To answer this question, the Montaigne Institute commissioned an in-depth survey carried out not only in France, but also in Germany and in California, thereby providing the Institute with two additional sets of data to which data collected in France can be compared to. This survey concluded that cars remain a crucial social object for a very large part of the French population. It still enjoys a positive image for more than three quarters of the French: it is, above all, a source of independence and freedom (56%) and of pleasure (20%). Only 22% of those surveyed hold an unfavourable view of cars, regarding them as a source of expenditure (17%), a constraint (3%), or harmful to the environment (2%). It is certainly no coincidence that 99.2% of respondents do not consider giving up their car in the medium term, even in the most dense urban areas. Such attachment is identical in the two other geographical areas surveyed: Germany (98.7%) and California (99.5%).
Moreover, cars are essential to a large proportion of the French population. More than 60% of them drive their car to work, 43.7% of whom have no alternative means of transportation. This proportion is greater than in Germany (35%) and in California (41%). Cars are more than just a gadget: they are a daily life necessity. This finding must be taken into consideration when reflecting on the automobiles’ future.
Beyond cars’ social, and even emotional, importance, is its fundamental economic role: in 2015, the French automotive industry employed 440,000 people (full-time equivalents), almost half of
whom work in the core business sector (car manufacturers, equipment manufacturers, designers). It indirectly led to 2.1 million additional jobs according to the Comité des Constructeurs Français d’Automobiles (CFFA, Committee of French Automobile Manufacturers), including viathe trades related to using a car (sales, after-sales service, rental, etc.) and trades involved in mobility (road transport of goods, transport of passengers, etc.). The automotive sector generates 16% of the turnover of the French manufacturing industry as a whole, and is one of the leading patent-producing fields in France.
Today, policies prioritise the fight against pollution over mobility issues, which are vital nonetheless. How can these two approaches be reconciled while maintaining ambitious economic and ecological objectives?
Numerous innovations – both recently released and those still under development – show the real efforts being made by the automotive ecosystem both to respond to criticism and to meet citizens’ needs. Whether by means of cars’ new uses (carpooling, car hire between private individuals, private hire, etc.), the considerable progress made in engine design, or, of course, autonomous vehicles, in the future cars could optimise mobility and make a significant contribution to reducing pollution.
However, cars have not yet reached this point: they generate both fascination and hostility, they are still indispensable but threatened, and run the risk of being driven out before being able to keep all its promises. And time is not on its side, since updating the fleet of cars on the road is slow work: it takes an estimated 20 years for an innovation to spread to half of the vehicles in circulation.