It was strangely warm at the bottom of this long tube; it’s amazing the memories you recall from childhood. As I removed my arm from this large drainpipe submerged in a compost heap I knew something clever was going on but at 12 quickly wanted to leave this odd hippy-esque Center For Alternative Technology in North Wales that my parents had dragged my brother and I to.
Clearly something had sublimilarily registered as for the past few years I had wanted to return. And what better way to go back than in a vehicle with zero emissions and so the idea was born. I’d planned the trip in my head but by early 2014 the planning really started, the accommodation was booked, the destinations selected and in April the 600 mile trip was on!
Regular readers will know I’ve driven a Nissan LEAF Mk1 since August 2012 and by the time of this road trip it would have covered 23,000 miles. Having just got through a second winter in this car I know that at best it will cover 70 miles on a freezing day with heat, demist and motorway driving you can get just over 50 miles. Wales in April can not only be chilly but it’s also full of mountains / hills etc
Rather than really push the Mk1 LEAF I was able to utilise a Mk2 LEAF that we had as a long term demonstrator at work. This is a mid range Accenta grade LEAF that has the Heat-Pump (lots of heat, fraction of the power needed vs Mk1) but this car also has the 6.6 kW upgrade which would be needed on this journey.
I had actually taken this exact car on 150 mile roundtrip in November whenit was factory fresh; but in the intermittent months it had been on weekly loans so I had no idea of it’s mileage, how it had been charged or cared for. So rather than jump in the car and set off to Wales I had a weekend in the New Forest. An easy 50 mile journey and a weekend with in the Forest which only required a trickle charge to get me home again
It staggers me how some people jump in an EV relying on one charger then panic when they arrive to find the charger not working and not sure where to go. I guess this comes with experience and after 20k miles and a few longer journeys I always check before departing if the charger is working and what the nearest options are in case it’s not working.
On a 5 day, 600 mile trip I am expecting something to present a challenge so I set about creating a document listing each journey stage and the charging locations and times. Wales, unlike the flat coastal home plane of Hampshire, is full of hills and, just like the petrol cars, require more energy to ascend. This also means on the way back down an Electric Car recharges it’s batteries to recover some of that energy.
Part of my journey included the wonderful Brecon Beacons and whilst wild and scenic ascending this mountain range was certainly going to zap some power from the LEAF battery pack. Luckily someone has developed and excellent web site where you simply tap in your start and destination post codes and it will graphically show you the terrain en route: http://www.jurassictest.ch/GR/. In addition you can select your car from the presented list of EVs and the web site will tell you EXACTLY how much power your car will use and what you have left upon reaching the destination.
And so the day by day document had a table of locations, distances and screen shots showing how much battery I would use and have left. I also had a list of backup charging locations and alternatives should any fail. Remember the 7 Ps: Proper and Preparation Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance; and will stop you ending up on a flatbed lorry!
Day 1: Emsworth to Bath – Total distance: 113 miles
Now I could have got to Wales in a day with 3 charges but this is also a vacation for me rather than an endurance test so I did plan a 1 night stop over in beautiful Bath. Previously Bath had no EV charging but finally last year Source West finally installed charging in one car park so an emission free return to Bath was on the cards.
Nissan LEAF fully charged from home supply; Set off 11am and a brisk 70mph jaunt 28 miles along the M27 to Rownhams Services West bound where Ecotricity had installed a free-to-use Rapid Charger. I had been asking for such a rapid charger here as it’s a key trunk road to the west country and the New Forest so was delighted when Ecotricity installed one Rapid Charger each side of the M27.
First time using this charger and no problems using the Ecoticity card. I knew the next leg of the journey was a 53 mile leg and over a few hills so charged the car to 97% in about 40 minutes. I set off and along the A36 through Salisbury then down the A303 until I reached Wincanton after 90 minutes driving.
F J Chalke was one of the first Nissan dealerships to sell LEAF and had a reputation for being excellent EV Specialist. On arrival it’s a small forecourt with one space, thankfully adjacent to the rapid charger. You’ll need a member of staff to swipe the smart card and then a quick 30 min charge I was 90% charged and ready for the 33 mile jaunt to Bath. More stunning English spring countryside driving then I arrived at Bath from the South that seemed far less congested than the normal A36 arrival.
Rather than one of the normal hotel’s I had selected a B&B called Cornerways due to the excellent Trip Adviser reviews; plus it backed onto the large Charlotte Street carpark where the EV Charging was.
Upon arrival there are 4 clearly painted and signposted EV charging bays run by Source West. I had called a couple of weeks before to make sure my smart card was active as I had never used it since applying for it a year ago. I pulled up and the post had LEDs at the side by the screen was dead. The same on the post next door. The charging flaps were open but neither post would respond to my smart card. I called Source West who were very accommodating and quickly called the keyholder, the local council. I explained this was an overnight stop on a 600 mile roadtrip to North Wales and without the charge I was stuck. Now time to ‘fess up – I had 40% of the battery left and I could have easily made it to IKEA Bristol or probably even the severn bridge chargers but frankly it we’re going to be asked to pay for charging in the future we need a robust charging network.
To cut a long story short within 10 mins I had the council on the phone to me saying they would be up to look at the chargers and if that failed I could use their charger at the council offices. A quick pop open off the adjacent supply cabinet. And the ‘turn it off and on again’ fixed it and I was charging at 6.6 kw 40 mins after arriving. Not that slick but a commendable recovery by the council.
A quick word on Cornerways; forget budget hotels; the room was superb; great ensuite and outstanding breakfast. Will be back here for sure.
Day 2: Bath to Three Cocks (Brecon) – Total distance : 84 miles
The second day of dry spring warmth was forecast and a quick check on the LEAF from my iPhone Carwings app and the car was 100% charged and ready for the trip. Before setting off I checked the dependent Rapid Charger status on the Ecotricity Electric Highway web site and Magor showed as being down (just over the new Severn Crossing) but the Rapid Charger just before the original Severn crossing was fine.
A scenic drive out of Bath along the A46 and then a quick 70mph blast along the M4 / M48 to Severn View Moto services (only 26 miles from Bath). Rapid charger easily found and available. If you are new new to electric car driving here’s one bit of charging etiquette; if I leave my car plugged into a rapid charger unattended I have an A4 piece of paper in the glove box saying “To contact the owner of this car please call 07…..” and a couple of times I do get called; especially in places like IKEA etc. After plugging in my LEAF at Severn Crossing Rapid Charger I zipped into get a coffee and as I emerged another LEAF was waiting.
EV drivers are nice people! After a quick hello, how are you wheres your journey, sure enough this driver was a member of a popular EV forum and we knew of each other and within 10 minutes my LEAF was 90% charged and ready to go and the other LEAF driver was off charging up and off to Cardiff.
Over the River Severn and into Wales. Now rather than stick to the major A roads I had found a far more direct cross country route that gave me the option to stop at a location that had a Zero Carbon World charger installed so I set off across some of the most stunning cross country roads passing small villages heading towards Ragnor just ahead of the ascent across the Brecon Beacons.
The Llansantffraed Court Hotel was a couple of miles away and the battery was still at 60%+ but as it was lunchtime and this was a 32A commando location I could get a bite to eat ad use my DIY EVSE box for the first time.
I think it’s courteous to ask before just plugging in at a hotel so upon checking on lunch availability and EV charging they wer more than happy for me to plug in and charge. I was not EV alone…. The Llansantffraed Court Hotel has its own fully branded Renault Twizy as part of the Eco Travel Network where guests could hire the little electic 2 seater and scoot around the Brecon Beacons as part of their vacation experience. The Twizy was plugged into the 3 pin plug so I had full access to the 32A commando. Connection was hassle free and within 10 seconds the car was charging at a full 6.6kWh.
Lunch was truly outstanding and after an hour the car was 96% charged and ready to head off. The Manager and a couple of members of staff were fascinated to see their first LEAF and a photo call and a couple of Tweets later I was off into the Brecon Beacons .
Frankly the car out-performed all of my guestimates and within an hour I was at my Uncle’s house with a plenty of battery capacity – the lunch stop was more for refuelling me than the car; but hey nevere miss a chance to spread the EV word.
As I was here well ahead of time, and in fact my Uncle I took a 5 mile driver to Drover Cycles; another Zero Carbon World location. I had reached out via Twitter in advance to see of I could use their charger in case of backup and thought this was a great opportunity to network do had a quick hour top up charge. Had a great chat with the owner who was just off to pick up a Reanult Kangoo EV a couple of days later so I showed him all the cables, connectors and options he may need in return the LEAF got a nice 6kWh top up. Back to Uncles house and trickle charged the car overnight ready for the next leg of the adventure.
