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National Sales Manager, John, takes us on his journey test driving a number of electric vehicles and his experience of using charge points across the country.

I first test drove the Nissan Leaf which I drove for 4 days totalling around 800-900 miles. I charged the car overnight at my house in Cardiff and then drove to the NSBRC in Swindon, charging it there whilst I was in my meeting. From there, I drove to Donnington Services and put it on an Ecotricity charger there while I had lunch for about 45 minutes and then drove from Donnington to Sheffield, doing a quick charge before another appointment with a customer there, and then onto Scotch Corner, stopping to charge on the way.

I found the problem with Ecotricity is that the chargers are slow and can be inconsistent. If you have a Tesla, you can charge on the open charging network, but also the specific Tesla network chargers, but if you don’t have a Tesla, you can only use the open network. When I got near to Scotch corner on my journey, I needed a full 35-40 minute charge for 30kWh to get me the rest of the way and it was 10 o’clock at night so I didn’t want to wait for too long. It only gave me 20kWh in 45 minutes, which is already quite a long time to be waiting around.

The other thing with the Ecotricity network is that the charge points that you use are all slightly different. At one point, I got one stuck in the car as it was quite difficult to get it out, so I had to ask somebody at the service station to help me get it out! The Nissan Leaf as a car is brilliant, I really loved it, however on a motorway going 70 mph, you’re probably only going to get about 120 miles out of a full charge, on the slower roads then you will get much more out of it. It’s perfect for someone who doesn’t rack up a lot of miles, but for the mileage I do, the Nissan Leaf just wasn’t powerful enough.

The features of the car are lovely, it has adaptive cruise control, lane discipline, a good sound system and heated front and back seats. The range would have been ok if the infrastructure that supported it was better because I don’t mind stopping every 100 miles, but if I have to stop for a full charge – it was taking around an hour and a half, so it’s a long time to be waiting.

Overall it was a really cool car and I did really enjoy it. It would have worked if I was not travelling so far, and I planned my stops a little bit better. If you always try and leave your first destination with a full charge then it makes it a lot easier, so it’s all about planning. When I was driving back from up North, it was late at night and I stopped at a service station in Birmingham, I needed another 30kW charge to get me back to Cardiff and it only gave me 20kW in 35 minutes. The frustrating thing is you have to scan barcodes and authorise payments, so you’re already waiting for things to begin before you can start charging. It hadn’t given me the full charge by the time I was leaving and I looked around to see there were 16 Tesla superchargers just sat there not being used, which made my mind up to get a Tesla.

I then test drove the BMWi3 which I didn’t really like at all. What I noticed, in particular, was that the sales teams behind BMW just didn’t back the electric cars that much – I think BMW would have happily turned me over to a diesel sale, I didn’t like that aspect because obviously I’m very passionate about electric vehicles and being more eco-friendly. The BMWi3 also didn’t have the best range.

The good thing is about the BMWi3 is that it has a petrol backup engine, so it’s perfect for someone who wants an electric car but is slightly worried about running out of charge – you can pay for a little range extender which is a little petrol tank with about a 50 mile range that you can use in an emergency, or just as back up. It was ok gadget-wise, but pretty basic inside – it was comparable to a Citroen C1 interior wise. I didn’t get on with it much but it would be a perfect little city car, again, if you are not racking up too many miles. For me, with a young family and the mileage I do, and also being quite tall, it didn’t work for me.

I also test drove the MINI Countryman hybrid, but I also found the sales staff for MINI weren’t backing electric vehicles much either, which I didn’t really like. The car itself was nice but only runs for 20 miles of electric. My wife also has the Mitsubishi Outlander which is the same, only with 25 miles electric, but it is perfect for her because she only has a short commute to work – so she can run it purely on electric. She has had a full tank of fuel for about 6 weeks now because she has been able to run purely off electric, so that is ideal for her. The Mitsubishi garage seemed really up for promoting electric cars, although another colleague of Solar Plants went to Mitsubishi to see the Outlander but was talked into buying a diesel which he then disliked and took back – he has now bought an electric vehicle!

I finally test drove the Tesla and their team showed me how the supercharger worked, which will give you 40kW in 20 minutes in comparison to 30kW in 45 minutes, and when you get to them you don’t have to authorise payment you just plug in and it starts charging straight away! The charging app is integrated into the sat nav on the Tesla as well so you can always find a nearby charging point really easily. The sat nav helps you plan your route by giving you an arrival time including the amount of time you might need to stop to charge up, and as you get closer to the charge points, it will tell you how many are available.

Tesla had put in 6 charging points at a particular service station which kept getting quite busy so they just put a load more in so that customers are never left waiting to charge which I think is a great way of supporting EV owners and the transition to electric cars. I then borrowed the Model X which I drove from Bristol, back to Cardiff and then drove to work (Port Talbot) using the Bridgend charging points, and it just charges so quickly! I would just pop in and grab a coffee on my way and in that time it’s charged brilliantly. I worked out that if you’re in the car with a few other people, it’s cheaper to buy everyone a coffee and stop to charge for 10 minutes than it is to purchase petrol or diesel.

