Carlos Tavares or when the counter-revolution joins the revolutionaries


 Between 2018 and today, we have seen and heard Carlos Tavares change his position on electric vehicles quite radically: all the indications are that the 360° examination of the dossier that he demanded of everyone and that he conducted himself has led him to consider that the dossier has changed in nature in this short space of time. As long as there were doubts about the ability of the battery electric vehicle (BEV) to become the global industry standard, his reservations were worth expressing. Now that this is no longer the case, then there is an urgent need not only to follow the movement but also to try to precede it.

 In 2009, the late Michel Freyssenet coordinated the publication of a Gerpisa book that he entitled The Second Automobile Revolution.
In it, he developed the idea that Ford had allowed the first automobile revolution to take place a hundred years earlier, that of the imposition of the automobile as a mass product and as the keystone of our mobility systems and ultimately of the organisation of space. Asphalt, road networks, traffic lights and road signs, standardisation of octane ratings for fuels, organisation of fuel distribution, etc.: a whole system was then structured so that, around the standard that this vehicle powered by an internal combustion engine represented, things were organised, costs fell and ease of use increased.
 Like all standards, this one did not have only advantages - some people pointed this out at the time and we were to realise it later - but it imposed itself in the United States and then throughout the world and, until China awoke to the automobile, it seemed unlikely to falter. Michel Freyssenet's thesis was that, structurally, for mainly geostrategic reasons, the 20 to 40 million vehicles registered annually in China would call for the development of an alternative standard that the authorities would be able to 'sponsor' and that the best candidate was the battery electric vehicle (BEV).
Until 2015, the year of Volkswagen Gate and the launch of the Made in China 2025 plan by the Chinese authorities, this thesis was largely disproved by the facts.
What has happened since then in China and Europe and the turnaround that a major player like Volkswagen has taken in the meantime clearly puts the second revolution thesis back in the saddle. The spectacular turnaround of Carlos Tavares testifies to this: the fact that the most sceptical and fervent supporter of technological neutrality when he was president of ACEA and fought against the Commission and the European Parliament who intended to impose a -40% CAFE in 2030 presented on Thursday the Stellantis plan which, once again, repeats the terms of VW's plan with a few months' delay and a few billions less, sums up very well what we are currently experiencing.
There is no longer any doubt. The players can no longer afford to have any. There is no point in being right alone against all. For better or for worse, one must not only follow the movement, one must precede it. Yesterday's truths that were thought to be set in stone have been disproved. 
Carlos Tavares claimed that carmakers had no vocation to invest in batteries and that the electrochemical skills were with others who should be left to do the job. 
He argued that breaking technology neutrality to favour electric or to retain emission reduction targets that could only be achieved with battery electric was a kind of European Gosplan intrusion into the competitive landscape.
He argued that European manufacturers would be so weakened by the difficulties of remaining profitable under these constraints that it would open the door to takeovers by Chinese operators. He presented the plug-in hybrid as the only reasonable solution and lobbied for support for its sales in France.
He defended multi-energy platforms as the only reasonable industrial and commercial strategies given the difficulties that traders would face in convincing customers.
So, for those with no amnesia, the presentation he delivered on Thursday 15 April is a sign of the times. The battery-powered vehicle has become the new standard and the planets are aligning to serve it to the detriment of all alternatives.
Volkswagen, which was the first European player to make this change and to disassociate itself from the other German manufacturers and the ACEA, seems to have satelliteed Stellantis, which eventually wants its own dedicated platforms, vehicles designed from the outset to be electric, its own cells, its own gigafactories, its own turbines, its own software ("Battery Management Systems") or gearboxes: It is the entire value chain that Stellantis, together with a few partners (such as Nidec, Saft or Punch Powertrain), claims to be able to master.
The last apparent resistance and the last 'counter-revolutionary' protests that Carlos Tavares allows himself to formulate concern the recharging stations: where Volkswagen seems to consider that, here too, part of the work that its competitors ask of suppliers or public authorities is its responsibility and that it is by ensuring this that the company will secure a part of the competitive advantage that it must build in the revolutionised system, the French constructors continue to appeal to the community. 
It is interesting to note in this respect that the deputies, most probably influenced by this lobbying, have, as Florence Lagarde analysed on Wednesday, wanted to favour the deployment of charging stations in co-ownerships.
The private operators, who are surfing on the rising revolutionary enthusiasm and would have succeeded, according to their count, in making sure that "500,000 parking spaces in condominiums already benefit from a recharging service", have rather protested against the measure that is too favourable to Enedis.
As the standard becomes established, it needs less sponsorship and the corresponding markets become solvent. Yesterday's truth will also cease to be true.
The public authorities will soon be able to focus on helping low-income households to green their fleets rather than helping new car buyers to buy electric vehicles and/or to charge them up.

The weekly column by Bernard Jullien is also on

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