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THE FRENCH ARE OFFICIALLY DISCOURAGING DRIVING: SHOULD AMERICA WORRY?

Starting March 1st, Carmakers Will Have To Pack Messages Into Their Ads Promoting Other Forms Of Transit

Still frame from an ad for the Renault Clio. Image via Renault.

Throughout the US, large pockets of the population still abide by the age-old wisdom that “there ain’t no replacement for displacement.” See: Chevy’s 1,004-horsepower, 10.3-liter ZZ632 crate motor, for instance. That’s not to say that the US, or automakers like GM, Ford and others aren’t actively working to reduce the part of its carbon footprint attributable to internal combustion passenger vehicles, but it’s nothing next to the aggressive approach being taken by some other countries – including France, where a new law puts car commercials at the center of a push to discourage unnecessary fossil fuel usage.

As Canada’s CTV News reports, a new law that was just passed in France will require car commercials to include messages promoting green alternative modes of transportation. The messages include “for short trips, choose to walk or cycle”, “think about carpooling”, and “take public transit daily.” The new law will take effect on March 1st, applying to car advertisements on television and billboards, and in movie theaters, print, the web, and radio, according to CTV News.

Still frame from an ad for the Citroën C5 X. Image via Citroën.

There’s even a hashtag to go along with the government-mandated campaign: #SeDéplacerMoinsPolluer, or “move without pollution.” Should an automaker fail to adhere to France’s new legislation governing car commercials, the penalty is €50,000 per offense – about $56,000 USD.

Je Vous Demande Pardon

It may seem a bit strange for the French government to require car commercials to carry messaging that runs so utterly counter to their objective of, uh, you know, selling cars, but it’s not so different from the Surgeon General’s Warnings that tobacco producers are required to print on their packaging in the United States, or the words of caution shared in alcoholic beverage advertisements. Of course, cars are much more than just a vice, but the new law suggests that in some regard, France views internal combustion as a pressing public health concern, in much the same way that the US views tobacco and alcohol.

For what it’s worth, France isn’t entirely wrong; according to a study by Harvard researchers published last year, roughly 17,000 to 20,000 people die in the US each year as a result of airborne fine particulate matter from transportation. That’s the reason behind a new set of climate regulations passed in France last summer that, among other things, bans certain vehicles from densely populated urban areas. The country also plans to entirely phase out sales of new gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040. Similar legislation has passed in California, New York, and other states, by 2035.

Should Americans Worry?

It’s not entirely far-fetched to consider the possibility that the US might consider similar legislation in the coming years – especially with what’s happening in coastal states. But somehow, the idea of a raucous, high-octane ad starring, say, Jeep’s 6.4-liter Hemi-powered Wrangler Rubicon 392 with the words “ride your bike next time” doesn’t sit quite right.

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