I drove down to Reading in the Tesla, and stopped at a supercharger, but if I had left with a full charge it would have been fine for the whole journey. Now I have a Zappi fitted, I will always leave my house with a full charge on my electric car which means I will be able to get further. When driving an electric car, it’s all about planning your meetings and stop-offs and factoring in charging points on your journey. I have already found a pub that has charging points (which is a bonus), accommodation and meeting rooms – The Bull, Ditchling – so when I am in that area to do meetings I already know I can charge my car while I am working. I actually phoned The Bull and said I’m not actually coming in for food and drink but I have to drive back to Cardiff, do you mind if I just charge my car whilst I am visiting a customer around the corner. They let me use their charging point for a few hours while I wasn’t even using their pub – but when I went back to pick up my car I stayed for a coffee and some food, so it’s a great incentive for pubs and restaurants to install electric car charging points! The Bull is actually supplied from a solar brewery nearby and the beers are all brewed using solar energy which is a lovely little extra when visiting that specific pub!

Zapmaps is an easy app that shows all charging points across the UK and near you. In fact, Bristol now has more EV charging points than petrol stations. Zapmaps will also tell you if the charge points are free or being used. This is how I found The Bull Pub – I came out of a customer appointment and looked on there! It’s great for businesses if they have charging points now.

Ecotricity charge 30p a kilowatt which is about twice what you pay for electricity at home, and it’s very common that car charging points can charge you 30-50p a kilowatt, whereas with Tesla it’s free with a referral code – or if you have solar PV at home, you can use your excess energy. It is also cheaper per kilowatt, depending on what you pay the grid. But you can also get cheaper energy on special tariffs where you only pay 5p per kilowatt at night, so you can just charge your car overnight on the cheaper tariffs. Some of the car parks at business’ tend to be free to charge your car – like hotels, spas and supermarkets. Tesla also does a work-place programme, in fact, Solar Plants have been given 5 chargers for the office and we then can offer free car charging to the staff.

I have bought the model S Tesla and the unique thing to Tesla is that it is free to charge at the moment with a referral code although that will stop eventually. Borrowing the Tesla Model S was much better because I couldn’t charge it fully at home, on the night we got it, we went up to the local services, got a coffee and fully charged it there. I could upgrade to three phase and get an extra quick charger for my home but for me, I quite enjoy stopping at the service stations for coffees and charging whilst I am there. Tesla also says not to charge the car past 90% unless you have a really long car journey, so you don’t wear the battery out – you can programme it so it never goes past 90% which is fine day to day for just driving to and from work, but if I needed to do a much longer drive, I can charge it to 100% so I can get as far as possible.

I have a journey to Newcastle coming up so what I will do is check out hotels with EV charging points beforehand, and restaurants or cafes on my way. I can then leave home with a full charge and stay in hotels specifically with charging points – and in fact, so many hotels now have charging points it’s really not that difficult. Businesses that are putting charge points in will also tend to get a good clientele off it too so it will benefit them hugely.

For me, the Tesla was the best option for me because of the range I can cover and the infrastructure in place. Lots of people are under the impression of it being a bit of a pain having an electric car, but Tesla really makes it easy because of the superchargers. Fully charging the Tesla on a supercharger only takes about 45 minutes. The way to make any electric car work is all about destination charging, if you can try and plot your destinations to have charge points either at the final destination or en route where you might want a break anyway, then it won’t seem like a chore. I’m probably the most difficult person to have an electric car because I will go out on the road and at 9 o’clock at night, I will decide what hotel I’m staying in and where I am driving tomorrow, I could be anywhere in the UK and I will look at my diary for the next day and make last minute decisions of where I need to go, and where I need to stay.

The fact that I can make the electric vehicle work, means that there are very few people in the UK who couldn’t make it work. The Tesla network has some great Facebook groups and people often share places with charge points so I just make sure I stay in those places, and in the morning I leave with a full battery so even if I am in Sheffield and need to drive back to Cardiff, I can do so without stopping and that’s covering about 200 miles! I probably would stop at a service station on that drive anyway, so it just means I can pop the car on charge while I pop into the services and then I can just give the car a quick boost. The other thing I found useful, when I was driving back from Brighton the other day, I needed to stop to get cash out, so I just stopped at a cash point that was near to a Tesla supercharger, and even though I was only about 10 minutes, it gave me another 60-70 miles of range, but I was stopping anyway so it’s not like it’s an inconvenience like people think. It’s just about being clever about where and when you stop. If anything it’s more convenient than a petrol car because you don’t have to purposefully go to a petrol station, unlike stopping for a coffee or to get cash out – which you were planning on doing anyway. Once you’ve got used to being organised, and you’ve got your bearings with charge points, it’s really easy and I really think more people should look into electric vehicles to be more environmentally friendly, as well as saving money in the long run.

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