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Le Figaro

In their quest for freedom, teenagers swear by unlicensed cars. It's a growing phenomenon. Here's how.

A class act! Arnaud* drives to school. He's still in junior high, but he's already got his own car. Despite his baby face, which barely emerges from the steering wheel. It's his second home. He spends most of his life in it. Whenever he has a free moment, he wanders the streets of his Parisian neighborhood. Elbow to the door, cigarette in his mouth, music blaring. His buddies are jealous of him; the girls squabble over the passenger seat. Getting his second home was no easy task for Arnaud. It was only after several weeks of palavering and persistent insistence that his parents finally gave in. Like many families, they preferred to see Arnaud protected by a body than on a scooter, which was too dangerous. Thousands of people like Arnaud have gained a new mobility, which in many ways marks the beginning of freedom and independence. The antithesis of the image of the mobile chicane driven by a senior citizen on country roads. Minors now account for one out of every two buggy sales.

This revolution owes much to a change in regulations. Since November1 , 2014, the driving of these vehicles belonging to the light quadricycle category - speed limited to 45 km/h and power to 6 kW - is authorized in France from the age of 14. Provided they have obtained the precious sesame, the AM license (around 200 euros), which sanctions a minimum training period of eight hours, over two days. The brands of carts, mostly French (Aixamgroup Ligier, Chatenet), are rubbing their hands. The market has exploded in the space of a few years, now representing around 25,000 units a year in Europe, half of them in France. Italy and Sweden follow immediately behind, thanks to favorable legislation.

And demand continues to soar. "In the first quarter of 2021, registrations were progressered in France by over 64% compared with 2019, and by over 70% compared with 2020, with 4,926 units. Europe is also following suit, with 8,901 vehicles over the same period in 2021, compared with 6,326 units in 2019", explains Ludovic Dirand, the Group's Sales Director Ligier. If this growth has been sustained, it's also because manufacturers have been able to rejuvenate the image of the licence-free car by investing in a community of influencers and renewing their products to make them more attractive. "Brands have copied the design of models that appeal to adults. The Chatenet looks like the Mini," explains Stéphanie Lecocq, director of Pièce sans permis, a company specializing in the sale of spare parts for these vehicles. In terms of safety and equipment, these minicars also have nothing to envy from their parents' cars: aluminum door reinforcements, disc brakes, LED lights, power steering, airbags, alloy wheels, Bluetooth multimedia system with touchscreen integrating CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, high-performance hi-fi, air conditioning, faux-leather upholstery. The Ligier are even equipped with dual windshield wipers.

These carts are not for everyone. Prices range from 8,000 to 17,000 euros. "The market is evenly divided between three categories. The first is young apprentices who need mobility to get to their training center. The second is for teenagers from business families or CSP+ categories. The third is for young adults aged 18 to 30 who have never had the time to take their driving test, or don't want to. Our cars are a response to a need for mobility resulting from a change in lifestyle," says Ludovic Dirand. Adults without a driver's license are set to become our number-one customer in terms of volume.

Very cautious young people

On the supply side, top-of-the-range models, priced at over 12,000 euros, account for nearly 70% of sales. These vehicles are favored by middle and high school students from privileged social backgrounds. " This population is over-represented in the Paris region and all along the Mediterranean, from Nice to Montpellier, and even as far as Toulouse", assures us Ligier. To facilitate acquisition, as with cars, the sector has introduced financing packages that include insurance in the event of theft or loss, with reimbursements at new value. For a Ligier JS60 priced at €16,000, monthly payments are €184 over 48 months, but with a substantial down payment. Without a deposit, the monthly payment is €300. If you take out a LOA (lease with purchase option) contract, the monthly payment drops to €248 for a vehicle costing €14,599. Since comprehensive insurance costs around €1,200 a year, it's best to include it in the financing.

Contrary to popular belief, these young people are very cautious. Especially in the first month. To encourage them to maintain good driving habits, Ligier is in the process of setting up a post-training program. "We are currently developing, with the French Driving School and Euro-Assurance, a service which will improve safety on the roads, and which will be paid for almost entirely by the French government Ligier and the insurer. All the young driver has to pay is €39. The course includes a 3-hour face-to-face interview with an ECF instructor, followed by a test drive in the young person's own vehicle, which may involve correcting some of the driver's behavior. A debriefing in the presence of the parents closes the course. Trainees will benefit from a reduction in their insurance premium", explains Ludovic Dirand. This initiative deserves to be supported, as these young drivers drive much more than their parents, averaging between 7,500 and 15,000 kilometers a year. Many thanks to Vesta Auto in Ivry-sur-Seine for the loan of the vehicles * First name has been changed.