France paves the way for commercial electric vehicles

The Transport section of the French law of 3 August 2009 implementing the first element of France’s Green New Deal, following the conclusion of the Grenelle Environment Round-Table Talks, aims to have cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20% by 2020 and to reduce France’s dependence on hydrocarbons.

The commercial-goods vehicles sector has changed beyond recognition in recent years: today, GPS satellite navigation, mobile phones and the internet all help to track fleets in real time, optimise the delivery of goods and enhance transport security. Trucks and light commercial vehicles are an essential part of the logistics value chain in Europe. Vehicles like these are subject to increasingly strict emission standards (Euro 4 and Euro 5 for diesel and petrol engines) to reduce the impact they have on highway and urban traffic.

Manufacturers are working on innovative projects to find substitutes for fossil fuels. Renault Trucks (Volvo-Renault) has developed a hybrid truck that recycles energy (the Renault Premium Distribution Hybrys-Tech), as well as fully electric vehicles such as the Renault Midlum or Maxity electric. These cleaner and quieter vehicles are intended to be used for the urban distribution of goods. Modec, a British company, is building fully electric light commercial vehicles aimed at local authorities and businesses, which will be marketed from late 2009 in Paris, Lille, Marseilles, Bordeaux, Orléans, Rennes, Strasbourg and Lyons.

Several municipal authorities and businesses in France have embarked on trials of trucks running on clean energy, for example in La Rochelle and Lyons where hybrid trucks are being tested to make deliveries to town-centre stores. Express-delivery group TNT uses electric vehicles or three-wheeled vehicles for urban deliveries. Chronopost (a subsidiary of the La Poste group) delivers and collects packages using electric ULVs (ultra-light vehicles) and small electric trolleys (powered by electric batteries) called Chrono City.

Other techniques that have a significant impact on reducing fuel consumption are being examined, focusing on axles, bearings, tyres, lubricants and aerodynamics – the Nova Plast 3.5-ton utility vehicle is an example. Manufacturers including Renault Trucks, IVECO and ECA, as well as carriers such as DHL, TNT and Condis, with the support of municipal councils and university laboratories, are working on European research programme FIDEUS (Freight Innovative Delivery of Goods in European Urban Spaces) to create an urban distribution vehicle. Research is also being carried out into driving assistance, navigation devices and automatic toll systems.

Renault-Trucks is extending its R&D work in the Rhône-Alpes region of south-eastern France, working in partnership with the Lyons Urban Truck&Bus (LUTB) innovation cluster. Forty R&D projects have been approved by this cluster, totalling €70 million of investment. The Nov@log cluster in Haute-Normandie (in north-western France) has approved projects being led by international companies such as Bosch (to optimise supply-chain management) and Electronic Equipment Marine Industry (electronic real-time and pre-recorded information-gathering solutions).

According to David Appia, Chairman and CEO of the Invest in France Agency, “The commercial goods vehicles sector is evolving and holds many new opportunities for foreign investors, thanks to the dynamic nature of initiatives from manufacturers and local authorities, as well as France’s innovation clusters and the measures adopted as part of France’s Green New Deal.”

The Invest in France Agency (IFA) promotes and facilitates international investment in France. The IFA network operates worldwide. IFA works in partnership with regional development agencies to offer international investors business opportunities and customized services all over France.