In Le Mans, the historic global capital of the automobile, Le Mans Tech is helping drive the carbon-free, inclusive mobility of the future forward. An interview with Magali Alix-Toupé, Managing Director at Le Mans Tech.
Le Mans Tech brings together various actors in the field, with a focus on two major themes: new mobilities, and clean tech. We help foster initiatives across the country and promote them at both the national and international level.
Our ecosystem includes major companies like Orange, SNCF, or Renault, alongside startups, all of whom are focused on the same themes of mobility services—for example, micromobility with Wello (a connected, solar-powered city vehicle). Our ecosystem also includes institutional actors like Le Mans City Council and various universities.
You’ve got Furion for example, a hybrid motorcycle, or Ian Motion, a company that’s using a retrofitting process to turn combustion motors into electric ones. Le Mans Tech is also backing Sound to Sight, a sound design company, and Mazira, who’s working on biofuels. You’ve also got projects like Qairos Energies manufacturing eco-friendly hydrogen. With Le Mans Tech, we’re trying to cover the entire value chain: in new mobility, there’s a lot of thought going into making transport carbon-free. Beyond the vehicles themselves, we need to think in advance about the supply chain, as well as about the infrastructure that will need to be developed around them. Our goal is to decarbonise the vehicle/infrastructure pairing as much as possible.
Our network is rooted in people. Today, we have startups being housed by companies like STMicroelectronic in order to create a kind of human synergy between each group’s area of expertise. The Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) in Le Mans has provided us with office space—including a showroom and conference room. So young startups can use them to receive clients, suppliers, and prospects in an iconic location in France. We’ve seen synergy at the industrial level, where larger companies help startups industrialise their products, and those larger companies benefit from the opportunity to experiment with certain innovative services. Proximity between entrepreneurs helps increase access to markets: for example, Orange has taken interest in some of our local startups, giving them their first market opportunities.
The planet! We all need carbon-free transport. We’re also interested in the issues of inclusion and creating sustainable cities. Since the pandemic began, there’s been an explosion in soft mobility, with a massive uptick in the use of things like monocycles and electric scooters. Le Mans Tech works in direct cooperation with local councils, because accommodating new forms of mobility will require transforming areas and their infrastructure. It’s great to have bicycles everywhere—but if a given area isn’t properly designed for them, you can’t. So we also have to play the role of campaigner to help regions evolve.
Yes and no. It’s true that technology can bring about great improvements, but there are other issues to consider. For example, with electrification, you have to prepare territories to deal with that. Startups can innovate all they want—but local councils will need to follow suit. We’ve made a lot of progress with electric vehicles, and technology is becoming increasingly mature. Now, hydrogen is coming. Today, we have multiple technologies available, and we’re going to have to find the best way to mix them. What we’ve observed is that there are quite a few organisations that have clustered together to create a bigger impact. Biofuel, which is an innovation that’s not very well-known to the general public, is gaining ground among manufacturers. All these energy sources need to be able to coexist, and we need to give consideration to each one. Here at Le Mans Tech, our reasoning is rooted in the logic of circular economy and life-cycle analysis. Take Qairos, which is developing green hydrogen using biomass—a mix of animal and vegetable waste. We play the role of catalyst, helping advance subjects like these. Up until now, everyone has been kind of working on their own, using silo-thinking, whereas cities need to be working more in project mode.
Their strength lies in their great agility and capacity for innovation. What may hold them back is that critical point in the life of every startup that’s sometimes called ‘the Valley of Death’ where they have to move from the prototype—often financed with ‘love money’ (seed capital from friends and family)—to the pre-series and industrialisation phase. That’s precisely what we work with them on. We’re in the process of creating a place in Le Mans where startups can be less isolated in this costly stage.
It’s terrible to say it, but this crisis has been an incredible accelerator for, for example, the development of micromobility in cities. People have been fighting for years to have more bike paths built, and in two months, we’ve managed some extraordinary things. The next phase will be to give structure to all these initiatives—but the world has made a great leap forward in terms of infrastructure and the use of technology. The increased digitalisation of events will allow us, for example, to share best practices and ways of advancing more quickly.
Inclusive mobility includes, for example, things like carsharing. How do you get to work in an industrial zone at 5am if you don’t have a driver’s license? We’re working with a startup called Cotaxigo that’s developing an app that’s essentially the Blablacar (a carpooling platform) of taxis. It finds people for you to share your ride with, helping reduce fares. It’s an eco-friendly, budget-friendly, community-oriented service. That’s one example of inclusive mobility. But it’s also about giving people with disabilities and the mobility-impaired better access to services. This will require thinking about inclusion in infrastructure so that Mobility as a Service (MaaS) systems are accessible to everyone.
I think it’s going to be a combination of all that! Flying, yes! I think that aerial mobility is going to make a comeback. But we may also have more water transport—thus far under-utilised in France, but likely to gain traction. Tomorrow, I imagine we’ll be able to access the right service, with the right tools, at just the right moment! I also see mobility becoming better adapted to the way we live, with, I hope, a return to good sense in our transport practices, with diverse mobilities coexisting.
Copyrights: Florian Eau
Cities & planning
Cities & planning