This is a feature from erpecnews magazine, issue 86 - To read the feature in the e-book, click here
To watch our video clips from the test drive, click here
They say to truly understand a man you need to walk a day in his shoes. So, with electric vehicles dominating the news headlines, it seemed only right that to write about the topic we would need to assume the role of an EV driver.
Being an electric vehicle driver for 48 hours wasn’t exactly a chore, especially when that vehicle is a Tesla Model S - Tesla’s sporty 5-seater available in three versions the 75D, 100D and the headline snatching P100D, which goes from 0-60 in an astonishing 2.5 seconds.
Tesla kindly provided us with a 100D with a driving range of 319 miles when averaging 70mph, and whilst the acceleration is not quite as eye-watering as the performance model, there was still enough oomph to leave my stomach on the floor.
The other features weren’t bad either. A giant display screen with navigation and Spotify to keep you entertained on your journeys, front and back boot space, a heated steering wheel, retracting door handles and full self-driving hardware, which the manufacturer claims is at a safety level substantially greater than that of a human driver. The list goes on but this story is not about Tesla and their blend of innovation and luxury, but the actual practicalities of owning an electric vehicle. Your Spotify playlist can be as good as they come but if you run out of charge on the M25 not even Adele’s dulcet tones are likely to sooth you.
A worldwide charging network
Worldwide Tesla has a network of 1,375 Supercharger Stations with 11,414 Superchargers. These fast charging systems, that can charge half the battery in just 30 minutes, are designed to support long distance travel. Tesla have aimed to make it as convenient as possible - the in built navigation will automatically route drivers to convenient charging points to help them reach their destination and through the Tesla app drivers are notified when the car is charged - meaning they can enjoy a coffee and a bite in peace.
Whilst Tesla have done all they can to make the experience as seamless as possible, there is no denying that charging times are significantly longer than the time it takes to fill a petrol or diesel tank. It is also important to note that the superchargers are a luxury reserved entirely for Tesla users. With an abundance of other EVs in the market, these users are unable to benefit from these significantly faster charge times.
So after picking up the car we headed straight to Welcome Break’s South Mimms service station to speak to more experienced EV users.
Welcome Break operates 27 service stations across the UK, servicing 85 million motorway customers annually. Across these sites the company has 212 Tesla charging bays and 70 Ecotricity charging bays.
“Tesla were seen to be a good brand to partner with as they are at the forefront of EV technology,” explained Tracey Abbott, Head of Marketing for Welcome Break.
“Research estimates there will be more than one million EVs on UK roads within two years, requiring 100,000 charging points. We are committed to ensure we support this growing market place by increasing the number of electric vehicle charging points by 2020 to provide adequate infrastructure for green motorists, enabling them to access charge when they want it, where they want it and how they want it,” she added.
The chicken and the egg scenario
Much of the debate around electric vehicles and other forms of alternative fuels is developing a network to support this. It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario - do we build a strong network and run the risk of losing out if the general population shun EVs, or do manufacturers place faith in people moving to electric and try to grow the network as demand increases.
The UK government’s industrial strategy has committed to supporting a surge in EV sales with a £400m charging infrastructure investment. As well as the infrastructure investment, the government is also encouraging EV adoption by providing a number of tax incentives.
A driver’s perspective
The drivers who we spoke to all cited tax benefits as one of the key reasons for the switch to EVs alongside the lifetime free charging (a perk that is no longer available with new purchases) and the self drive facility that takes the stress out of long journeys.
Max a Model X driver we met, covers a huge number of miles. Despite a larger initial investment, he told us that the cost was offset by the free charging and there were no concerns about the charging time.
“I use the time to catch-up on my emails and have a coffee or grab some lunch. It is just something I build into my day. I chose to move to electric vehicles as I wanted to be more green and do my bit for the environment." Max, Tesla Model X Driver
Robert, another Tesla driver we interviewed, travelled from London to Leeds in his Model S for business and found the tax benefits and free charging made for a smart business investment. As with the other Tesla drivers there was no quibbles about having to wait for the car to charge. However it seems that not all service stations are created equally: “I have been to some stations and there are sometimes three cars backed up waiting to charge,” explained Robert.
Whilst even longer wait times due to congestion are not ideal, the Welcome Break we visited was geared up to offer comfort during longer break - an abundance of food offerings including classic motorway fare such as Burger King, Subway and Starbucks; healthier alternatives such as Waitrose, Tossed salad bar and Pret a Manger and even a full sit in and dine option in the form of Pizza Express.
“EV customers are welcome to come on site and rest whilst they are charging their cars. We offer various retail and catering brands to meet the varying needs of customers,” explained Tracey.
“The return on investment in EV chargers is that motorway drivers will choose to stop at Welcome Break rather than our competitors.”
Destination and home charging
Of course the supercharger network is primarily designed to support longer distance travel and is supported by a network of destination chargers located in a range of locations including hotels, supermarkets, car parks and on the street. “We are finding that an increasing number of locations want to add destination chargers, as they are a draw for their customers,” explained a Tesla representative.
On our journey we stopped at a hotel close to erpecnews HQ, having identified it as a charging location via the online search tool. The hotel had two dedicated EV charging bays, one for any vehicle and one dedicated Tesla bay. Both were free on our arrival but it is easy to see how this could quickly become inconvenient as the number of EVs on the roads start to increase.
Of course most charging needs can be fulfilled at home, either through a home charging system or via a simple 3-pin plug. A full charge would cost between £7-£14, significantly cheaper than a tank of petrol and the Tesla even allows you to delay charging until a certain time to take advantage of lower electricity rates. It is safe to say that for the majority of EV users making localised journeys, this type of charging will be sufficient.
Worth the investment?
The Tesla we borrowed sells for just shy of £100,000 which alone may put off most consumers. However Tesla believe they have the solution in the new, more affordable Model 3, launched in Europe this month, it achieves 220 miles of range while starting at just under £27,000.
Having spent time with the Tesla, I have to say I am a convert. Yes, there are creases that need to be ironed but I think the biggest challenge is not about the car’s capabilities and the charging network, but the change in culture and attitude that is required. Tesla drivers were relaxed and unconcerned by wait times, simply because they have adapted, and it seems that the retailers are willing to do all they can to support this shift.