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Our Chicago Car Guy In France..Oui Oui


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Whenever I’m in Europe I notice the absence of American cars
and other musings on travels in France.

By Larry Nutson
Senior Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau
The Auto Channel


I’ve just returned from a ten-day visit to France. My travels had me in Paris for four days, the city of Bordeaux for three, Arcachon on France’s Atlantic coast for two days and back to Paris for a day before heading home.


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In this city of over 2 million the road traffic in Paris is fairly crowded with cars and trucks along with buses for both public transit as well as those loaded with tourists. I had joined my wife on this trip who had business in Paris and which therefore left me on my own for a couple days. Besides walking, I’m fairly adept at negotiating the Paris Metro, the subway that is.

This was not my first visit to the City of Light and I’ve previously made the observation that the cars on the streets of Paris are almost complete void of bright colors. Parisians seem to like black, grey, silver, a bit of dark brown and once in a while white. I also think Parisians must not believe in washing their cars. Maybe it’s a water conservation thing, or perhaps they don’t bother since they get dirty right away.

Taxis and private-hire cars are mostly black. The private hire folks do seem to believe in car washing. Paris is loaded with foreign consul offices representing different countries. Often seen are two, three or four car motorcades chauffeuring VIP officials around with sirens blaring and blue lights flashing.


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Now as for American cars, especially of the larger type, it’s key to consider that the streets of Paris were laid out ages ago. Paris was first founded in about the 3rd century BC and by the 12th century was the largest city in the western world. Streets are fairly narrow and often a challenge to maneuver. Plus, parking space is at a premium and often nowhere to be found. A long or a wide vehicle is not something to have in Paris. A vacant on-street parking space is often no bigger than the mini-compact or subcompact car that vacated it.

Another consideration is higher fuel prices compared to what we have in the U.S. No doubt the low crude oil prices around the globe have given everyone’s wallet a break. Doing the math and converting liters to gallons and Euro to U.S. dollars, a gallon of regular gasoline is about $5.75 and it’s around $5.00 for a gallon of diesel fuel. Most cars are diesel powered because of the lower fuel consumption and lower fuel price.

That said, I have seen larger American cars and SUVs. On this trip a Chrysler 300 being used as a taxi caught my eye as well as an older generation Ford Explorer. And one evening I got a quick glimpse of a new Mustang. But they are rarities. Being nationalistic, many Citroen, Peugeot, and Renault cars are on the road and then of course other European brands like Fiat, VW, Audi, BMW and Mercedes.


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EVs have a bit of popularity in Paris. Short term car sharing is available and there seems to be a fairly decent infrastructure of on-street charging stations. The Smart car is also very prevalent, often seen parked ninety-degrees to the curb having squeezed between two parallel-parked cars. The Renault Twizy EV is a tandem two-seat car (or is it a four-wheeled scooter) that makes a showing from time to time. And finally, motor scooters galore buzz around transporting folks in every weather condition, the riders with blanket-like tarps over their legs and laps. Scooters and motorcycles get there own designated parking areas.


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To get to Bordeaux from Paris we took France’s TGV, Train Grande Vitesse meaning high-speed train. The intercity train runs non-stop between the two towns at a fairly fast clip. It takes a bit over three hours to travel the approximate 550 km and when track conditions permit the train travels at speeds up to 300kph, that’s 185 mph. I have a speed App in my iPhone that uses GPS to calculate speed, so I verified the 185 mph for myself. It’s very convenient. We had reserved seats…specific seat numbers in a specific coach of the train, and you just show up right before the departure time. The seats are cushy and comfy with no one complaining about you reclining the seat back, and there is plenty of space to carry on luggage. Bring a sandwich or buy one from the on-board catering car. There is however, no WiFi, which just may be a good thing.


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Bordeaux is all about wine. If you don’t drink wine perhaps don’t visit Bordeaux, although the countryside is very beautiful. To get around we rented a Fiat 500X from Eurocar that did the job. The 5-speed manual transmission diesel engine “popemobile”, the 500X is what we saw Pope Francis use during his recent U.S. visit, proved both economical and a good performer. We put about 300 km on the Fiat and averaged 5.8 L/100km fuel consumption. That equates to about 41 mpg.

Most of our driving was on the wine country roads leading to the chateau vineyards around Bordeaux with speeds toping out at 70 kph, around 43 mph. We also drove from Bordeaux to Arcachon for a two-day stay. The French highway is posted at 110 kph (67mph) near the cities and 130kph (85mph) out in the wide open spaces. We had a Tom-Tom GPS from Eurocar that helped us find out way.


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Arcachon is a summer resort community and our late-October visit revealed many already closed for the season homes, rental apartments and smaller hotels. Not surprisingly like many U.S. beach resort areas we saw a few iconic Jeeps and fun beach cars like the Citroen Mehari. Our mode of transport was mostly by foot with a ferry to the Cap(e) Ferret area across the Arcachon basin with its many oyster beds. We then rented bicycles to tour the cape area for a few hours and make our way to our lunch restaurant on the beach enjoying the view and the oysters and wine.

By foot, by train, by taxi, by bicycle, by car, by airplane that’s how we took in a portion of France. There’s a number of Americans who make Paris their home for a part of the year. They too get around like we did. Like large U.S. cities, you really don’t need a car in Paris. With taxis or the Metro at your fingertips for daily in-city travels and outstanding train service or car-sharing easily available for a trip to another city or our to the countryside, well, frankly, there is no need to own a car.

On second thought, a Porsche or Ferrari for weekend vineyard tours might be a good idea. (ed note, Might Be?)

2015 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy