2022 Paris Auto Show - Highlights & Trends
I exited last week’s 89th edition of the Paris Mondial de l’Automobile with 4 key takeaways: (1) Chinese OEMs are coming to Europe, (2) there is a path to frugal automotive mobility, (3) hydrogen-fueled EVs create an alternative path to clean mobility and (4) the Paris motor show needs to re-invent itself like others around the globe. Indeed, this was a much-downsized auto show compared to previous editions, akin other major shows, with local and first-time brands.
Before I dive in each of these four messages and analyze what is happening, let’s have a quick look at what resembled business as usual in an era of quasi-systemic electrification. Whereas Renault, Peugeot and DS promoted mainly plug-in hybrid vehicles, the former highlighted retro-styled battery EVs with R5 (picture below) and R4. Despite their original positioning back in the 1960s to the 1990s, these vehicles squarely target the all-important small SUV market. The vehicles will be produced in northern France and launched in 2025.
At Stellantis, Peugeot introduced a 408 fastback. Jeep, the only full-size automotive brand besides the French, Chinese or Vietnamese ones, premiered its first BEV. The Avenger will be produced in Stellantis-Polish plant and will have a starting price just under 40k€. Lastly, if DS presented it current range, Citroën will simply absent.
Chinese OEMs clearly targeting Europe
If the German, American (besides Jeep), Japanese, Korean and British OEMs were absent, Chinese OEMs came en force, accompanied by the Vietnamese newcomer, VinFast, focusing on the BEV market. These Asian players are very clearly targeting the continent as China is already home to many all-electric OEMs. Europe is the second largest BEV market after China far ahead of the USA. In addition, it just became much more difficult for BEVs produced outside North America to be competitive in the USA. Indeed, the recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) denies buyers a potential $7,500 incentive.
Chinese OEMs Xpeng, NIO, MG and Airways are already selling in several European countries but more are coming. At the show, the most aggressive OEMs was BYD (picture below). China’s EV leader presented four vehicles on a large booth, three of them definitely on their way to Europe. These are Atto 3, a compact SUV starting at 38k€, Tan, a mid-size SUV, and Han, a large sedan priced over 70k€. A mid-size sedan, Seal, is also considered. During his press conference, the BYD representative took a rather ambitious stance re. Europe, with plans to establish a manufacturing base on the old continent.
Other Chinese brands on display in Paris included Great Wall’s Ora with its Funky Cat which goes on sale in Germany in Q4 2022, Donfeng’s Seres (electric crossovers “3” and “5”), Leapmotors as well as Wey (PHEVs only at this point).
Vietnam’s VinFast also had a significant presence. The emerging OEM, which produced its first vehicle in 2018 under licenses from BMW and GM, introduced its rather impressive forthcoming range of five BEVs at the CES last January. On display in Paris were Pininfarina-styled VF6, VF7, VF8 and VF9, mid- and full-size (for Europe!) SUVs and crossovers which are all coming to Europe — as well as to the USA — in the coming months. The OEM will lease batteries (starting at 120€/mo at launch) separately from the vehicle, replicating a model introduced by Renault 10 years ago. Will VinFast have the means for this ambitious plan?
The ambition displayed by these newcomers will likely have a positive impact on the democratization of clean mobility. However, this will essentially happen at the expense of the European industry as all these vehicles will be imported from Asia — at least initially — unless actions are taken. France is already considering limiting incentives to vehicles produced in France or at least in Europe. Will Europe enact protectionist laws at the regional level in the footsteps of the USA’s IRA (see above)? Without going all the way to full protectionism, how about aligning any inventive to the respect of underlying operating conditions, e.g. low CO2 intensity throughout the supply chain, absence of undue public financial assistance or labor conditions, to at least level the playing field.
More Options for Frugal Urban 4-Wheeled Mobility
The price and size of the average vehicle has been continuously increasing in Europe, and even more so in the USA — consider the absurd 4.5t, $100k+ Hummer EV. Electrification is currently inflating this average price and will continue to do so until the cost of critical minerals (e.g., Nickel, Cobalt, Lithium) comes back down. Until then, an increasing portion of the population will be priced out of the market, which will also delay the shift to a clean fleet. They may however have access to much more frugal, light, electric vehicles for their urban movements.
Renault introduced the Twizy light, electric 2-seater about 10 years ago. More recently, Citroën brought to the market the 7800€ Ami on the same segment, with its 8 hp motor and 5.5 kW battery. Both cars can be driven with just a moped permit. In Paris, we saw Renault’s second iteration, Duo, which was presented by the OEM’s mobility brand Mobilize, as well as at least six equivalent products by other companies.
