The anti-electric vehicle news articles are growing in number. In fact, there is an onslaught of media attempting to belittle any attempts to combat climate change. Theories about a concerted conspiracy perpetrated by the oil and gas industry aside, these articles tend to major on how EVs are not ready for everyday driving use, particularly long-range journeys. The focus tends to be on a terrible trip or charging experience the writer had. So I thought I’d put that to the test and drive an EV from North London to a wedding in Devon and back over a holiday weekend. Read on to find out how awful my experience was.
First, I should mention some of the articles that inspired me to write this piece. Last year, Conservative broadcaster Iain Dale complained about a tortuous 11-hour journey in his EV, demonstrating how little research he’d done prior to purchasing it, and how he hadn’t taken adequate steps planning the charging for his terror trip. More recently, British food writer Giles Coren proved that he should stick to culinary articles in a piece explaining how he bought the wrong EV and wasn’t able to plan how to charge it properly either. Both these articles, unsurprisingly, were to be found in the right-wing press.
What was more of a surprise was when comedy legend, Rowan Atkinson – of Mr Bean and Johnny English fame – waded in last week with an article in more left-leaning publication The Guardian. Despite Atkinson’s citing his electrical engineering academic background, his article was filled with all the debunked myths of the anti-electrification movement. Indeed only a few days later, The Guardian debunked itself with a follow-up from Simon Evans of Carbon Brief. I initially thought Atkinson’s piece was intended to be a parody, but if he had meant his article to be funny, he would have put a joke in it.
The Reality of EV Ownership
All three of these individuals have owned and used EVs, so they can’t be accused of having no personal experience at all. However, their accounts also have a common theme: owning an EV requires a lifestyle adjustment, and you need to do your research about that and the truth behind the marketing hype regarding specifications.
Just as no internal combustion vehicle ever really manages its stated fuel consumption figures, especially in urban areas, the range rating of an EV is mostly fictional. You must get to know what your own EV can really do in different conditions through experience, or you can ask an existing owner, or you can read up in some trusted publications. My general rule of thumb is to assume two thirds of the WLTP rating for a full charge, and aim to charge before you hit 20%. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised, but that’s better than falling short. Although EV ranges are getting better all the time, it is also true that few EVs can match internal combustion engine (ICE) cars for how far they can go between refueling stops.
The other related factor is charging. This is where the real cultural shift is visible from ICE to EV. With an ICE, you can generally just stop at the nearest pump when you notice your tank is getting low. However, I was in Scotland recently in an ICE vehicle and this wasn’t quite so simple, with some forecourts closed on Sundays. I’ve also had more than one experience of going to a fossil fuel station mentioned on a satnav map that no longer existed. One had become a massive hole in the ground with nowhere else nearby, which was somewhat perturbing as my car was already in the red zone by that point.
This is not the way to drive an EV. First off, you’re best advised to start any long trip with a full battery. If you have home charging, that’s easy. If there are reliable nearby street chargers, it’s not much harder either. You can’t leave home with a full tank with ICE unless you happen to live on a fuel station forecourt. You also need to plan much more with an EV. Electric car satnavs are getting good at automatically sending you to charge in transit – the BMW i7 I test drove recently did this, and a Skoda Enyaq Coupe iV I was reviewing before that also redirected me adeptly so I didn’t run out of charge.
But you should also do your own research before a long trip using an app such as A Better Route Planner or the mapping systems of charging device suppliers. Armed with the knowledge of which networks are generally to be trusted (again, from research and participation in EV owner groups) plus the real-world range of your car, you can plan a few options along your route and at your destination so you’re ready for any eventualities.
My Terrible Trip To Devon
For my journey to Devon, I borrowed a Model Y Performance, the latest version of Tesla’s market-leading electric SUV. This car is the epitome of a wolf in sheep’s clothing. On the one hand, it’s ridiculously quick, hitting 60mph in just 3.5 seconds, and on to a top speed of 155mph. It also goes round corners in a way that belies its 1,930kg weight. But on the other hand, it’s a family SUV with tons of head room, loads of space for rear passengers, and so much rear luggage space you could almost fit another, smaller car in the back.
Tesla also has a secret weapon – one of the best charging networks around, which is extremely reliable, reasonably priced, and seamless to use. You just arrive in your car, plug in, and charging starts. Your account is then billed automatically via the credit card you signed up with. From a user experience perspective, Tesla Superchargers are hard to beat.
