I have to admit to being cynical about getting from Peterborough to Berlin on a purely electric car after reading the auto express review about the troubles they had with the BMWi3 getting to Bruge a few years ago and that was with a vehicle equipped with a Petrol Range Extender not a pure electric car. The basic message back then was that finding chargers was a complete nightmare.
So how did I feel about a trip to IFA in an electric car…that it involved a military operation to find the chargers and planning that took 3 weeks as opposed to the usual jump on a ferry and stop at any service station for a refuel? I was also concerned about how long charging would take and it making journeys painfully long.
So what was the experience like?
Electric cars are always sold on their eco credential but perhaps we should be marketing them on the slick smooth acceleration.
I was also impressed with the Tesla's reversing camera which was the most accurate I have used so far.
However I have to say if you are driving a Tesla it comes with a SuperCharger network which is a series of super-fast chargers and cars that can tell you how long you need to stop for and what range you will have when you get there. The Tesla’s claim a 300 mile range but in real life it is more like 240 miles.
So first things first if your car does 240 mile then claim a range of 240 miles and not 300 buyers like to know where they are. Then we stop talking about miles per gallon and at that point is starts getting confusing. The car for example may have a 75 kilo watt battery….so what does that mean? It’s not like you go and fill up with unleaded! This is where I think it is confusing as you can find a 3 Kilo Watt(KW) charger, 22 KW charger or 50 KW charger. So if I pull up at a garage I fill with fuel and 10 minutes later I’m on the road with an actual range of 300 miles however here you need to start understanding about the speed of charging. If it is a 3KW charger think of 24 hours to charge a car-not ideal on a journey but probably ok if you are topping up on a daily basis. If you have a 22 kilowatt charger then you are talking 4 hours to charge from totally empty. If it is 50 KW then we are talking say about 1 1/2 hours from empty. So it is a whole new terminology to learn if you change to an electric car. How often is your car on the reserve fuel in fairness?
My next point is on the infrastructure. I can find a petrol station in seconds and the price of fuel is pretty similar. The charging network in the UK is in its infancy and will need to be changed and improved significantly if we are all to move to electric cars as the UK government plans.
At the moment it feels like a game of hunt the charger outside the supercharger network that Tesla operate. An example from our journey - admittedly outside the UK but still relevant...
To find the charger you drive in to a multi-storey and I hate how tight they are in many cities. Why the AA give awards for car parks that are clearly too tight based on the number of car scrape marks as people try to get wider cars in and out is beyond me.
So if instead of going to a petrol station I should now go to a multi-storey. I know I have found the right one as when I drive in it has a big sign e-charging but after that it goes downhill. Not a single useful sign- on every single floor there was a sign e-charging which had an email address and telephone number. There was a guide to the car park floors and the bottom 3 floors marked ‘private’ so round and round for 7 floors and horrifically tight turns. By then my frustration was enormous…a petrol station I would have been in and out in less time and with less pain. So hacked off and fed up I was exiting as this was clearly a useless car park when I spotted a box on the pillar that turned out to be a charger.
However there was another secret- you have to know what charging network this is on and to have the right RFID tag or app so that you can actually charge the car. Hmm petrol is feeling easier at this point of time. In this case it worked as my editor had pre-arranged the connection and the account with the PlugSurf network. However without this I would have found a charger and had no way to charge the car. So we need consistency in the charging network as at the moment you have multiple apps and systems. There is also the price which is so random. Some charge by the kilowatt, others charge by how powerful the charger is and some charge a flat fee for the charge you need. So this is very inconsistent ant not competitive at the moment. Home charging on a daily or weekly basis is probably a lot easier but for those of you doing longer journeys away from home the network needs sorting out and significantly increasing.
My next issue is as it has been for a while you have a choice of any car with petrol or diesel the range of all electric cars has been extremely limited. At the moment it seems concentrated with very high end cars at £80,000 to £120,000 or smaller cars such as the Nissan Leaf and Renault Zoe. There are a limited number of cars in the mid -range but the Hyundai Kona may be an interesting new entry when some finally appear in the UK. My point being that you either have to be wealthy or only want a small car. We need far more choice in the range of cars and better range on the cars. Ideally I want a car that can actually do 300 miles between charges not 140 miles as some are sold with.
