The French Electric Car Boneyard – What Really Happened

Alleged French electric car boneyard
Another angle of the cars piled up in the alleged French electric car boneyard

Electric Car Myths

Usually we write about low carbon transportation. It so happens that here we report on a social media blow up about a mistakened notions about electric cars.

Autolib’ – the company behind the alleged French electric car boneyard

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. 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 in Massy, France.

Social media circulates the photo with an embelished story

Later on, social media users circulated 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 the French electric car boneyard story

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

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 is a bright spot

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

Summary TL;DR

The photos are real but its not because the electric batteries failed, its because the 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.