Quantum to Take 25% Stake in German Solar Company
President Bush Orders Agencies to Develop Regulations to Reduce Fuel Consumption and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Motor Vehicles

Study Compares Policy Approaches Taken by California and France to Promote Electric Vehicles

A recently published study in the journal Policy Sciences compares the differences in approach and policy-making styles taken in the 1990s by California and France to improve urban air quality by promoting clean vehicles, specifically electric vehicles (EVs).

The study highlights the differences in approach and policy-making style by both governments and how this might have affected the final outcome.

In 1990, California instituted the zero-emissions vehicle (ZEV) mandate that required zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) to make up 2% new car sales starting in 1998, 5% by 2001 and 10% by 2003, with fines imposed for not reaching targets.

Both the oil and auto industries opposed this and lobbied heavily against it.  There was intensive media coverage of the debate and environmentalists spoke out on both sides.  All parties were locked in a confrontational relationship fueled by a longstanding mutual mistrust.  Public participation was openly sought.

(This conflict is highlighted in the movie Who Killed the Electric Car?.)

Faced with the difficult problem of cleaning up the foul air of the cities of California, the CARB proposed an ambitious program that relied exclusively on technological improvements. The LEV program did not contemplate any action to induce Californians to drive less. The CARB’s policy choices have been consistent with a regulatory tradition in which policymakers have not favored the application of land-use planning, demand travel management and fuel tax policies as means to reduce automobile emissions. In the transportation sector there has been a clear preference for technology standards within the framework of command and control regulations while at the same time large investments in highway infrastructure combined with zoning rules effectively enabled and accelerated the phenomenon of suburbanization and urban sprawl.

The French mandate, however, was characterized by heavy government involvement.  Much of the interaction between government and businesses was conducted ‘behind closed doors’, free of public scrutiny.  Unlike in the US, no group ever complained that EVs were a problem.  A treaty was made between the state-owned electricity company, the auto industry and local administrative institutions to contribute to the development of the EV.  No penalties were imposed for failing to meet targets.  Subsidies were provided to encourage individuals to buy EVs.

The diversity in the policies adopted reflect both practical and cultural differences between the USA and France, according to the study.  American cities are characterized by urban sprawl (which makes EVs difficult to use), the gasoline tax is low and the environmental lobby is political and vocal.  France’s cities, conversely, have a typically dense layout making EVs more practical.  The nuclear power industry has little opposition and has excess capacity to provide electricity.  Awareness of green issues in France is low and the high gasoline tax is a substantial source of revenue for the government.

In the end, the different ways used to achieve the same goal had no effect on the outcome.  Both countries failed to reduce urban pollution in line with targets.

However, the stricter legislation in the USA compelled automakers to come up with an alternative solution which it did in the form of hybrid cars.  This is typical, the authors observed, because in the US, technological solutions are preferred over behavioral change.  In France, technological solutions are strongly related to national prestige as a form of cultural elitism.  France failed to make this a ‘grand project’ and the lack of public awareness may have failed to drive it forward.

This comparison shows that individual cultures still have ‘standard operating procedures’ which reflect ‘deep-rooted national political and social cultures’ despite increasing globalization.  It also suggests that governments should take into account the cultural dimension when promoting policy change, according to the authors.

What are the lessons from this comparative study? Technology forcing—a regulatory strategy apt for a society inspired by the promise of technological solutions—can work and can lead to substantial and important new innovations and capabilities. But the consequent technological evolution may follow unpredictable pathways, yielding unexpected results. Industrial policy also can work and has worked in other settings in France (and elsewhere), but the lackluster development of electric drive-train technology demonstrates that the success of industrial policy requires a firm institutional commitment, including, for example, the catalysis of markets or commitments to procure EVs for public fleets.



Stan Peterson

Utopiasts have always wanted to create a "New Man".

That was the socialist program ever since Marx and Engels. It has failed everywhere and at every time it has been tried. Mankind like the leopard, never changes his spots.

