Observe, enlighten and decipher the evolution
of consumption patterns in France and abroad
Section 3 - Electric vehicles? Sure, but at what price?

Cars: a source of exclusion?

8 minutes of reading

Economy, stupid. This now-famous sentence was written in 1992 by future President Bill Clinton’s advisor James Carville, on a sign at their campaign headquarters in Little Rock. Looking at the results of this survey, his words seem more relevant than ever.
Cars are expensive to buy, they are expensive to use, and this cost is becoming prohibitive for motorists, with many now fearful of being left by the wayside. While it is true that the inevitable and legally mandated development of electric vehicles points to a brighter future, manufacturers must avoid making the stupid mistake of ignoring what customers are saying about prices.

Motorists are pessimistic about the future

The fear of a carless future

If cars are a source of financial pressure today, they are a cause for real concern about tomorrow, that’s if the testimonies gathered for this 2023 edition of L’Observatoire Cetelem are to be believed. 6 out of 10 respondents say they fear that they will no longer be able to afford to own a car in the future (Fig. 47). We have seen how gloomy the Turks currently feel about day-to-day life, and they are equally dejected when they think about what awaits them. 85% share this fear of having to live without a car. The Mexicans, Portuguese, Brazilians and South Africans also feel pessimistic. The Netherlands is the only country where the majority are not of this view (49%). Italy and China post similar scores.

Youth appears to be a significant factor when it comes to anticipating a potentially car-free life, with a gap of 10 points forming between the under-35s and over-35s (67% vs. 57%). Some nations go against the tide, with over-35s displaying greater pessimism than their juniors. This is the case in Turkey, once again, where 92% of over-35s fear that they will no longer be able to own a car, but also in China, South Africa, Poland and Portugal.


It used to be easier

When asked to think about the past, motorists express a degree of nostalgia and envy towards their parents. More of them believe that it is more difficult to own a car today than it was in the past (42% vs. 32%). The Turks, South Africans and Italians are the most likely to miss those “good old days”. In contrast, the Chinese, who are relatively new to motoring, are decidedly positive about the present. Theirs is the only country in which a very broad majority believe that owning a car is easier today (Fig. 48).


The age effect

There is data to show that the age of car buyers is on the increase. The average age of new-car buyers in France in 1990 was 44. Today, the figure is 55. By way of comparison, the average age is 53 in Europe overall, 52 in Germany and 46 in Spain. This rising figure is due in part to the fact that young urban populations are now less dependent on cars for their daily travel needs.

Are cars passé?

Some signs suggest that people are already moving away from car ownership. Nearly 4 out of 10 people who do not own a car today did own one in the past (Fig. 49). This shift away from the automobile is more marked in European and Western countries. This even describes the majority of such individuals in the US, Spain, Austria and Italy. In contrast, only a very small percentage of Chinese and South Africans are in this position. It should also be noted that the global rural/urban breakdown is not as clear cut here as it is on other topics. In seven of the countries surveyed, there are more rural than urban-based non-car owners who formerly had a vehicle.


Personal difficulties are on their way

When they imagine themselves in a potentially car-free world, motorists focus primarily on the issues that will affect them personally, before thinking about other more general considerations. The possibility that they will be able to travel less easily is the first thing on their minds (Fig. 50). This answer tops the list in 15 of the countries surveyed. The second-biggest consequence of living car free, after restricted ease of travel, is that journeys become more arduous. That’s according to motorists in 15 countries. It should be pointed out that these two criteria come either first or second in all the countries surveyed. 

There is less agreement among respondents as we move down the list, but they do highlight certain more positive consequences. The first is the fact that their budget would be reduced, thanks to fewer expenses. Next comes the environmental impact of having fewer cars on the road, which would lead to lower emissions.

Rural and urban dwellers rank these consequences in almost the same order, although the greater difficulty involved in getting around is mentioned more frequently by those in rural areas (17 out of 18 countries).


Price, the glass ceiling of the automotive world

High prices prohibit ownership

You don’t have to look far to find reasons not to own a car. One crucial factor is the financial side of things. 6 out of 10 non-car owners state that they have to do without a car because of the high cost of both buying and owning one (Fig. 51). In all countries, this is the factor that takes precedence over any other consideration. This reason is slightly more powerful for urbanites than it is for rural dwellers, since the parking costs they incur are undoubtedly greater (e.g., in 2019, a month in a car park cost €328 in the Netherlands, €255 in the UK and €157 in France*). From a generational standpoint, this cost weighs more heavily on the under-35s.

The second reason why people live without a car is the public transport network they have available to them (23%). Urbanites are much more likely to make this point. A geographical analysis shows that the Japanese are so satisfied with their public transport systems (51%) that this is their primary reason for not owning a vehicle. At the other end of the scale we find the Brazilians, few of whom are satisfied (9%).

1 in 5 people state that they do not need a car, something that is more common among the over-35s. The inability to drive accounts for 15% of cases. Environmental considerations are barely mentioned. Only 8% of the people interviewed mention this issue.

* Source : Parkopedia.


Buying new is a tough step to take

When it comes to switching from a used car to a new car, cause and effect are at play once again, but in even greater proportions. Indeed, 84% of those surveyed refuse to acquire a new vehicle for reasons of cost (Fig. 52). The distant cousins of Brazil and Portugal are almost unanimously of this opinion, as are the Mexicans. Only the Americans, with a score of 72%, are slightly less likely to bemoan this financial obstacle. The French find themselves 4 points below the average.


Cutting down on cars

There is an even more drastic way of avoiding financial strife. This simple and radical solution is for a household to reduce its number of vehicles. 1 in 2 people have taken such action or have decided to do so in the near future (Fig. 53). Along with the usual quartet formed by Turkey, South Africa, Mexico and Brazil, the Chinese show a clear inclination to adopt this kind of measure. Conversely, the Japanese and Dutch are resolutely keen on the status quo. The European countries surveyed all display a similar level of enthusiasm in this regard.


Car prices in France are increasing faster than anything else

In France, whether you compare it against inflation (Fig. 54) or median income (Fig. 55), the soaring price of vehicles trumps all other rises. This is what we are told by the statistics recorded between 2000 and 2020. Will the spectacular rise of inflation in recent months make a difference? Nothing could be less certain, because the gap is vast to say the least.

Fig.54 / Context

Fig.55 / Context

Sub-section 6
The mobility mix: an urban trend
The relative dominance of cars for everyday use, going away on holiday and leisure purposes has done nothing to halt the rising popularity of soft mobility. Indeed, with almost 1 in 2 peo
Sub-section 8
The electric coup de grâce
At a time when demand for new vehicles is relatively low, one might imagine that with the environmental crisis now weighing on the minds of people around the world, this would be a good o