So, the next day I was at an Ecotricity charging point in the UK. I’m sitting in the car drinking coffee with the window open – while the i3 is drinking electricity.
And a man walks up. “I’m thinking of buying one of these. And I thought I shouldn’t come up and ask you questions, because you might not like it. But then, I decided I would.” Of course, I’m thrilled. No one has ever asked me for my expert view on a car. And I’ve never really owned a car before that I’ve had an opinion about.
“So should I buy one? Are they any good? How far do they go?” He’s a man with a very interesting CV. A former used car salesman who’s now a policeman.
So I volunteer that I’ve just driven to Switzerland and back. And I explain that, despite BMW not being very clear about the REx, if you’re willing to keep topping up the two gallon tank with petrol, it’ll keep going for any distance you like without needing a charging point. As I say elsewhere, it’s a perpetual motion machine.
The advice I’d give anyone who’d listen? Get the version with the Range Extender. Even if you expect just to do short runs of a few miles, once in a while you’ll want to go further. The REx is your joker, your Get Out of Jail card.
And what other tips?
If it’s a long distance trip, Planning makes it much easier. Have a list of the best charging points and their addresses, and note down a few extra ones to give you some options.
Total time depends upon speed of driving and speed of charging (and your willingness to use the REx, even when it’s not needed). On our trip home we opted for a driving speed of c. 60mph whenever possible. That’s a bit faster than the ideal for power consumption, but it was a balance between speed and battery depletion. We tried to minimise wasted time at charging points. In our very amateur parallel to an F1 pit stop, we tried to drive up at the charge point as quickly as we could, and then leapt out to connect up the car and start the charge. It’s also a judgement about how much charge you take on. Sodetrel charge for every five minutes of charging (as opposed to Ecotricity in the UK where it’s a fixed 30 minutes for £6). So do you stop the charge after 70% (when the rate at which the battery accepts charge slows)? Or 80%? Or 85%? And the fastest progress would probably result from switching the REx for the whole journey, and filling up with petrol as you go along.
Bail out quickly if you hit a problem charger. On the journey out to Switzerland we hit a broken charger at Langres Sud Services. Boy 2 advised against phoning Sodetrel. “Let’s get going again.” But I ignored him. And I then wasted more than thirty minutes while Sodetrel Mission Control failed to reset the faulty machine. On the way back, at Lidl in Besançon the charge point was on a go-slow or half power or something. On both occasions, we should have packed up once we discovered the fault and let the REx take the strain until the next charging point.
If you’re using the Channel Tunnel or a ferry, a flexible ticket is a great idea. If you’re travelling more than 150 miles or so to get to your channel crossing, then your arrival time starts to get harder to predict. If you’re on a fixed travelling time for a ferry or train then you may need to build in a buffer of contingency time (or be prepared to look sweet and throw yourself on the operator’s mercy). Our flexible tickets for the Eurotunnel removed one stress-deadline from the journey.
Get a good understanding of your electric range, and the Range Extender. We found hills didn’t eat up too much power. Our steepest 15km with a 500 metre climb used about 20% of the battery’s power. But most of the hills you go over, naturally have a downhill slope on the other side. But every mph over 50mph sees your electric consumption go up. On a French motorway it’s easy to put your foot down. But your range will crash. And, as we discovered, even with the REx operating, at 130kmph you’ll still see the power percentage dropping every five minutes.
Treat it as an adventure. But have a plan for the boring bits. We had a good time. We allowed ourselves to get excited in the run up to our grand adventure. The planning was fun. Sending emails to the Swiss BMW dealer about using their charge point was jolly. The day our Sodetrel RFID card arrived in the post brought big grins to our faces. We even thought that getting up at 3.00am was a fine way to start the day (it wasn’t for those woken up as you departed. Ed). Eventually, electric cars will either be utterly everyday or an historical curiosity. But in 2017 you can still feel like an early adopter and part of a grand green experiment. There’s fun to be had. And in addition to planning the route, have a think about in-car entertainment. Our longest, slowest, least satisfactory section was accompanied by the Book of Revelation from a talking book. Now, David Suchet has a lovely voice but, in case it’s not already 100% obvious, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse don’t make the ideal travelling companions. Not for the beginning, nor the end.