France 'to end sales of petrol, diesel vehicles by 2040'

Paris (AFP) - France will end sales of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 as part of an ambitious plan to meet its targets under the Paris climate accord, new Ecology Minister Nicolas Hulot announced Thursday.

"We are announcing an end to the sale of petrol and diesel cars by 2040," Hulot said, calling it a "veritable revolution".

Hulot acknowledged that reaching the goal would be "tough", particularly for automakers, but said that French carmakers Peugeot-Citroen and Renault were well equipped to make the switch.

France, home to Europe's second-biggest car industry, dominates its market for electric vehicles, with the Renault Zoe far outselling other models in 2016.

On Wednesday, Sweden's Volvo said it planned to phase out production of petrol-only cars from 2019, with all new models to be either electric or hybrids.

The Chinese-owned group is the first major manufacturer to electrify all of its models.

Hulot cited Volvo as an example in making his surprise announcement, part of the government's new stated plan to make France carbon neutral by 2050.

- 'Public health' matter -

Hulot, a veteran environmental campaigner and TV presenter, was among several political newcomers to whom President Emmanuel Macron gave top jobs in his government.

His nomination was seen as a strong statement of Macron's commitment to greening the economy.

Within days of being elected, Macron crossed swords on social media with US President Donald Trump, after Trump announced America's withdrawal from the Paris agreement on curbing emissions.

France is one of several European and Asian countries that have said they want to dramatically reduce the amount of polluting petrol and diesel cars on their roads.

India has said it wants all cars sold there to be electric-powered by 2030.

Norway -- where electric cars topped the sales charts for the first time last month -- aims to end sales of petrol and diesel cars by 2025 and car giant Germany wants to put one million electric vehicles on the road by 2020.

Cyrille Cormier of Greenpeace France expressed disappointment over Hulot's failure to set out concrete measures.

The minister said he would give low-income households a grant to help them replace older cars with a cleaner model, but did not specify how much they would receive.

"We still do not know how we will achieve these objectives and respect these ambitious promises," Cormier said.

Motorists still continue to opt overwhelmingly for petrol and diesel models, usually substantially cheaper.

In 2016, hybrid and electric cars accounted for only 3.6 percent of new cars registered in Western Europe, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA).

The greatest spurt in sales was for non-rechargeble hybrids, which rose 27.3 percent compared to 2015. Electric car registrations jumped by seven percent, while plug-in hybrids grew by only 3.9 percent.

Hulot said that weaning France off conventional cars was also a matter of "public health".

Paris, Lyon, Grenoble and other French cities have a chronic smog problem.

Analysts are split on how quickly electric vehicles will displace those powered by internal combustion engines.

The 29-nation International Energy Agency (IEA), formed after the 1973 oil crisis, sees relatively modest growth, resulting in an eight percent market share -- about 150 million vehicles -- by 2040.

By contrast, private forecaster Bloomberg New Energy Finance's predicts a 22-percent market share for electric vehicles by 2035.

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