Car companies are apparently not OK in France right now. Ford is crying foul on the car-related public health warnings mandated by France after Hyundai complained that these “vilified drivers.” Ford’s managing director in France says these warnings, which are about curbing emissions, prove lawmakers in Paris don’t understand people who live outside of the French capital, according to the Financial Times.
It feels like a last-ditch effort to stop the imminent public health warnings, but more importantly, it’s a willful misunderstanding of the point of the warnings. These new requirements are part of a law passed last year to help lower France’s carbon emissions, and they apply to cars no matter where they’re operated.
The public health warnings are like surgeon general warnings on tobacco products or “excess calorie” labels on chips. They’re supposed to encourage people to reconsider driving when it’s not necessary in order to curb CO2 emissions. Is that such a bad thing?
But the warnings are “anti-car,” according to Ford, because people outside of Paris allegedly don’t have access to other modes of transport. From the FT:
“It’s a real paradox to have a government that is so anti-cars in a country with three national carmakers,” said Louis-Carl Vignon, managing director of Ford in France, where the US carmaker competes with domestic groups Renault and the Peugeot and Citroën brands that are now part of Stellantis. Vignon said the measures reflected a “social fracture” between politicians in power and those who live outside of Paris.
“In Paris, there are alternative modes of transport, but what do you do when you live in Creuse?” he asked, referring to a particularly rural and sparsely populated department in central France.
Louis-Carl Vignon seems to have forgotten that France has a fairly robust public transportation system that consists of buses, subways, trams, trains, bicycles, and more. Sure, those solutions aren’t applicable in every rural city, but folks in France have a much easier time using public transit than us Americans.
For reference, the following phrases are the mandatory health warnings as of March 2022. Carmakers will have to pick just one, and put it on their ads:
- “For short journeys, walk or take a bike when possible.”
- “Consider carpooling.”
- “Take public transport for your daily journeys.”
These PSA-style phrases will go on ads that already include warnings about financing and emissions figures for the car being advertised. But these new warnings — these specific phrases — have offended the carmakers. Ad agencies and their representatives reportedly called them “punitive.” Afterwards, they ran upstairs to their rooms and slammed the door.
The thing is that regardless of where a car is driven, its carbon emissions are the point of the warnings. The emissions are the problem, and emissions don’t change when you drive out to the country, where it’s hard to catch a bus. A walkability score doesn’t change a car’s emissions. The public health warnings are applicable in Paris or Creuse all the same.
And they're just that: warnings. Asking folks to walk to the corner store isn't the crisis these automakers are making it out to be. The people who still need to use a car for transportation will keep doing it — but if these warnings change a few minds, I don't think the French automotive market will suffer.