Despite the ubiquity and usability of Tesla’s network, one key factor to consider when considering an EV for long trips, even one from the American brand, is whether you have home charging or nearby street charging. I am lucky to have both. The Ubitricity lamppost chargers on my road cost 40p (50c) per kWh off peak and 43p (54c) peak. So a full charge for the Tesla’s 75kWh battery from empty to full would cost a reasonable £32.25 ($40.55). But my home charging with the Intelligent Octopus electricity supply is just 7.5p (9.4c) per kWh, which would be just £5.63 ($7.08). If you do have home charging, EV driving can be incredibly cheap per mile.
The WLTP range rating of the Model Y Performance is 319 miles. In theory, that could give well over 200 miles using my “two thirds” rule of thumb, and my journey to Kingsbridge in Devon was going to be either 237 miles or 215 miles, depending on the route. I could almost have gotten there in one go. But only a masochist drives for over four hours without stopping. If you’re middle aged, there’s only so long you can go before “needing a break”, so lunch halfway, around Bristol, seemed about right.
This was a holiday weekend, with good weather forecast, so I was expecting queues at charging spots. But driving a Tesla, you’ve got three Supercharger choices in the Bristol area. I went for Cribbs Causeway, which has 14 of Tesla’s fastest 250kW V3 chargers. To my surprise, despite having just left a massive traffic jam on the M5 highway, I found there were multiple stalls available at the station. I got on one straight away and 15 minutes later was heading to a nearby lunch spot with an 80% charge after adding 22kWh. Cribbs Causeway is 40p (50c) per kWh most of the time, but 47p (59c) at peak time, which strangely isn’t lunchtime. So the charge cost £8.80 ($11.06).
That 80% capacity would easily have gotten me to Kingsbridge with loads to spare, but the Southwest UK is a bit of a black spot for charging (albeit not in the same league as Wales). I also knew I’d be parking on a street in Kingsbridge with no chargers nearby and would need some range to get to and from the wedding the following day. So I took another quick stop at the rather lovely Darts Farm, also equipped with V3 Superchargers and the same price as Cribbs Causeway. There are 12 stalls at this location and virtually all were free when I arrived, so no queues again. I needed another 24kWh to get back to 80%, which took less than 15 minutes, costing another £9.60 ($12.07).
I arrived in Kingsbridge with 64% battery left – plenty to get to the wedding and back. The day after the ceremony we returned to London. We decided to stop at Darts Farm again on the way back, because it’s a nice location and has a good restaurant attached. Again, no wait for a device, and just enough time to eat before the charge was over and overstay fees kicked in. That was a 30kWh refill costing another £12 ($15.09).
The final stop was my only slight mistake. I thought I’d try out the relatively new Leigh Delamere Tesla location, not realizing it meant doubling back on the highway because the Superchargers are only available when travelling in the other direction, causing a bit of a detour. This station has 16 Tesla V3 stalls operating at 250kW, costing 41p (52c) off peak and 47p (59c) at peak time. Again, they were almost all free, so I put 38kWh back into the car costing £15.58 ($19.59). It only took 25 minutes – enough time for a toilet break, a cup of tea and a snack. However, the detour added about 15 minutes to my journey, and I’d have been better off pushing on to the Membury service stop instead. That only has six 150kW V2 Tesla Superchargers, so might have taken a bit longer to recharge the car. But the overall time might have been a little less.
Not So Terrible, If You Plan
I’ve gone into all this detail to illustrate that you do have to think a bit more when driving an EV. I’d researched my options using the A Better Route Planner app and Tesla’s own Supercharger map. If you don’t like having to plan ahead this might not appeal to you. However, I’ve done similar journeys to Devon before several times in a non-EV, and it didn’t take significantly longer in the Tesla. It was also cheaper. I’d travelled 534 miles and spent £48.76 ($61.31), equating to 9.1p (11c) per mile. At current UK motorway ICE fuel prices (165p / $2.07 per liter), you’d need a car doing over 82 miles per UK gallon (69 miles per US gallon) to be more economical. You won’t find any ICE car that can go from 0-60mph in 3.5 seconds with that kind of fuel economy.
So what was terrible about my journey? Absolutely nothing about the driving or charging experience. The Tesla Model Y was brilliant for the whole weekend, had plenty of space for occupants and luggage, and the range was spot on. There were zero issues with any of the charging locations I chose. They all worked, and I never had to wait. I’m just upset I’ve got nothing to moan about so I can get the same kind of attention as Giles Coren, Iain Dale and Rowan Atkinson. That’s really annoying.
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