In its 2010 edition, entitled Automobiles, a low-cost approach, L’Observatoire Cetelem anticipated the spectacular development of cheaper vehicles, as epitomised by the success of Dacia. At the time, there was already talk of the world entering a period of unprecedented economic and financial turmoil, of an energy crisis driven by oil prices of up to $147 per barrel, of car sales going into free fall and of government incentives for car buyers.
12 years later, in what is a highly uncertain geopolitical context and a tough economic climate characterised by high inflation and the need to adapt to new environmental standards, we are about to enter a period that will be crucial for the automotive sector. Isn’t it now time for the advent of low-cost electric cars? And with the big Western brands placing the emphasis on profits while their customers lament the cost of buying their vehicles – and especially the cost of running them – could the future champions of low-cost electric cars ultimately be found in Asia? Indeed, in terms of markets, production, development and experience, these brands would seem to have a clear head start. And while it is true that Western carmakers have embarked upon colossal investment programmes, their focus has been on more expensive vehicles. And although these firms boast a stronger and longer-standing reputation, the world’s leading manufacturer of electric vehicles did not exist 20 years ago. But it could also be pointed out that while the current trend is to purchase local and domestic products, such considerations are often swept away and people simply opt for the best they can get.
As this 2023 edition of L’Observatoire Cetelem shows, motorists are not necessarily prepared to do whatever it takes when it comes to cars. Electric vehicles may be one avenue, but not at any price. As it stands today, there is a risk that an economic and social divide will open up over car ownership, further marginalising those who are most dependent on a vehicle in their daily lives. An even greater divide is set to form between those who have the financial resources to access electric cars and those who will be left watching as these innovative vehicles pass them by, out of their financial reach.
While it is likely that we will soon see primarily Asian-made, low-cost electric vehicles emerge, giving many more people access to this technology at a more affordable price, there is also a risk that Western carmakers will lose their influence over the long term.