DEBUNKED

No, these photos don’t show a massive electric-car graveyard in France

A photo showing electric cars seemingly abandoned in the countryside was widely circulated on social media in both French and English. However, some of the posts provided no context for the images, while others claimed that they showed vehicles from the Autolib system, which operated in Paris and its environs until 2018.  Turns out, however, this photo was taken outside of  Hangzhou, China.
A photo showing electric cars seemingly abandoned in the countryside was widely circulated on social media in both French and English. However, some of the posts provided no context for the images, while others claimed that they showed vehicles from the Autolib system, which operated in Paris and its environs until 2018. Turns out, however, this photo was taken outside of Hangzhou, China. © Observateurs

A photo showing thousands of electric cars abandoned in an empty lot has been circulating widely on social media, garnering tens of thousands of shares since July 6. However, contrary to the claims made in some of the posts, the cars in these images aren’t from an electric car sharing service in Paris. The cars weren’t even abandoned in France. In actuality, this photo was taken in a suburb of the Chinese city of Hangzhou.

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The photo, which shows several hundred small white cars in an overgrown field, has been shared as many as 15 thousand times on Facebook, not to mention Twitter. The post, in French, includes a sarcastic caption that reads, “Turns out, it’s true that electric cars are good for the environment… look, they are growing in a field!”

Screengrab of a Facebook post shared more than 15 million times. Check out the link by clicking on the image.
Screengrab of a Facebook post shared more than 15 million times. Check out the link by clicking on the image. © Observers

There is little context shared with these posts, which underline the irony of a bunch of electric cars being dumped in a field— even though electric cars are supposed to be better for the environment. 

Several social media users said that the photo was taken in France and showed out-of-commission vehicles used by Autolib, an electric car sharing program that operated in Paris and its environs until 2018.

“This is in Romorantin, those are Autolib cars from Paris, cars from Bolloré, [Paris Mayor] Anne Hidalgo’s pal” reads one post, in French.

“Go to Romorantin, there is a junkyard with all the Bolloré cars belonging to the city of Paris,” reads another. 

Shared more than 4,600 times, the following tweet, in English, mentions “electric cars belonging to the city of Paris”. 

This is a screengrab of a tweet talking about electric cars belonging to the city of Paris. This tweet was shared five thousand times.  To check it out, click on the image.
This is a screengrab of a tweet talking about electric cars belonging to the city of Paris. This tweet was shared five thousand times. To check it out, click on the image. © Observers

There are a bunch of Autolib electric cars stored in an empty lot in the town of Romorantin-Lanthenay, which is in the Loir-et-Cher region. Our team wrote an article about this empty lot because, awhile back, photos of it started circulating on Facebook in the United States— totally out of context. But these new photos definitely don’t show the lot in Romorantin-Lanthenay— the landscape is totally different as are the cars. 

A man who explores urban environments documented this car graveyard in China in May 2021.

There are several clues we found that help us identify where this photo was taken. First of all, the license plates on the cars are all blue— which is the case in China. The tweet below, which was posted in response to a tweet aimed at the city of Paris, points that out. 

This screengrab shows a series of images tweeted by @EdgeofEurope that compare the license plates visible in the viral image with Chinese license plates.
This screengrab shows a series of images tweeted by @EdgeofEurope that compare the license plates visible in the viral image with Chinese license plates. © Observers

Moreover, you can often get clues from the comments section. In this case, a number of people commented on the viral image, saying that the cars in the photos weren’t in France, they were actually in China.  A few comments gave even more details, explaining that these cars were made by the brand Kandi and that the lot shown here is in a suburb of the city of Hangzhou.

We ran a Google search using keywords in English and pulled up several articles that talked about an electric car made by Kandi that was used in Hangzhou, China, including this article by Green Car Reports published in 2014 and this article published in the Global Times China. Most of the cars in the viral photo have the same green paint and the same logo, in Chinese, printed on the back door. 

On the left is the image that went viral. The image on the upper right shows a screengrab of a photo published in the Global Times China featuring a bunch of cars in a suburb of Hangzhou. The image on the bottom right is a screengrab from an article published by Green Car Reports.
On the left is the image that went viral. The image on the upper right shows a screengrab of a photo published in the Global Times China featuring a bunch of cars in a suburb of Hangzhou. The image on the bottom right is a screengrab from an article published by Green Car Reports. © Observers

It turns out that this photo was first posted on Instagram by @gregabandoned, a British-Polish photographer who loves urban exploration, known as Urbex, which is the exploration of manmade structures, usually ones that are abandoned. You can see his copyright printed on one of the cars on the bottom right of the photo.

