About

Information about Driving from the UK to Switzerland

The original idea of this site was simply to describe our first 1000km drive in our electric car and the problems we hit along the way. If you’re looking for that information, then I’d suggest you click here (and then scroll down to the very bottom of the page).

In terms of useful tips, the description of how we got our Sodetrel card that gives access to charging posts at some French motorway service stations can be found at the bottom of this page.

Otherwise, feel free to meander around the blog. I hope there are some vicarious pleasures to be had. It will take you around London, into the Alps and onto the streets of Beijing.

How I ended up driving a BMW i3

I’m not very interested in cars. I’m a bit more concerned about being green – but not much. For the past 25 years we’ve tended to mock BMW owners as arrogant people with poor driving skills.

Our only car, until January 2017, was a 2008 vintage diesel Ford Galaxy. We bought it believing it was greener than a petrol car. One of the motor industry’s con jobs that rates as minor in comparison to some of its other offences.

In 2015 we had a one week test drive in a Nissan Leaf. But we experienced a bit of range anxiety, and my partner felt Nissan wasn’t really the right brand for a family which shops at Waitrose. And Lidl.

In the autumn of 2016, we very nearly bought a Renault Zoe, but had a lucky escape when the salesman went AWOL.

And in January 2017, we bought a second hand BMW i3 REX 60Ah. Why? Was it the result of extensive research? Careful price and energy efficiency calculations? No. Sytners in High Wycombe was the only dealer I could find where I could have a test drive of a second hand EV on a Bank Holiday during the Christmas/New Year shutdown.

The genesis of i3GB2CH

How did the idea of driving it to Switzerland come about? Well, we have a ground floor apartment in Champéry high up in the Valaisan Alps, near the French border. To get there we sometimes fly, and sometimes drive. In the Galaxy we’ve got the 600 mile trip down to about 12 hours. The all-time record for us is 10½ hours.

When the idea of driving the i3 to Switzerland popped into my head, it felt a bit daft. The i3 is great for pottering around near our home in NW London. It works exceptionally well for short distance commuting. Longer journeys – meaning anything over 50 or 60 miles – need a bit of pre-planning.

My friends who know more about cars were on the sceptical side of dubious. Paul said he might be my travelling companion when we were planning a skiing trip in March, but while I was building up my hopes he booked his flight.

But still, despite the warnings, it felt like a fun challenge.

The Electric Car with the Petrol Engine (and a bit about charging with electricity)

For people who know even less about electric cars than I do, let me explain a bit about the BMW i3. You can buy it as a pure electric car, but there’s also an option which is called the Range Extender. That’s the one we’ve got. The REx is a BMW motorbike engine tucked in the back of the car. It can trickle charge the batteries as you’re driving along. The i3 petrol tank only holds about 2 gallons – enough to keep the car going for about 90 miles once the petrol is converted into electricity.

No one at BMW who I spoke to was prepared to spell out the beautiful truth that if you are willing to keep stopping to top up the petrol tank, you could drive an i3 all day at about 60mph and never need to plug it into the electricity. With petrol it’s a perpetual motion machine. But some purists would argue that it defeats the whole point of having an EV.

In terms of charging the engine batteries with electricity, these are the three options I’ve used:

  1. Charging at home using a standard domestic plug and the cable that comes free with the BMW i3. That takes about eight to 10 hours from empty to 100% charged.
  2. Charging at a public charging point with a Type 2 cable (£165 from BMW). That takes about four to six hours from empty to 100% charged). Usually, you have to supply the cable that links the charge post to your car.
  3. Charging at a DC CCS charge point. This is the fast charging option. The charge points always have the cable that connects to your car. And it delivers about 85% charge in roughly 30 minutes. In the UK Ecotricity seems to have posts at many motorway service stations. In France, there are different operators. I found it hard to work out which firm to join, but chose Sodetrel. I don’t quite understand why but as you get beyond 80% the rate at which the battery accepts charge really slows down. And I have a vague sense that using fast chargers too often starts to damage the battery in some way. But I think occasional use doesn’t do any real damage.

Charging the i3 in France – Sodetrel

I did a little bit of research about charging the i3 in France and Switzerland. I mainly used the EV Forum and found it hard to get up to date 2017 information. I also looked at various sites which claim to have maps showing charging points. The one I like best was Chargemap, which led me towards Sodetrel.

Some of the posts on the Forums made it sound as if getting a Sodetrel card would be a nightmare. I may have been lucky, but found it very easy. First, from their website I sent an email enquiry in Google translated schoolboy French. (Oh God, his university level French speaking partner writes, why didn’t he run this email past me first? Cringe.)

J’ai une voiture électrique – une BMW i3. Je vais en France en avril. J’ai une carte de crédit Mastercard – valable pour les euros. Est-il serait possible d’avoir un compte auprès de votre entreprise et que vous m’envoyiez la carte par la poste? Ou avez-vous une application pour mon iPhone? Est-il possible de configurer le compte par téléphone? Si cela n’est possible qu’avec internet, dois-je entrer mon adresse / code postal / numéro de téléphone de manière spéciale? Cordialement, Glyn Jones

Within a couple of days they sent a helpful reply in English.

Dear Sir,

Thank you for your interest in Sodetrel Mobility’s fast charging network.

Sodetrel is a French electric mobility operator which holds its own charging infrastructrures (Corri-Door stations located on the motorways) but also operates for partners such as public entities, energy syndicates and private companies. 

If you want to learn more about our network, consult our interactive map.

We provide several access solutions to our network, depending on your needs and wishes :

1.Monthly subscription to our Sodetrel Pass for regular refills
The Sodetrel Pass grants you access to the entire network (Corri-Door + partners). You can subscribe to 2 different formulas :

  • ZEN : 3€/month + charging fees (0.70€/5min on Corri-Door stations)
  • PREMIUM (recommanded for frequent use) : 30€/month + charging fees (0.50€/5min on Corri-Door stations).

To subscribe, connect on our website Sodetrel Mobility, create your personal account, then choose the subscription that suits you the best : ZEN or PREMIUM.
You can pay by credit card or through an order for monthly direct payment.

  1. Prepayed Pass for ponctual refills

Some motorway rest areas are equipped with prepayed pass. For 20€, you have access to two 30min refills, to use only on the Corri-Door stations.
If our service suits you well, you can keep the pass to access our monthly subscriptions.

  1. Fee-for-service basis, if you are not one of our subscribers.
    On a fee-for-service basis, the website paynow.sodetrel.fr is accessible with a smartphone and a credit card (Visa or Mastercard). Connect when you are in front of the charging station and follow the instructions. You will pay your refill 1€/5min.

Wishing to give you full satisfaction,

Sincerely,

Your custumer service

I went for Zen at €3 per month. And my card arrived within seven to 10 days.