The California approach can work but only if the the technology forcing is not out of the range of possibility. Fro example, stepwise the development of the catalytic converter and its improvement led to auto that are 99.+% cleaner than they used to be. But it has taken almost 30 years of legal prodding and corresponding engineering effort to get the technology that far.

The California EV perfectionists, exulting in Hubris over the catalytic converter success, did not base their EV laws on reality. They failed, and deeply wounded the Auto manufacturers who bled more than a Billion dollars in a fruitless attempt to accommodate their mandates.
In the end they were as successful as the Tennessee legislators who voted to repeal the Law of Gravity.

But on the whole the California reasonable approaches worked much better than the hopeless and hapless French approach. That never had a chance and never will.


Stan, before you make yourself too obnoxious insulting the French, you may want to read the article more carefully. You may have missed the bit in the article about how industrial planning has worked in France in other areas. One other thing, the French post office is purchasing 10,000 cleanova EVs over the next five years. Maybe they haven't failed yet.


Stan - What you see depends upon where you stand. It's hell when those damn trees keep getting in the way of a view of the forest.

Nick G

Stan, I'd quibble a bit with your description.

If GM had simply stuck with the EV-1, everyone, including GM, would be better off - GM has said so, publicly. They could have stuck with it, like Microsoft with new software, or Toyota with the early Prius. They made a mistake, and they know it. Hence, the Chevy Volt.

85% of the $1B spent on the EV-1 was from the US treasury, not GM, so they didn't have much call to complain so loudly about the investment.


The study seems rather inconclusive. Both approaches failed but what wasn't said is that the CARB caved in part due to the chairman's affinity for hydrogen, a rediculously long term solution which will do nothing in the short term, and possibly nothing in the long term.

But California still wants it both ways, thinking they can still highway at a frenetic case to accomodate all the projected demand in automobiles while thinking we can couteract that with technology and alternative fuels. If they continue in this vein, their goals will never be accomplished.


"2% new car sales starting in 1998, 5% by 2001 and 10% by 2003"

That seems like a pretty steep curve for California. If there is one lesson from health care, include everyone. Even though car makers will oppose it all the way, you have to talk to them and find out what can be done. They know you can drop the hammer, just negotiate with them knowing this, but not saying it.



They've opposed it because they cannot in any way guarantee that X% of their sales will be EVs. Just because the state mandates those sales volumes doesn't mean that consumers will actually purchase at those volumes. And it's not like you can force consumers to do so when there are other choices available.


For daily news on biofuels, please visit:



I dont think the problem is selling the EV´s more to the point
its getting the auto companys to part with them ! there were more than
10000 people waiting to lease the EV1 , GM just would not build them .
I think also if Toyota were sell making their Rav4 electric they would have
a healthy sales book given the price of gas .
As for the French and Cleanova , I should not hold your breath there,
they have gone very quiet , I suspect foul play !


How about A Japanese Perspective? A little story to warm your hearts. Reported on TV recently in Tokyo.

Fuji Xerox has a team of some 1000 service personnel in Tokyo who travel to offices to service copiers and printers. They encountered a problem this year when parking restrictions were toughened up in Tokyo making it difficult to get close to their destinations without parking illegally.

Previously service guys commuted on three wheeled scooters equipped with storage bins on the back, but they were getting too many parking tickets (as nowhere to legally park). So FX came up with an interesting strategy. They bought 400+ hybrid bicycles equipped with lockable storage case for copier parts etc, LiIon battery packs to power assist the bicycle up hills.

FX figured that this would solve their mounting parking ticket problem but would slow their response time to customer's offices. However after a few months they found that because the bicycles could avoid traffic, go down one way streets and be parked right outside the offices on the street, they in fact found response time was better than before. In addition to reduced costs from parking fines they gained savings on fuel costs, insurance and had a fitter healthier work force. Not to mention the reduced emmissions and customer satisfaction. They will also pay off the cost of the bicycles in less than 2 years from these savings.