Our team contacted the man who runs the Greg Abandoned Instagram account and he confirmed that the photo was taken in China. He took the image on May 3, 2021 for “Abandoned China”, a book project that he has been working on for the past six months.

“People told me to check out this region and I found a lot of satellite images using Chinese navigators. I visited a bunch of sites during a two day stay and that’s when I found this car graveyard

These are all electric cars. The part that you see in the photo looks like a car graveyard but, if you go farther, there are thousands and thousands of cars parked in a more traditional parking lot. 

But the cars in the “car graveyard” have just been left there in terrible conditions. All this human waste makes me crazy. All of this is never going to be used. It’s really hard to understand that we are capable of leaving all of this here.”

He also posted several Instagram “stories” showing his explorations of the site. It’s not the first graveyard of electric cars that he photographed in China, as you can see in this Instagram post that shows a number of abandoned cars of another make and model.  However, he didn’t want to tell us exactly where these photos were taken.

The remains of Microcity, a failed electric car sharing project in Hangzhou, China

We ran a few searches in both English and Chinese to find out the story behind this “car graveyard”.

It turns out that these cars belong to an electric car sharing company called Microcity, as reported in an article published in the India Times on March 26, 2019, an article from the South China Morning Post and several other articles in Chinese. In 2013, the group deployed several thousand Kandi vehicles in Hangzhou, a town located in Zhejiang province in eastern China. The wasn’t a strong enough demand and the company went bankrupt in 2019. Some of the vehicles that were no longer in use were moved to an empty lot next to the Qiantang River on the outskirts of Hangzhou.

Photos featuring the same cars as in those the viral photo appeared in an article published in Shanghaiist titled “LOOK: Hundreds of electric cars rust away at 'shared car graveyard' in Hangzhou”.  You can also see several homes located next to the graveyard that also appear in the viral photo. The graveyard also appears in this news report post on Chinese social media platform Weibo on March 24, 2019. 

This is a screengrab of a news report posted on Chinese social media platform Weibo on March 24, 2019. “The photographers discovered that there were three parking lots filled with electric cars along the Qiantang River. We estimate that there are more than 5,000 vehicles in total.”
This is a screengrab of a news report posted on Chinese social media platform Weibo on March 24, 2019. “The photographers discovered that there were three parking lots filled with electric cars along the Qiantang River. We estimate that there are more than 5,000 vehicles in total.” © Observers

Satellite images of the lot show that it was empty in October 2018. However, by April 2019, there were already thousands of cars there. By July 2020, it was full. These dates correspond with Microcity going bankrupt and more and more of their vehicles being moved to this location.

This photomontage features three screen grabs of satellite images of the lot on Google Earth Pro. From left to right, the dates of the photos are October 23, 2018, then April 13, 2019 and, finally, July 2, 2020. They were taken on the outskirts of Hangzhou, China.
This photomontage features three screen grabs of satellite images of the lot on Google Earth Pro. From left to right, the dates of the photos are October 23, 2018, then April 13, 2019 and, finally, July 2, 2020. They were taken on the outskirts of Hangzhou, China. © Observers

These photos show car graveyards packed with abandoned electric cars in China

According to our Observer, @gregabandoned, these so-called graveyards, filled with abandoned cars and sometimes even electric bikes, aren’t rare in China.

In the past, photos showing thousands of abandoned electric bicycles packed into similar lots in China sparked outrage, as reported by this article published in Bloomberg in September 2020, in these aerial photos published by the South China Morning Post or in this compilation of photos published by The Atlantic in March 2018.

Just like with Microcity’s electric vehicles in Hangzhou, a growth in electric bike sharing schemes five years ago led to companies investing large amounts of money into this sector. But when the number of bikes far exceeded the demand, a number of companies went bankrupt and their electrical bikes were removed from city streets and left in open-air graveyards pending an alternative solution by the authorities. 

To keep up to date on all of the fact checks done by the FRANCE 24 Observers team, follow our Twitter account @Observers