Here at Transport Evolved, we’re used to driving everywhere by electric car. We’re generally pretty happy to make day-trips well beyond the range of a single charge of our cars. We’re down with all the UK charging networks we use, know where all our local rapid chargers are, and have a mental list of round-trips we can reach without needing to charge.
But that’s very different to driving nearly 700 miles to Stuttgart Germany, following the participants in the 2014 WAVE Trophy, and then driving another 800 miles back to the UK. Especially when the route covers 2,500 metre high mountain passes.
For that, we knew we’d need some extra resolve and a little experience in hilly driving, so in order to familiarise ourselves with the kind of driving we’d be doing for nearly two weeks, the Transport Evolved WAVE team — that’s myself and co-driver Adam Walker — decided to set out on a 176-mile, half-day road trip to see what lie in wait for us.
The nearest thing we could get to the Swiss mountains within easy reach of Bristol? The Welsh Valleys.
In order for our road test to be truly realistic, we packed our trusty Nissan LEAF full to the brim with all the kit we’re planing on taking with us to the WAVE. Everything from clothes to camping equipment and cameras to charging adaptors was loaded up into my 3-year old first-generation LEAF. With the boot (trunk) full and the rear seats piled high, we set off.
Heading out of Bristol on the M4 motorway, we crossed into Wales via the Severn bridge. Several miles long, we were treated to torrential rain and strong headwinds, which made the first part of the trip a little harder than we initially had planned. But settling at a fairly sensible speed of 60 mph, we were able to make it to our first charging stop without any issue.
At 60 mph, range seemed reasonably optimistic, with a predicted range in excess of 70 miles. As other LEAF owners will tell you, however, the real-world range never quite matches the overly-optimistic on-board range prediction algorithm. And because we stopped at the wrong rapid charger by accident (thus getting a quick boost we didn’t really need), our first two stops on the motorway were quick, simple and trouble-free.
Off the beaten track
Just past Cardiff however, we pulled off the motorway and started our winding ascent into the Welsh Valleys, heading along the well-known ‘heads of the valleys’ road before passing north of the ‘Seven Sisters’ hills and heading back to the motorway.
Despite having a 90 percent charge at our last quick charge stop, range dramatically started to drop as we started to climb, giving me at least a little bit of range anxiety. Outside of the comfort of well-known roads, I wasn’t sure just how hilly the route ahead was and with Adam at the wheel, I knew I couldn’t control how quickly our pack drained.
I just had to put my trust in him.
The challenge of big hills and inclement weather
Because the majority of our trip to and from the WAVE involves CHAdeMo quick charging, we decided our weekend road trip would loop up from one rapid charger, across the valleys and back down. As a challenge, I’d picked a route which was a total of around 65 miles, including an 815 foot (248 meter) pass. That’s less than a tenth of the height of the Furka pass, which we’ll be tackling as we follow the WAVE.
I know my abilities pretty well, and I know my car pretty well. With someone else at the wheel and extra weight on board however, I may have been overoptimistic. By the time we reached our waypoint (about 42 miles into the leg and the highest point of our trip) our LEAF’s battery pack was suffering, due in part to the continuing torrential rain and headwinds.
With 10 miles of estimated range left, we had 23 miles left to travel.
From there, we knew our trip back to the motorway was downhill — and we knew that the LEAF’s battery pack wouldn’t be worked quite as hard. Sure enough, we covered another five miles without dramatically drawing power, and our predicted range actually climbed up by two miles.
The beauty of topping up
With various charging databases at our disposal and a collection of charging adaptors, we weren’t troubled and as luck would have it, a chance to top up the battery came just when we needed it, courtesy of Touratech UK.
As a keen biker, Adam had already asked if we could call by Touratech on our weekend test. Pulling in, we hoped we’d find someone willing to let us plug in for an hour from a standard household outlet to help us reach our next quick charge stop. But instead of a 13-amp UK-style plug, we were met with enthusiasm by Touratech’s owner, who not only loved what we were doing, but gave us a 32-amp connection to use in the Touratech workshop.
Sadly, with just a 16A on-board charger, we couldn’t make use of all of that power, but we were able to have a chat about motorcycles, a coffee, and a chance to shop while our LEAF charged out back. In less than an hour, our predicted range had jumped from 12 miles to more than double that.
Back on the road, our next two recharging stops — DC quick chargers on the motorway back to Bristol were a breeze, arriving safe and well back in Bristol well on schedule.
The pessimistic reader may infer that our trip failed due to our need to stop for a top-off along the way. Perhaps with less luggage on board and different weather conditions, we would have made the hilly part of our route without a top up charge.
But we made the entire trip well within our own schedule. We made new friends along the way, and we proved that long-distance trips can be made or broken according to the versatility of those behind the wheel.
We also learned that hills take a lot more out of electric car battery packs than we ever thought, especially in bad weather.
With our departure just two weeks away tomorrow, Adam and I are going back over our proposed route. So far, we’re happy with the choices we’ve made, and we know where the ‘backup’ charging points are along our route.
Most importantly however, we’ve learned that with a little bit of forward planning and perseverance, electric car adventures aren’t such the big taboo we once thought they were.
You can follow more from Transport Evolved and WAVE in the coming weeks by heading to www.transportevolved.com or www.wavetrophy.com. And while we haven’t talked about it here, you can see more about the route we’re proposing to take here.
Transport Evolved is an official media partner of Wavetrophy. You can view the original post on the Wave Trophy site.
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