The French Electric Car Boneyard – What Really Happened – 2023

2 Electric Car Myths – The French Electric Car Boneyard

Usually we write about low carbon transportation. It so happens that here we report on a social media blow up about a mistaken notions about electric cars. What’s the story behind the French electric car boneyard or “graveyard” as it’s sometimes known?

Is it really a sign that electric cars are a failure? By now, no one believes electric cars are inferior because the industry is shifting decisively to greater ownership of electric cars. But where did this story come from?

Story #1: Alleged French electric car boneyard from Facebook that surfaced in early 2021
Story #2: Another alleged French electric car boneyard from Twitter that surfaced in late 2021

In fact, there are now TWO stories about French electric car boneyards. We don’t know why but there’s something about bashing the French and electric cars that seems to catch on every time.

Story #1: Autolib’ – The Company Behind The Alleged French Electric Car Boneyard

Logo for Autolib’

The story starts with Autolib’ (don’t forget the apostrophe) way back in 2011, a car-sharing service that provided electric vehicles in the Paris area. The service was not sustainable as a business and the company filed for bankruptcy in 2018. Multiple news sources debunked the myth that these cars were thrown out because of their uselessness. The upper image was taken of a site in France.

Part of the problem was that the company didn’t account for the cost of maintaining the cars and for the great mismatch between the number of cars they had and the number of subscribers they enlisted.

The result was that subscribers didn’t have enough cars exacerbated by the problem of cars going out of service due to poor maintenance. The cars were sold off and many were left to rot in a lot. According to reports the cars are either in Massy, France or Romorantin-Lanthenay, France.

Story #2: Microcity – Car Sharing Service That Failed In Hangzhou

Press supplied photo of the supposed abandoned car boneyard

Multiple sources debunked the second hoax that hundreds of brand new electric cars were abandoned in Paris. In reality, the cars belonged to a bankrupt electric car sharing company and were moved to an empty lot next to the Qiantang River on the outskirts of Hangzhou. The lower image shows the site in China.

Photos of the same cars were featured in an article from Shanghai and a news report post on Weibo. The same photos were involved in yet another hoax claiming that Covid19 caused the cars to be abandoned.

Social Media Circulates The Photo With An Embelished Story

Later on, social media users circulated both photographs of the abandoned cars in a boneyard near Paris, France. The captions said the cars had been abandoned and left to decay because their battery storage cells had “given out” and were too expensive to replace and hence electric cars were fundamentally faulty.

This was implied as a criticism of the technology of the electric vehicles, and thus are unsustainable as a product. The photographs were real, but the accompanying description was misleading in multiple ways. In fact, it was the failure of a business model, not of the technology of the electric cars themselves!

Fact Checkers Debunk Both French Electric Car Boneyard Stories

Both Snopes and Politifact investigated the story about the “French electric car boneyard” and gave their respective accounts.

In the first story when the business failed in 2018, the company sold off most of the cars and had to put the ones in poor condition in a lot. While in the lot, their batteries had been removed anyway and weren’t leaking into the soil as the posters suggested.

One of the managers of the lot, Paul Aouizerate was quoted as saying “Our vehicles are properly stored. The firefighters are aware that the construction site is well organized. All batteries have been removed, [and] the connections are isolated”.

Even Reuters got in on debunking the news story. Reuters also reports that the owners of the company have been selling the cars to another buy so these cars are not simply sitting there as junk.

In the second story, internet sleuths pointed out that an article published in Shanghaiist on April 25, 2019 featured a photograph with a skyline matching the same trees, buildings and radio tower as the photograph in the viral posts.

Why is it important to debunk the story? Because whenever there’s a policy discussion or decision about increasing use of electric vehicles as a way to combat carbon emissions, critics trot out this ridiculous story to back up their claim that electric vehicle technology is flawed. Again, it was a business case challenge not a technology challenge that this company couldn’t keep it going.

Velib’ – The Bike-Share Service That Is A Bright Spot

Regarding the first story, a related service run by the city, not the parent company of Autolib’, called Vélib’ Métropole remains in service. Bike riders rent bikes that are stored in bike racks.

An image from the Velib’ Metropole bike-share service run by the city of Paris

State Of The Boneyard In 2022

For the first story about Autolib’, in one of the purported locations of Romorantin-Lanthenay, France, there is a large lot of cars that’s been labeled “Stockage des Autolib”. This implies that the Autolib cars are being stored. Google maps shows the cars sitting there. We estimated a little over 1300 cars stored there! An image of the state of the location is shown here.

Romorantin-Lanthenay, France where a lot of cars labeled “Autolib” shows over a thousand vehicles parked

Summary TL;DR

Both photos are real but the cars were not abandoned because the electric batteries failed. Instead, in both cases, Paris and China, the two different parent company’s business model failed.

Anne Lauer
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Anna Lauer is a writer, gardener, and homesteader living in rural Wisconsin. She has written for Mother Earth News, Grit, and Hobby Farms magazines. Anna is writing a new book about growing your food for free and an ultimate guide to producing food at little to no cost. When shes not writing or gardening, Anna enjoys spending time with her husband and two young daughters.