As many of you know, in November I acquired an electric car, an Audi eTron GT. I didn’t do it to virtue signal as some idiots have suggested on social media. It was a totally rational decision. Anyone who buys a petrol or diesel car nowadays is buying a rapidly diminishing asset, seeing as no one will be able to buy a new one after 2030. But when I found out that you can offset the costs of an EV against company tax, it made perfect sense to buy it through my company. And with EVs there are very few personal tax liabilities, although I am sure that will change over time. I decided not to buy the car outright, because I figured that if the battery technology improved dramatically then I could be left with a car that had little second hand value. So I have got it under a contract hire scheme.
In all honesty I haven’t driven it that much since November. Normally, I do about 1,000 miles a month, but in the five months since I’ve had it, I’ve only driven it 2,300 miles. In all honesty, even though it drives really nicely, I still prefer driving my five year old Audi Q7, which I’ve had from new. I suppose it’s because it’s a SUV and I like to have a high driving position, and maybe because I’m used to it.
I always knew it would take time to adapt to an electric car. I realised it would be necessary to plan a longer journey. What I hadn’t bargained for was that the advertised range of 298 miles would turn out to be fiction. It is in fact 206-217 miles. Quite a difference.
So I have the Zap Map app, which allows you to plan a journey.
On Friday night I was due to speak to Beverley Conservatives at the local race course. I had driven up to London the afternoon before, using up 42 miles. I would have charged the car at the Leicester Square car park but all three charging units were occupied. After my radio show, I drove another 4 miles to the hotel in Kensington where I always stay on Thursdays, before getting up at 5.10am for Good Morning Britain. Having done the show, at 7am I set out for Beverley, a journey of around 200 miles. I was stopping off at Howden to have a pub lunch with David Davis, who lives nearby. So I knew I would have to charge the car along the way and decided to stop at Castle Donington Services on the M1. There are four units there. Most charging units on motorways charge at 50kw per hour. These ones were 125kw per hour. They were all occupied but the great thing is that people actually talk to each other and one of the guys said he’d be gone in 5 minutes. I added 125 miles on, which took about 40 minutes. I was slightly horrified by the cost of £25, which effectively means that it’s as expensive to drive 600 miles in an EV as it used to be in my diesel car. But of course most charges I can do from home on my Octopus reduced overnight tariff.
When I arrived in Beverley mid afternoon to meet a friend from Biteback days for a quick coffee, and then drove to the house I was being put up in I had only about 10 miles left on the clock. No worries, I thought, I’ve done my planning, I know there are four charging units at Tesco so I’ll charge it there in the morning before I head south to Norfolk. Best laid plans and all that…
The speech went well in the evening and I sold lots of books. I had a great night’s sleep and then a fantastic breakfast, cooked by the lovely Pauline. So at 9am off I set to the local Tesco. There were six charging units there, five of which were already in use. The other was blocked off by a badly parked van so my car wouldn’t fit in the space. I assumed the owners of the other five cars would return relatively quickly. By 10am none of them had. Finally, one became free but it was an untethered one, which was a low charger at 22kw per hour and also I had to use my own cable. Could I open the front bonnet? Could I hell. Ten minutes later I finally worked out how to do it. After twenty minutes it had charged about 4 miles. Sod this for a game of soldiers, I thought. I knew there was a 50kw per hour unit at Morrison’s which was about three miles away. The Satnav took me round and round the town centre and by the time I reached Morrison’s there was only 2 miles left in the tank, so to speak. I prayed the charging unit at Morrison’s would work. Well, the fast one didn’t. The slow one did. I then worked out that if I charged it up to 55 miles I’d have enough juice to get to a pub on the M18 which had a fast charger. I started charging at 11.03 and by 12.30 I had enough to set off. I got there at 1.10pm. And then the next problem arose. The car has a charging flap on both sides of the front of the car. But only the one on the left can used the fast charging nozzle. Could I get the bloody thing open Could I hell. I looked in the car manual but nothing seemed to work. After about 15 minutes I notices the flap on the other side of the car had somehow managed to open. I closed that, and then miracle of miracles, the other one opened. Honestly, I was nearly in tears. Now although this was w50kw per hour, my aim was to get to Castle Donington, another 70 miles away so I could get on the 125 kw per hour unit. After about an hour I had enough charge to get there. Luckily the Donington unit was free and worked. I left there around 5pm with around 160 miles charge. By the time I got to Newport Pagnall I was getting drowsy so stopped for a short nap before continuing. I had given up on going to Norfolk as there were absolutely no 125kw hour charging units en route, and I could not be confident that that 50kw ones would work.
I arrived back in Tunbridge Wells at 7.45pm. A completely wasted day. The journey that should have taken four hours, took close on 11.
So what lessons do I draw from this wasted day and very frustrating experience? Well, I certainly won’t be using the eTron on a long journey any time soon. The charging network is just totally inadequate for the number of EVs that are now on the road. Too many are unreliable, and too many are too slow. I knew from my experience on the A11 to Norfolk that this was a problem, but when even many motorway services don’t have any EV units at all, you just wonder how this can have happened. Even at Donington, a fairly major services, there were only 5 units servicing Britain’s second biggest motorway in both directions.
Driving an electric car is a very different experience. The acceleration has to be experienced to be believed, although if you accelerate fast too often, that obviously drives down the available mileage. The eTron is the smoothest car I have ever driven. It drives like a limousine. But on a cold way you worry about putting the heating on and on a hot day you worry about putting the air conditioning on for fear of also losing mileage.
A lot of people have been asking about my EV experience and this is why I’m writing this article. Many ask if I would recommend that they should buy an EV. My answer is yes and no. Yes, if you don’t do many long journeys, but no if you do. After today, I won’t be using the eTron for long trips. I’ll drive to Norfolk in it, but when I go to Herefordshire and Gloucestershire in May, or Devon and Cornwall in September, I certainly won’t be taking it. And for those who say I should be taking the train, well the truth is that I do use the train for long journeys more than I used to, but if you think I can lug five or six boxes of books on the train, you’ve lost your marbles.
I realise that in the wider scheme of things you can interpret all this as a long whinge or describe it as “first world problems”, but I just thought that anyone thinking about buying an EV needs to be aware of the potential pitfalls.
Still, there was one positive thing about today. In my many stationery hours I did manage to set up Apple Car Play. Praise be.