Probably the most emblematic of these vehicles is the Swiss, Italian-made Microlino (picture below). With a front-opening door akin BMW’s 1950s Isetta, the 2.4m long (similar to the Ami and 100 mm shorter than the first Smart Fortwo) 2-seater offers 6-14kWh battery options for up to 230 km range, a 16 hp motor and a 90 km/h top speed for 15-22k€.
Other models in the same segments included XEV’s Yoyo with its swappable battery. The Italian 15 kWh, 150 km-range mini car is already sold in Italy and France for 16k€. One can also mention e-Go Mobile, City Transformer (with a speed-variable track), Eco Motors, La Bagnole by Kilow Auto or the Silence SO4 (also with a swappable battery). Some of these vehicles offer both models that require a regular driver’s license and others that can be driven with just a moped license (e.g., Silence’s S04 14 kW and 6 kW versions). This duality may address the fact that fewer young adults get their driver’s license. In addition, we will likely see these vehicles predominantly in shared fleets.
Will we see one day in the USA — where I reside — a reversal of the trend towards bigger, heavier vehicles? Will OEMs dare offer cars at the opposite end of the spectrum from Hummer EVs with 10 kWh of battery vs. the latter’s 200 kWh for cities like NYC or San Francisco? Will we see some level of reason with a mobility offering that is truly sustainable throughout its entire life cycle? I certainly hope so.
Hydrogen Fuel Cells as an Alternative Path to Clean Mobility
Most of the industry is moving at high speed toward battery electric vehicles and thoroughly revamping its supply chain accordingly. However, voices subsist — and seem to gain traction — in favor of fuel cell (FC) EVs for certain applications. Whereas only two OEMs now offer FC-powered passenger vehicles (Toyota and Honda), the focus for FCEVs is almost entirely shifted on the transportation of goods, from cargo vans to heavy trucks.
Both Stellantis and Renault offer (or will so soon) FC-powered vans which currently cost about 3x as much as their diesel equivalent. The adaptation is developed in partnership with an increasingly strong French ecosystem. Domestic entities are working on fuel cells, high pressure vessels, as well as hydrogen generation and distribution.
For instance, Renault and US-based Plug Power joined forces in a 50-50 JV to develop the complete solution, including H2 distribution stations. Symbio, jointly owned by Forvia and Michelin, has developed its own FC which used on Stellantis’ vans. Plastic Omnium (PO) offers high pressure (700 bar) vessels, building on its global leadership in fuel systems, and partnered with Germany’s ElringKlinger for the FC. All these companies have announced new manufacturing capacity in France — for tens of thousands of FCs — as well as abroad in the case of PO.
Whereas only Toyota, Hyundai and BMW maintain fuel cells in the energy mix for their passenger vehicles, two French startups are also betting on it. NamX presented a concept FC-powered SUV with 300 hp (2WD) or 550 hp (4WD). Its main H2 vessel and six swappable capsules (strangely tucked behind the rear bumper) offer a total range of 800 km. The launch is targeted in 2025 along with swapping stations. In parallel, Hopium showed Machina, a great-looking concept FC sedan with 10 kg of H2 offering 1000 km of range, a 200 kW FC and a 500 hp motor (picture above). Pre-orders are open at 120k€ for a launch in 2025. However, both startups still need to raise the funds necessary to go to production.
Nevertheless, several challenges remain beside the cost of fuel cells before the technology can make a significant dent among energy options. They include mainly the availability and cost of green hydrogen and the number / location of refueling stations —about 100 in Germany and 40 in France at the end of 2021. Nevertheless, I am confident FC power will be a competitive option when the cost, weight and charging time of battery packs is not compatible with a vehicle’s use case.
The Mondial de l’Automobile Must Re-invent itself to Rebound
This was the 124th anniversary of the Paris auto show. About 400k people visited Le Mondial this year vs. one million during the last edition in 2018 with a historic peak of 1.4 million. As stated above, there were much fewer exhibitors spread across a smaller footprint covering just 3 halls. Surprisingly, Mercedes came to Paris to reveal the new EQE SUV but that took place at the Rodin Museum Sunday before the show opened. This auto show is far from alone to suffer such a disaffection, all do. The concept needs to be re-invented with a possible expansion to other mobility modes for both people and goods, maybe including light EVs, last mile delivery, or eVTOLs. Hopefully organizers around the world will find the optimal new formula for these shows to strive again alongside CES.
Managing Director, Orsay Consulting
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