French households are leading the way in transitioning to electric cars, surpassing BNP and Société Générale leasing companies, which are responsible for putting many large polluting SUVs on French roads. These findings come from a new Transport & Environment (T&E) report published before Société Générale’s annual general meeting of shareholders on 22 May.

Major French banks, including Société Générale, BNP Paribas, BPCE, Crédit Mutuel, and Crédit Agricole, have car leasing subsidiaries that purchase and lease tens of thousands of new cars each year. Companies register half of new cars annually in France, and 63% of these are owned by leasing companies, meaning nearly one in three new cars is leased to companies.

However, T&E’s analysis reveals that Société Générale and BNP Paribas are lagging in the transition to electric vehicles (EVs). Of the 93,000 cars leased to professional fleets by Société Générale’s subsidiaries in 2023, only 12% were electric, below the national market average of 17% and the household average of 23%. BNP Paribas performed even worse, with only 11% of its 80,000 leased cars being electric.

Only Crédit Agricole exceeded the market average, with 23% of its 14,000 leased cars being electric, demonstrating that rapid electrification is possible with the right strategy. T&E urges other market players to follow this example. Additionally, BNP and Société Générale are adding to pollution by leasing a high number of large SUVs, which are four times more common among their fleets than among households.

While companies decide which cars to lease, large leasing companies are not neutral intermediaries. They have significant market power, ordering tens of thousands of cars annually and influencing manufacturers’ production strategies. T&E’s research shows that leasing companies often overcharge for electric cars and advise clients to choose petrol or hybrid models.

This approach negatively impacts the used car market, as leased cars are typically resold after three to four years. By delaying the transition to new electric cars, leasing companies also slow the availability of more affordable second-hand electric cars.

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Despite claims of leadership in green mobility, reports indicate that leasing companies are hindering the automotive transition. The sector has even opposed legal obligations for electrifying professional fleets, although their appeal was rejected by the Council of State in October 2023. Now, they are pushing for political amendments to bypass these obligations.

T&E is calling on banks and their leasing subsidiaries to take responsibility and move away from petrol-powered cars. Public policymakers must scrutinise this critical sector and ensure it supports the transition to electric vehicles, the clean energy NGO said.

Leasing giants urged to spearhead green transition: T&E

Transport emissions set to dominate Europe’s GHG output by 2030: T&E