RELAXED ABOUT RANGE
Electric vehicles are changing the way we travel, but are they any good for long journeys? Peter Richaud sets out on a business trip to Frankfurt in a Hyundai Kona Electric to find out.
UNPICKING THE MINEFIELD
Drive to Frankfurt and back. It’s not that difficult, or is it? Certainly, with the average car able to cover hundreds of miles per tank of fuel it’s no real inconvenience, aside from the time taken to travel the 1,000-mile return trip. And for most cars it only requires the occasional ten-minute fill up. But what about by electric power? All of a sudden, the convenience of the car comes into question. Where will I charge? Where are the charge points? Will I run out of charge? What distance can I travel between chargers? How long will I be waiting for the car to recharge at each stop? And so on…
Of course, not all electric cars are made equal and this is an important point to make, in the same way that travelling great distances in an original Fiat 500 or Mini is perfectly possible, but they’re not the most comfortable for the job.
The electric car market now includes many options, ranging from the Jaguar I-Pace, Tesla Model S, Model X or Model 3, Audi e-tron, to the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric, which each offer a 200-plus mile range. While 200 may not seem extraordinary, that’s still four hours of driving at an average 50mph speed – plenty for most bladders and indeed double the recommended driving time to maintain concentration. And then there are high-end cars like the Porsche Taycan that has an 800V electric system, and is capable of accepting charge at up to 225kW – that’s enough to allow a 184-mile range in around 20 minutes.
The other part of the puzzle is charging the vehicle. Numerous companies and indeed countries have put a lot of work into the introduction and installation of rapid charger networks. Perhaps most obvious is Tesla’s Supercharger network, which got a global head start on the rest of the world and offers simple no-fuss access to rapid chargers worldwide… if you drive a Tesla.
For other brands, the Ionity network – supported by Ford, Volkswagen Group, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Kia and Hyundai – is Europe’s go-to cross country solution, as it offers single app access to the entire network no matter which country you may be in. Tesla owners with CCS-equipped vehicles can also use the chargers. However, they’re not equipped with the Japanese CHAdeMO standard, so cars including the Nissan Leaf can’t currently make use of the network.
In essence then, range anxiety could be a thing of the past, provided you have the newest generation of long-range electric cars and access to the latest installations of rapid charger.
Unlike travelling by petrol or diesel power, it’s important to note that electric vehicles are still in their infancy. That means elements are still being ironed out and not everything is a smooth operation just yet. Planning long trips is still highly recommended, in terms of plotting charging locations on a route to ensure you don’t run out of charge. Similarly, thinking ahead is essential – don’t underestimate destination charge points that allow you to turn up to your hotel/restaurant with a near-empty battery, plug in, eat/sleep/wake up and be back to full charge again.
Clever online route planners take into account vehicle type, range and battery percentage, as well as topography and road speed to produce as accurate as possible route plans.
PLAN, PLAN… PLAN
Because of the variety of electric vehicles on the market, there’s no single answer to planning a long trip. However, you can do worse than start with plotting a rough route using a regular map, online or otherwise, and seeing how the road network looks. Generally speaking, rapid charge points are understandably located along major trunk roads, so go with that as your first port of call. Next up is where the chargers are located and whether their locations fit in with your desired route.
A good tool for this is abetterrouteplanner.com because it takes into account your specific vehicle type and its range. It also aims to consider topography and speed, using approximate calculations of miles per kilowatt-hour (m/kWh) to guess what percentage of charge you should have remaining when reaching a charge point. Of course, it is not infallible and if there’s a non-operational charger it won’t be able tell you in advance, or at least not at the time of planning. The service also allows you to plan arriving with a particular amount of charge left, ensuring that you can drive away with enough juice to reach another charger, for example.
In-car mapping has also come on leaps and bounds in the past couple of years, with many systems showing live-charge point status on the in-car navigation, as well as plotting courses based on compatible charge points. They can’t, however, reserve a charging space for you ahead of time.
In addition to plotting a route, it’s a good idea to look up other charge points in the local vicinity to your preferred option and make sure you are left with enough range to reach them if the worst happens and you arrive at a dead charge point.
