Last summer, 5 intrepid Dutch adventurers decided to take a tour of Europe in an electric car. Their route would take them through Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland, then through the Alps into northern Italy, across to France and back home. The purpose of their journey was really to see if it could be done and to learn what whether an electric car is really a suitable long distance tourer today.
There was only one problem. They didn’t have an electric car! They threw together a video about their idea and sent it to several car companies. Only Kia responded, but that was enough. The group wound up with a brand new Kia Soul EV and a Kia Picanto gas powered car to act as a support vehicle. The only stipulation was that they make a movie of their adventure.
The Kia Soul EV has a range of about 100 miles. None of the group had ever driven an electric car before. They were skeptical about the range meter in the car. Was it accurate? Could they rely on it to keep them from running out of battery power? After a few days on the road, the group learned to trust the gauge and use the full range shown, and sometimes a little more.
One big advantage of the electric Kia became apparent once they were in the Alps. The Kia’s abundant torque handled the steepest Alpine passages with ease while the Picanto struggled to keep up. Once they reached the highest point of their journey, the 6,778 foot high San Bernardino Pass, they discovered another feature of electric motoring — regenerative braking. Starting with 57 miles of range at the top, that number had increased to 76 miles by the time they reached the bottom.
The biggest lesson they learned along the way was that the charging infrastructure in Europe is chaotic. Charging stations in Belgium were closed due to a national holiday. Payment standards and the cost of electricity varied widely from country to country and sometimes between regions in the same country. In all, they judged the charging system in France to be the best of all.
They also discovered that many large businesses like IKEA have decided it makes good economic sense to install DC fast chargers in order to attract shoppers who drive electric cars. Free charging was widely available. The group’s total of cost of electricity for its 2,782 mile journey was barely more than $50.
The travelers discovered that driving electric added adventure to their journey. Planning where to charge and learning how to drive most efficiently were enjoyable challenges that spiced up their driving. They learned that charging infrastructure is a long way from maturity on the Continent but new charging locations are being added all the time. Tesla in particular plans to complete its Supercharger network in France by this summer.
They also found that charger location apps on their smartphones were more helpful than the information available from the Kia’s on board display. Their apps showed which chargers were active and which were not operating. In all, about 15% of all the available chargers along their route were unavailable for one reason or another.
The takeaway from this circumnavigation of Europe was that taking an electric road trip is not only possible with a little bit of patience and planning, it can also be far more enjoyable than making the same trip in a conventional car. They travelers say that the future is here now, even if you can’t afford a Tesla.