacities, structurally in excess, are shrinking, even if, in Europe, market stagnation is partly offset by opening up to new Member States . In China, production is experiencing an unprecedented acceleration, with more than six million vehicles assembled in 2007, far more than the Chinese market can absorb. The European Union and the United States are also experiencing a decline in markets. As a result, the industry is entering a phase of global overcapacity and the automotive crisis is not about to end.

Because it is a structural crisis: apart from the saturation of the market, at least in the West, families are increasingly struggling to finance the expenses related to their vehicles: the trade in used cars follows in the footsteps of new vehicles, car traffic in France is down since 2005… The decline in demand appears to be lasting and could call for a partial reconversion of the sector in the service of collective mobility. Especially since job creation is not quantified. The automotive industry is highly automated. As for the small new vehicles, they are produced abroad, so the scrapping bonus will only encourage the transfer of jobs. As part of the 2009 recovery plan, manufacturers and subcontractors benefit from an investment fund with € 400 million to finance research on clean vehicles and a sector modernization fund with € 300 million. Two loans of 500 million euros each were granted to the bank branches of Renault and PSA, without particular environmental conditions …

Did you say energy efficiency?

Do public policies measure the current phenomenon? The finance law provides for a 5,000 euro bonus for electric vehicles. The state subsidies encourage what Benjamin Dessus, president of Global Chance, describes as a “technological leap”, during a transport symposium organized by the association Agir pour l’environnement at the National Assembly: “Twenty years ago, the Agency French energy management launched the “3 liter” program. This light and economical vehicle has never seen the light. On the contrary, 20 years later, the vehicles weigh twice as much and are full of gadgets. We are a long way from solving the problem of greenhouse gas emissions through technical progress ”, regrets Benjamin Dessus, who points out that in this case technology is of relative importance. According to him, author of an article entitled ” The Fairy of Electricity under the hood ”, published in Les Cahiers de Global Chance (1), ” the electric drive has some advantages in terms of efficiency, but it is obviously necessary to verify that they are not lost in part, upstream of the engine and ttrico, to produce electricity and possibly transport and store it in the vehicle “. The electric motor has an excellent mechanical performance (over 90%, while a heat engine hardly exceeds 40%), but the problem arises upstream: the phases of production, transport and loading of electricity involve considerable losses. Thus the overall efficiency of the electricity generation sector (production, including nuclear / transport battery charging) is only 18-24%, while that of coal would be 21-28%. The ‘well-to-wheel’ ranges of the various ‘unconventional’ vehicles that could be placed on the market in the next 10 years would therefore be between 8 and 40%. The fact remains that the doubling of the demand for vehicles predicted by the International Energy Agency cannot be satisfied by these technological advances, which are a false good solution to a series of questions that are not asked, namely: what will the electric vehicle and who will benefit? What is its energy efficiency? Will it reduce traffic congestion in the city? Where will the upstream electricity come from? Will the so-called smart grids solve the problem of traffic spikes? Will there be enough renewable energy to cover the demand?

If, as announced in the press kit of the Ministry of Ecology (2), it is a question of “driving anytime, anywhere” rather than lowering speed, limiting engines and massively financing on-demand transport, it is the model that remains unchanged, and the mobility of tomorrow will be singularly similar to that of yesterday: individual and costly. To maintain growth, now labeled as green. Great anything.

(1) – Les Cahiers de Global Chance, n ° 26, January 2009, Towards the abandonment of the road? Transport facing energy and climate challenges

(2) – Press kit of the Ministry of Ecology on ecological vehicles

Bruno Borgheon, http://aid97400.re

According to Agnès Sinaï: http://carfree.fr/index.php/2011/03/26/la-voiture-electrique-dernier-sursaut-dune-chimere-en-deroute/


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