You’ll also need to make sure that charge points will be accessible at the times you need (e.g. they’re not located within a car dealership’s car park that’s closed outside of work hours) and that you have the necessary apps to use it.
There is currently a big push for charge point networks to support contactless credit card payment, negating the need for smart phones, apps and registering with countless operators. But, that’s a way off yet, so for now it is still a case of checking in advance to be sure you can not only plug in, but actually initiate the charge.
The Ionity network offers payment by credit card or PayPal via its app only, not at the machine, but you can pay as a ‘guest user’ thereby avoiding the need to create an account if you don’t want to. On the plus side, registering an account generally means you can get a VAT receipt sent direct to your email inbox for expenses.
Cars like the Kona Electric offer a useable 250-mile range at motorway speed.
It can feel exhausting travelling by electric vehicle before you’ve even started, thanks to all the pre-planning, but it should be stressed that this is only the case for now. With massive investment in electric vehicles, battery technology and charging infrastructure, in time these fears will dissipate.
The Hyundai Kona Electric was the weapon of choice to travel to Frankfurt and back, with a realistic range of 250 miles at motorway speed, and a charge rate of 77kW, meaning less time plugged in when needing to stop.
In fact, range was so good that during the first leg of the journey to Belgium, the first scheduled stop at Maidstone Ionity was ignored despite the route planner suggesting to the contrary. Pessimistic planning offered the confidence to carry on. Reaching Germany only required three stops, on the way out and two stops on the way back – to cover 1,000 miles – totalling around two and a half hours waiting while charging, outbound. However, those times coincided with lunch and dinner and therefore didn’t really hinder or affect journey progress.
A couple of points arose from a few of the charge point locations though: the Ionity chargers at Bierset in Belgium are located at the back of a lorry park, which on a Sunday evening wasn’t the most salubrious of locales to find oneself in. In addition, the charge point screens are difficult to see in bright sunlight and a few of them were non-operational for no obvious reason. That happened not to be an issue, as there is a minimum of four chargers at any given Ionity location, but it’s something the company needs to, and is, improving.
Destination chargers at the hotel in Frankfurt were also unavailable and so an extra long stop was necessary at Bad Honnef in Germany that took longer than would have been liked, to ensure there was sufficient charge to drive to Frankfurt and then back again to Bad Honnef for the return leg. Again, this highlighted why destination chargers are so important. Aside from these few remarks, there’s really nothing else of note to report. The chargers were quick and there were no queues to use them, although each was busy with other cars plugged in and a constant stream coming and going, just like any filling station. Alleviating any fears of this being a potential issue, however, Ionity has been smart enough to build in power provision to double each site’s capacity in the future.
“In addition to plotting a route, it’s a good idea to look up other charge points in the local vicinity to your preferred option.”
IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT BATTERY SIZE
The return trip to Frankfurt highlighted a few things. First; the charging infrastructure already in place is easy to use and convenient. Fundamentally, this takes the headache away from cross-country business travel.
Second, it’s not all important to have the car with the longest range. With cars like the Kona Electric offering a useable 250-mile range at motorway speed from its 64kWh battery, this compares to a Jaguar I-Pace that can do around 200 miles from a 90kWh battery. This means, of course, that the Jaguar costs more to run, as it uses more energy to cover less distance at the same speeds. However, the Jaguar’s battery can charge at a faster rate than the Kona Electric’s, at 100kW as opposed to 77kW, and this levels the playing field – with one caveat: if the charge point is capable of delivering that rate of charge.
Third, there’s work to do to expand charge point locations to more convenient areas. At present, charge points are installed following a balancing act of permission being granted by councils and land owners, as well as where power cables can be directed.
Payment for charge points is also improving and soon contactless payment will be rolled out to various networks, including Ionity, allowing anyone to use a network without prior knowledge of its systems or being required to create accounts just to charge up and go.
Of course, travelling long distances by electric car is possible and not only that, it’s easy once you’re aware of both the car’s limitations and the charge point network(s) along the route you wish to travel. The good news is that with networks like Ionity opening its doors to all EV users across Europe, things are looking rosy for EV travel and only going to get better. There is still room for improvement; but the progress that has already been made is considerable and fleets shouldn't be dissuaded from travelling to Frankfurt again tomorrow in an electric car: without any range anxiety.