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Mobility for All, Thinking Out of the Box

A Conversation with Gabriel Plassat of the French Agency for Ecological Transition (ADEME)

July 12, 2023

During the Freedom of Mobility Forum’s live debate on March 29, 2023, panelist Carlos Tavares opened the door to lighter mobility devices to partially cover mobility needs and respond to climate related issues. The Forum team had the unique opportunity to explore this topic with Gabriel Plassat who is an Expert with ADEME and the European Commission and also a member of the Freedom of Mobility Forum’s Panel of Experts. Gabriel is leading a unique and disruptive experience, the “eXtrême Défi” (or, “extreme challenge”) supported by ADEME, whose objective is to design, prototype and produce mobility devices which are 10 times cheaper, lighter and simpler, 10 times more sustainable, and 10 times more efficient!

We spoke with Gabriel Plassat to find out more.

What is the eXtrême Défi project? To what extent could it respond to mobility needs by combining both affordability and decarbonization?

The key question is how do we get out of the permanent trend of increasing vehicle mass. Safety standards, identical components to benefit from economies of scale, energy performance that allows more mass to be moved with less energy, all this explains the ever-increasing weight of vehicles. SUVs are now the norm, including for the definition of road infrastructure. With the eXtrême Défi project, we want to develop alternatives.

The eXtrême Défi project is a collective approach to imagine, prototype and produce new vehicles that are efficient, durable, lightweight, simple and affordable.
We focus on alternatives that meet real needs for everyday journeys in peri-urban and rural areas such as commuting, shopping and everyday leisure, and logistics. 

Specifications are:

  • 10 times less expensive compared to a car (currently €0.6 to 0.8 / km in Europe)
  • 10 times more sustainable by targeting very high recyclability, ability to be repaired, reconditioned to have several lives, several uses (average lifespan of a car is 13 years)
  • 10 times lighter (average mass of new cars sold in 2019 was 1240 kg). This criterion is essential to achieve carbon neutrality
  • 10 times simpler (eco-design to reduce the number of components, work collectively on interoperability)
  • 10 times more efficient

How would such an approach challenge current practices in the mobility industry?

The targeted intermediate mobility devices – which sit in the category between electric bikes and automobiles – are light. This implies lower energy consumption, less material, less battery range. So, many benefits for the user but also for the community!

Energy Use and Efficiency by Category

Motor Power
Average Speed
Power Used at
Average Speed
Energy Efficiency
Compared to
Electric Car
Calculation b a a/b
Velomobile 30 - 35 100 3 1/50
Bicycle 14 - 18 100 5.5 1/27
50 250 45 350 8 1/19
Walking - - 4 40 10 1/15
Electric Bicycle 20 250 25 350 14 1/11
Electric Scooter 90 4,500 45 1,300 29 1/5
Electric Quadricycle 450 6,000 45 3,400 77 1/2
Small Electric Car 920 33,000 45 5,800 130 1/1.15
Electric Car 1,500 80,000 45 6,700 150 1

Source: Revue Transports Urbains 2022 n°141

Since these vehicles are meant to be repaired and reconditioned, processes to produce them are not necessarily a replication of the automotive industry. We are exploring an assembly method in which vehicles would be produced in distributed factories, such as garages, for example. This will also make it possible to have them evolve to respond to changes in the users’ needs.

A performance label will be designed on three major criteria: energy efficiency in the use and production of the vehicle, its eco-design, its ability to be repaired and also reconditioned to have several lives. We can leverage on this label to align creative forces in a clear direction, of general interest, and to condition access to public subsidies to support purchasing or industrial investment. This would help create a European industrial ecosystem while reducing interest for Asian products.

Examples of Intermediate Vehicles

To what extent are those disruptive mobility solutions applicable?

Small mobility devices are already a reality: rickshaws in India, kei cars in Japan, Low Speed Electric Vehicles – although banned – in China and electric bikes, cargo bikes and “cars without license” in Europe. Low-density countries such as the United States, Australia and Canada escape this logic since space is not an issue.

I believe that in addition to the “early adopters” already using those intermediate mobility devices that the eXtrême Défi is promoting, changes in use will remain limited to territories that already offer favorable road conditions.

The current appetite for active mobility modes (e.g., walking, biking, running, etc.) in rural areas could be a great opportunity for the deployment of those intermediate mobility devices. Indeed, we could prioritize active modes in a network of secondary roads, even if it means prohibiting them in some cases to automobiles.

Intermediate vehicles could benefit from these secure secondary networks to better integrate into people’s daily lives. France is a good illustration of this opportunity. This country currently has one of the densest secondary road networks in the world, which generates maintenance costs. It is hence quite realistic to dedicate some of them to these intermediate vehicles, while conventional vehicles would use primary road networks.

What benefits can citizens expect from these new mobility solutions?

We have already identified the many benefits those changes would bring:

  • Reduce maintenance expenses for households since these intermediate vehicles are 10 to 100 times lighter
  • Restore purchasing power to households that switch to active modes and intermediate vehicles
  • Contribute to reducing negative external impacts, in particular GHG emissions and pollutants as well as noise, and limit maintenance costs for roads
  • Develop new economic activities in territories linked, for example, to tourism, or be able to relocate daily activities on the nodes of these active mode networks
  • Strengthen the resilience of the local territory by developing the capacity to operate without any fossil fuels, with much more efficient vehicles
  • Finally, a safer approach to mobility for all, as light devices will not be confronted with heavy vehicles on the road

So, you see, private and collective money saved, freedom of mobility protected, jobs created, and a better environment to live in. We call upon all territories and mobility industry players to support these disruptive approaches, by thinking beyond current roads and processes.