PARIS – When orders for 23,000 electric vehicles begin piling up here next spring, no one will be surprised if Renault SA and PSA Peugeot Citroen are among the big beneficiaries, but Ford Motor Co. also may be on the podium.

The three auto makers are among some 20 organizations making presentations to a French government purchasing unit known as UGAP, which will begin placing the orders next year.

Ford actively is marketing its ’11 Transit van EV and ’12 electric Focus for the project. “It is too early to discuss any details,” a Ford spokesman says. “Discussions are in a preliminary phase.”

Earlier in the year, the government asked the chairman of the French post office to contact major public and private fleets and put together a common call for bids that would encourage mass production of EVs.

The result is a commitment to buy 50,000 EVs in the coming decade. The 23,000 to be purchased between 2011 and 2015 represent the first phase.

UGAP normally works only for the government, but for this project it is working for the group of some 20 fleets, including public ones like the EDF electric company, SNCF railway, La Poste post office, Air France, the Paris airports and private fleets such as those of Veolia SA and Bouygues SA.

UGAP helped them commonize their requirements for vehicles and has divided the purchase order into three parts: 4,000 small 2-seat city cars, 4,000 4-5 passenger sedans and 15,000 small delivery vans with a payload of 106 cu.-ft. (3 cu.-m).

Discussions are expected to continue into 2011 before the first bids are put out, probably next spring. According to the French business newspaper Les Echoes, PSA, Renault and Ford are expected to win the bulk of the first contracts.

The electric delivery vans will be the size of the Renault Kangoo ZE, Ford Transit Connect and Citroen Berlingo First. Citroen already has an order for 250 Berlingos from La Poste for a previous program.

Candidates for the 4-5 seat vehicles would include the Renault Zoe Z.E. and Fluence Z.E., the Nissan Leaf, Peugeot iOn and Citroen C-Zero. Candidates for the 2-seat city cars would include the electric Smart Fortwo.

UGAP criteria for viable candidates include a demand that the total cost of purchase and use over five years be the same as the equivalent internal-combustion vehicle.