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31 May 2017

Letter from France



As one who grew up in the 1960s, I’ve long had an affection for supercars with booming V8s or screaming V12s - think Lamborghini Miura, Ferrari Daytona and Maserati Ghibli - and indeed over the years I’ve owned a few of them. However, as regular readers of this site will perhaps be aware, I have said more and more frequently that I have become convinced that the future of our use of power lies with the increasing importance of electricity - and therefore the importance of battery technology - in making our vehicles work. So a few weeks ago, I put my money where my mouth is and bought, not a pure EV, but a hybrid BMW i8. 

I have recently had a horrible personal tragedy in my life, and some friends invited me to visit them in Provence for a bit of relief, so I thought it would also be good to see how the car performed on a long journey. I’ve become a complete convert; where that wailing V12 sound used to be music to my ears, I’ve now discovered the beauty of rolling down an autoroute, the car in electric mode, in blissful silence, apart from the sound of the wind a bit of tyre noise. And on that subject, by the way, it would seem French road engineers are way ahead of their British counterparts - tyre noise on a UK motorway is significantly greater than on a French one; I know nothing of tarmac technology, but we seem to be lagging, for some reason. So, anyway, to my opinion about the need to move to (preferably renewable) electric power for vehicles - which is an important area for the metals business - I can now also confirm that with that power, you sit in a far pleasanter environment. Of course, it may also be age-related…… There is one immediate problem which needs solving, but I’ll come back to that.

It’s interesting being in France so soon after their Presidential election. The choice they had was pretty much between the unelectable and the unproven, and, to the relief of many, they went for the latter. It’s worth remembering, though, before we become complacent about that, that the unelectable - as one would have thought - nevertheless secured something around eleven million votes; that doesn’t bode well, frankly. I have to confess to being a tad sceptical about Emmanuel Macron, who, from the appearance of his campaign rallies, seems to be unable to decide if he wants to be a politician, a rockstar or a born-again evangelist. But, although I have always had a soft spot for France, coming from the number of times my parents sent me here as a child to learn the language and the culture, I am a foreigner to them, so that judgement is perhaps best seen as an outsider’s view.

Certainly, amongst the people I have been speaking to, ranging from diehard Gaullists to moderate socialists, there seems to be a scent of recovery in the air, driven by a new President prepared to confront the realities of the time. The French economy has been a sorry tale for some time now, with unemployment stubbornly high (particularly amongst the youth) and a state bureaucracy which - while it may have suited the corporatist environment which has pervaded the Fifth Republic - seems to Anglo-Saxon eyes to be over-influential. What I learn is that the new President has made very clear his intention to ensure that the needs of the economy - I was going to say business, but I think it is actually broader than that - will over-ride the concerns of the status quo. 

This should be a positive for Europe as a whole. Where it leaves the Brexit negotiation, though, is less clear; on the one hand, which is positive for both sides, M Macron appears to demonstrate a pragmatic rather than a doctrinaire approach, but on the other, he also seems to show signs of closing ranks against the supplicant leaver. We will have to see what happens there, although should the British be bamboozled by offers of endless free stuff into making a foolish choice in a week or so, I suppose by the time the two year negotiating period is over there probably won’t be a British economy left to be concerned about.

So it’s probably two and a half cheers for M Macron, despite my initial scepticism, not least because he spared the Continent the unpalatable alternative.

Oh, and that one issue with electric cars. Tesla have their recharging network pretty well established across Europe now. For the others, though, including BMW, there is a hotchpotch of different suppliers of electric charging points, all with their own contractual payment schemes and charge cards which are not necessarily interchangeable. Would it be so difficult to put credit card readers on the charging points so we can use them just like we use petrol stations ? Seems a no-brainer to me, given that governments want to push us in that direction.   

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