However I am not against moving from pure Internal Combustion and have test driven a couple of hybrids as a move towards more economic motoring but the first a Kia Niro had gigantic pillars I could not see round, poor sound insulation and a very poor ride quality on the pothole riddled UK roads. So that got a firm No. The Toyota C-HR was the next I test drove and that was a far better experience with better ride quality and sound insulation. These both were a mix on petrol and electric and self-charge without the need to plug in. I did also test drive a Prius and it had no luggage space so was totally impractical when first introduced.
(Editor’s note: We are aware that many people in the EV community object to the term self-charging when applied to hybrids. The battery in a hybrid is charged either using the petrol engine, obviously using fuel, or more positively through using the electric motor turning in reverse to assist when slowing the car and in the process generating electricity)
So what was the trip to Berlin like? The Tesla is in the high end category and it’s full of gadgets and has a huge screen in the car. Think of a small TV side wards. The car has connectivity and built in sat nav that has knowledge of all the superchargers so when you aim to plan a route it will tell you when you need to recharge and for how long. The superchargers are fast so the time will be 15 or 20 minutes to fully charge so not as painful as I was dreading. They are sometimes harder to find and not in the traditional places such as a service station and may be in a hotel car park, diner car park etc. In a way this is good as you don’t have to endure the poor quality overpriced service station coffee but some stops the hotels are missing a marketing opportunity and getting a cuppa can be a challenge. Others were brilliant and a refreshing charge to service station fodder. So some hotels and stops need to up their game but this is a huge opportunity to provide different and individual services while you charge.
The journey overall was smooth with the car performance excellent. The charging when using superchargers was quick and smooth but when off the supercharge network was where the holes in the network showed up with too many different systems and too many different levels of charging.
There are improvements to be made as not everyone has the budget to buy a Tesla. The journey worked well with a Tesla however if say you had taken a Nissan Leaf or Renault Zoe I suspect the journey could have been very different as they are not part of the supercharger network and you will not only have to find a charging station but you need to know the rate of charging. As a driver I need to be safe so I don’t have the time to “faff about” with a sat nav system or 3 different apps and to set up the filters so it finds a charger that will find a fast charge. I need to be able to focus on the road and the network needs to support me in doing that. So the infrastructure has to be considerably upgraded.
There is a great opportunity for new and more interesting stops with the electric revolution as we would no longer be tied to the petrol station.
If I live in a flat for example and I have a parking space where do I charge my car? Many have no power.
Some shopping centres have say 4 chargers but as more people adopt electric cars there won’t be enough spaces for demand. This currently is a problem against adoption of electric cars. Yet having seen the small size of some of the chargers on the continent it would be easy to add these to existing car parks.
I think electric cars work well when you are driving my average 5 miles back and forth to work and charging overnight at home. You can extend the eco credentials with solar panels and a battery for an added cost.
Editors Note: apparently according to an RAC report the average UK commute is under 10 miles a day.
I am however less confident about the network if I go on a journey as the networks are so variable and the pricing unclear. I would want to be sure if I was light on ‘juice’ that I could recharge quickly, easily and safely even if it was late at night.
The weight of the cables is an issue for those who are not fully fit and healthy a charger that has a cable that will fit any car would be a better and more practical solution. The cable supplied with the car is too heavy for many people and we need to consider this in taking the infrastructure forward. In the way there has been a debate on the phone charging cables here the cars have a type 2 cable a chademo cable or CCS which messes up simplicity. Find the best cable and all manufacturers should adopt it so that any car can charge at any charger
I have come away for my first long journey in a fully electric car as more positive about the technology and the driving experience which was smoother and quicker to charge than I anticipated.
I however do think that if no pre-planning had been done this journey would have been more challenging. At times I would have found a charger but had no idea how to charge on it or not had the right RFID tag. These are the things that we need to iron out if we are planning to move forward with the electric revolution. I think Tesla has created a simple network and others could learn from them.
The car that I drove was fast and fun to drive and the ride quality was not bad. Not every car can you change the suspension from the driving seat.
So who is launching the affordable sports car that’s electric with a 300 mile range that will get my attention?