Hundreds of electric Autolib' cars are parked in Romorantin-Lanthenay, France, on November 10, 2018 (AFP / Guillaume Souvant)

Electric cars in France were not discarded due to faulty technology

Copyright AFP 2017-2021. All rights reserved.

US social media users shared photos of hundreds of electric cars parked in France, alleging that they were discarded because their batteries failed. This is false; the vehicles belonged to a Paris rideshare fleet that was shut down, and the company that produced the cars said their batteries were taken out to avoid deterioration.

“This is a boneyard near Paris, France with hundreds of electric powered cars,” says a May 16, 2021 Facebook post featuring photos of rows of small cars sitting bumper-to-bumper in a grass field.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on May 18, 2021

“All of these have the same issue,” the posts claims.

“The battery storage cells have given out and need to be replaced. Why not just replace them you ask? Well two reasons. First the battery storage cells cost almost double what the vehicle cost new, and second no landfill or disposals will allow the batteries to be disposed of there. So these green fairy tale electric cars are all sitting in vacant lots while their batteries drain toxins into the ground,” it says.

The claim is the latest example of false information about electric vehicles and their components circulating online as countries strive to develop and encourage their use to meet climate targets. Highlighting this push, President Joe Biden test-drove the new electric version of Ford’s F-150 on May 18.

The posts about the cars in France were written in English, but rumors of toxic fluids leaking into the ground from the cars also appeared on social media in German and in French.

The claims about them, however, are false.

A Google reverse image search shows that the photos of the cars were apparently first published in March 2021 by a French Facebook page dedicated to electric vehicles which lamented the inglorious end of the cars in Romorantin, a town in the middle of France. 

French social media users shared the images and pointed out the cars were part of the Autolib’ fleet, a car-sharing service in Paris from 2011 to 2018.

“None of these cars found itself there because there was a generalized technology problem,” Fabricio Protti, Deputy CEO of Bolloré, the French firm that produced the vehicles and oversaw their management, told AFP.

The cars were removed from the French capital in the summer of 2018 after negotiations between the Paris government and Bolloré stalled, Protti said. 

The car-sharing system had become unprofitable, and after Paris city hall refused to reimburse the company for the deficit, the 4,000 “Bluecars” that made up the fleet were taken out service. Protti said Bolloré is currently suing the city for its handling of the contract.

According to Protti, that is the only reason the cars ended up in the field. He also said a lot of the cars were sold through an intermediary for individual use, while the ones seen in the images were sold for spare parts. 

AFP journalists went to Romorantin and saw the vehicles in March 2021. 

Autopuzz, the company that bought the cars for resale, told AFP in March that they were still selling those that are in the best condition. “We started the operation two years ago and we’ll soon pass the symbolic milestone of 2,000 cars sold,” Autopuzz head Guillaume Ramirez said.

Environmental impact

Protti also took aim at claims that the Bluecars’ batteries are an environmental hazard.

“There are no batteries out there that are leaking in the wild,” Protti said, adding that all the batteries worked perfectly when the cars left Paris. “Either our batteries are in cars and they are working, or the buyers didn’t want them and we took them back and we stored them safely elsewhere. We have some projects for them, but if those don’t pan out we will recycle them.”

Protti added that the Bluecars’ batteries would not easily leak fluids because they use solid-state technology, which does not involve the liquid electrolytes used in most other electric cars’ lithium-ion batteries, such as Teslas.

French regional environmental agency DREAL said in 2019 that the field pictured in the social media posts is “just a car park like many others. The risk of pollution once the batteries are removed is very limited.”

Asked again in 2021, a spokesperson for the agency said its inspectors visited the site on May 20. 

“During this visit, it was noted that dismantling and storage activities of end-of-life vehicles have ceased,” the spokesperson said, adding that the batteries have been returned to Bolloré for “repair or recycling.” 

However, part of the Autolib’ fleet was stored in a separate parking lot in the same town of Romorantin, not shown in the photos shared in the United States. The area is used by a company called Atis Production for dismantling vehicles to sell for parts.

That site was the target of a cease-and-desist order from DREAL, in part due to poorly stored batteries, including four pallets of 12 volt batteries that were “stored outside without protection from precipitation.”

Upon returning to the site in January 2021, the agency found that “work had been carried out to bring the facility into compliance.” As of March 2021, Atis Production still did not have a permit for dismantling vehicles.

EDIT: This article was updated on June 1, 2021 to add quotes from French regional environmental agency DREAL and additional background.
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