Electric Cars

What a difference two years makes! By Lisa Minot, Travel Editor for The Sun

Lisa Minot, The Sun’s Travel Editor compares a difficult 2019 EV road trip to a stress-free EV journey in 2021

We all know electric cars are the future. In every way they make total sense for those who use their cars little and often, an eco-friendly, budget-wise no brainer. But when it comes to a road trip – a really lengthy journey covering hundreds of miles – it’s not the cars but the infrastructure that can make or break the experience. And judging by my experience things are definitely much improved, when I compare a nightmare trip to France in 2019 with a stress-free drive to Cornwall last summer.

As a Travel Editor, my job involves a lot of flying. However, my own summer holiday usually involves not an airport, but a road trip to the south of France and my caravan by a Mediterranean beach. With four kids, it’s the budget-friendly way to have a holiday and for decades we’ve made the 800mile journey from London to Bormes les Mimosas, half an hour from St Tropez. Keen to embrace the electric revolution, in 2019 we were loaned a then newly-launched Audi e-Tron SUV to see if we really could attempt a two-day road trip in an electric car.

The beast blew us away with its incredible power – and a whizzy toybox of luxury extras, from neon interior lighting to virtual cockpit display that would keep a NASA astronaut happy and a range of 250 miles on a single charge.

I thought I had done my research. I knew about the optimum 20% to 80% charging. I’d sent away for a host of different cards to use the myriad of different points across France. I’d downloaded endless apps that would tell me exactly where I could charge – and how quickly.

Our aim was to arrive as normal in Lyon by early evening for our overnight hotel stop – booked specifically because it had charging points. Giddy with excitement we set off early for Folkestone at a pace. That was our first mistake. Unused to how best to drive an electric car, by the time we’d hit the Channel Tunnel, we were almost out of power.

No problem – I’d done my research and there were plenty of charging points at Eurotunnel. Except not a single one was working. We limped onto the Shuttle and then drove around Calais looking for a charging point, eventually finding one in a supermarket carpark.

Unfortunately, my carefully-planned route was thrown awry with chargers that didn’t work and petrol vehicles being parked in charging spaces. By 8pm we were still some 200 miles from Lyon and range anxiety was getting worse. Instead of arriving by early evening to enjoy the hotel pool, we drew up at 4am, almost 22 hours after we’d left London. Only to discover the charging points were in an underground car park and our car – with its packed roofbox – was too tall to enter.

Next day it was another search for a working charging point in Lyon itself before we finally found our luck changing with a planned – and perfectly executed – charge at one of the Ionity 150kw fast-charging points. In 2019, it was one of just eight in the whole of France. Today, there are more than 100. But the super-quick charge got us on the way and we arrived at our campsite at 7pm, just five hours later than we’d arrived the year before.

Once in the South of France though, the car came into its own. We’d learned how to harvest energy by driving the car the right way. A trip to the local supermarket often saw us ADDING to the battery range. And, having access to electricity on our pitch meant we were never without power.

The journey back was saved by A Better Route Planner – a clunky-looking app that planned the optimum route for the car and it became our go-to.

We arrived home exhausted but feeling we’d learnt so much – and although we could avoid certain issues with experience, the sheer lack of fast-charging points in 2019 was a huge barrier to any really long road trip.

A major infrastructure improvement, despite the Covid pandemic

Fast forward to 2021 and the end of the interminable lockdown saw us taking advantage of the chance to take a road trip to Cornwall when Covid rules permitted families to enjoy self-catering holidays.

This time we were determined to try to get a major journey done WITHOUT the stress. Our vehicle was the nifty new Kia E-Niro – an SUV that promised 280 miles.

It was a joy. We knew how to drive the car and had far more luck with planning a route of some 320 miles. Charging points were plentiful, quicker and more importantly, they were working. What was also a welcome change from my last experience was the chance to simply use contactless to pay rather than having to sign up to multiple schemes and use special cards.

Both journeys went off without a hitch – in just a couple of years the infrastructure has changed dramatically and with that, we could start to enjoy the car without worrying about range.

Our home for the weekend, the gorgeous Landal Gwel An Mor lodge park in Portreath had us smiling even more with its row of dedicated free charging points. It meant we could enjoy a day touring the sights and then return safe in the knowledge we could top up nicely for the next day.

Out and about exploring rural Cornwall, we found chargers in pub car parks – the ideal way to keep us amused while the car powered up. And plenty of the main sights and attractions also featured charging points – so much so we were often charging just for the joy of it!

For me, an electric car is now a real choice – as thousands of charge points are added to the network in the UK and across Europe each year, and their reliability has improved considerably I can see a very rosy future for electric cars – even on those long journeys!

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