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French-American EV Technology Conference: Tres Bon

The French-American Electric Vehicle Technology Forum I attended yesterday in Long Beach, CA was absolutely delightful. The event focused on bringing together EV business interests that might foster the development of electric transportation in France – but let me tell you: they have a ton going on there, whether we Americans are involved or not.

I was particularly taken by their four “clusters” – geographically defined, joint technology-based initiatives that attempt to extract synergies from companies, research organizations, and educational institutions. Each of these clusters (Loire Valley, Paris-Normandy, Alsace/Rhine, and Rhone/Alps) is developing different types of solutions in electric transportation, from cable cars to trams to urban package delivery vans to buses and large trucks. Enormous sums of money and huge numbers of people from both the public and private sectors are coming together to work on electric vehicles from an amazing array of disciplines: sociology, public education, breakthrough components and battery technologies, innovative charging solutions, and so forth.

I was also fascinated to learn the breakdown of the EU 4.5 billion that goes into auto R&D in France, ordered as follows:

1) Alternative internal-combustion vehicle projects (e.g., biofuels)

2) Hybrid/electric power trains

3) Vehicle structure and materials

4) Intelligent transportation systems: ADAS (Advanced Driver Assistance Systems), traffic management, vehicle-to-grid, etc.

The R&D outlay here is led by Peugeot-Citroen and Renault (both of which have EV projects on a planetary scale), but one could not say that spending is dominated by those two; dozens of other organizations are investing mightily in making France the most advanced nation on Earth in terms of EV technology and deployment.

Of course, there was the occasional reminder of how Europeans and Americans differ in terms of their thinking about this subject in general. Where Europeans understand the imperative to deal with the threat that climate change represents to us all, it appears that Americans are one of few people on the planet who debate the subject – or simply don’t care. “Want to sell an American an EV?” several presenters asked. “Whatever you do, don’t mention the environment. Talk about fuel economy. Make sure they understand that it is less expensive to operate and represents very little inconvenience or threat to their mobility.”

I kind of lowered my head at these points and hoped no one would notice my penny-loafers or the cut of my lapels.