I met one of the service "bikies" in the street today wearing a suit and checking his schedule on his lap top propped on the carry case on the back of his bicycle. I went up and congratulated him and told him I thought it was a great story and FX should be proud of their initiative. He said it's a bit tough on the hills but he'd lost weight and is feeling a lot fitter.

So you don't always need expensive new technology to reduce carbon emmissions. A bit of common sense and smart thinking solved a number of problems and created unexpected benefits.

Selim nouri

One of the main reason - from my point of view - why the results were different in France an in California, is simply the penetration ratio of japanese cars in California (and the US) compared to France. Therefore, the technology path followed a "Japanese" strategy (see JAMA brochure p 28 for Japanese market overview of clean vehicle technologies:

http://www.jama.org/library/pdf/brochures2006MIJReport.pdf )

When looking at technology transfer from Japan, it is clear that electric drivetrain and Hybrid technologies where the main ones developped in Japan... it was therefore normal to "export" them to the US

whereas the french market dominated mainly in the 90 by Renault and PSA followed a more "european" strategy (i.e: diesel oriented, HdI, commonrail..etc) and therefore the electric car remained marginal as well as the Hybrid one...

Again corporate strategies are the main responsible for the succes of Hybrid cars in California, and the sucess of diesel engine in France.... I see barely any links with politics/cultural behavior and the "Colbert's age grand project" argument seem quite "petit" compared to technology/R&D strategies.

Again following the R&D spendings of each car manufacturers (by region: USA, EU, Japan) is much more useful than any policy/cultural analysis...even though those parameter could have direct influence on R&D spendings... alone they do not explain anything.


It is like CAFE, if you want to sell gas guzzlers you have to sell a lot of fuel misers to make up for it.

California was just saying that if GM wants to sell Tahoes in California, then you have to make 1 in 50 vehicles EV. They could have done this, but chose to sue instead of innovate and compete.

If car makers sell 1 million vehicles in California per year, I do not think that they would have any problem selling 20,000 EVs.

Obviously if they offered good useful EVs at a reasonable price and no one bought them, you would have to reconsider, but that was not the case. The smart thing to do is survey potential buyers in the state an see if there are enough of them. This is not hard to do, it is done every day.

All I am saying is work with the car companies. They will foot drag and complain and threaten to sue, but talk to them knowing you call the shots. They know that, you know that, so you negotiate from a position of strength without threats.

Rafael Seidl

"Both countries failed to reduce urban pollution in line with targets."

This conclusion implies that France is promoting EVs primarily as a way to improve air quality, just as California is doing. If this were true, no-one in France would be allowed to drive diesel passenger cars - especially in its crowded cities. Indeed, both vehicle emissions and air quality standards are set by the EU, not individual countries.

Closer to the truth is that Europe, air quality targets are considered at most equal to energy security and the economic value of mobility in terms of policy priorities. Diesel PM is being addressed now that that wall-flow DPFs and less effective retrofit systems are available, with different policies applied in each EU member country. However, NOx limits for passenger car diesel engines are still 3x those for gasoline engines. This will not change until Euro 6 comes into force in 2014. Countries such as Greece that do have smog problems have minimized diesel market share via taxes/registration fees and access restrictions.

HEV/PHEV/BEV strategies would surely be more popular in Europe if local car makers were invested in them. For now, they believe incremental improvements in gasoline engine efficiency will achieve larger market share sooner.

As TokyoJoe points out, though, electric bicycles are a viable alternative to cars in dense urban traffic. It doesn't look likely, but if the EU wanted to, it could give car makers a break on their fleet average CO2 emissions by bundling a qualifying electric bicycle with each new vehicle sold.

E Sabre

The line about thousand's of people waiting to lease EV-1's doesn't mention that GM was losing money on each lease. However, the good news is that I'm considering buying a Highlander Hybrid. Of course, the budget may not support the Hybrid, so to ensure that I am not forced to buy a pure gas guzzeling, CO2 producing, Yugo smashing non-hybrid SUV, I think you should all subsidize my hybrid purchase and save me from myself.

The comments to this entry are closed.