Day 3: Into the Wild: Total Distance: 103 miles. From this point on there was no rapid charging until the last day so 6.6 kWh charging could only be achieved at Zero Carbon World destinations / hotels or it was trickle charging. Whilst in the throws of organising this trip one commercial charging vendore had introduced per-charge billing for EV charging that had been met with a barrage of complaints from existing EV drivers.
I had resisted the urge to sign up but thought I would check the status of the one charging point that could get me out of a tight spot. The Chargemaster post was marked on the map as being on and available at a Little Chef in Builth Wells; I had to pass this crossroads to swung in to see if I could use this if needed later in the trip. The red post had no signpost or signs, no parking bay markings and was not easy to see; and being nearest the restaurant had 2 non-EV cars parked in it. In fairness as there was abolsutely no signange marking out this was an electric car charger they were no to blame. I parked up and walked up to the red post and it was dead; screen was off, no LEDs so would have been no use anyway. Why does Chargemaster continue to show such posts as on and available when this opposite is the case?
Onwards through more stunning countryside to my first charge of the day the Elan Valley visitor center. Easy to find on the map and a great welcome before eing shown round to the ZCW 32A commando charger by an exited Warden who was keen to see this Electric Car. Elan Valley is a huge Dam whose contained fresh water supplied the city of Birmnigham as well as having 2 small hydro electric power stations at the base of the impressive brick faced Dam. After a couple of photos the car was on charge and I donned the walking boots for a 30 min circular walk of the site before a warming coffee and Dannish whilst using their free wifi and as the car completed it’s 40% charge. A great location and a welcoming, enthusiastic staff happy to help EV drivers.
Onto the next hilly drive to my most northerly location on this trip the Center for Alternative Technology in Pantperthog. I’m running out of descriptions for the Welsh countryside but it’s a delight to drive through. A stumbled accorss a small village and grabbed a sandwich and even parking up was stopped and asked about the car from a local farmworker that knew exactly what a LEAF was but had never seen one. I peddled out my normal response of 22,000 miles and would not drive petrol again and he was suitably positive about his next car being electric.
1:30pm and arrival at CAT and directed up the hill to the ZCW 32A commando charger. Hassle free connection and charging whilst I visited the amazing CAT location 30 years after my last visit! Frankly I cant remember much apart from that warm compost heap but the CAT location is now a major education location for students form around Europe as well as having many practical working models of renewable energy.
One that caught my attention was 3 different types of Biomass boiler with different states of automation burning wooden pellets and logs to supply the entire site with hot water via an enormous dual bore insulated pipe – a hot water ring main using multiple renewable energy sites to service resident students and visitors. If you’ve never been and you’re going to wales – add CAT to your itinerary.
Back to the LEAF and at a full 32A charge rate it was up to 98% charge after my 3 hours visit and I was ready for the final leg; an overnight stop at The Old Vicarage, Dolfor that had a Zero Carbon World charge point. As will all other stops I’d spoken to them before turning up to make sure the charger was still there / working / available etc. A delightful old vicarage with wonderful hosts; a refreshing tray of tea in front of roaring log fire as I checked in and great another nice couple also relaxing in the lounge. Not only a great stay but 10% off the bill for arriving in an electric car; nice touch.
Day 4: Dolfor to Three Cocks (Brecon): Total distance 43 miles.
Part of this journey was to catch up with family so frankly this leg of the trip was going to be straight forward. A wonderful winding drive up and down hills along the A483 and I actually stopped off at the literary centre of Hay-on-Wye to have a look round. After a quick stroll round lunch and time to check out another Zero Carbon World location; not as I needed the charge but pub lunch and a free charge; too good an opportunity to miss.
Arriving at the Radnor Arms mounted on a fence post was a Type 2 Mennekes Rolec charger – I would not even need to use the Portable EVSE for the first time in days – just the Type 2 to Type 1 cable and she was charging at 32 Amps. In fact the owners have their own Renault Zoe EV all decalled up and the pub was delightful – everything you’d expect from an 18th century Inn with great food and after an hour or so both car and owner were recharged.
Back to my Uncle’s and dip in the pool and some R&R ahead of the final day;’s drive for the 183 mile return leg
Day 5: Brecon to Chichester: Total Distance 183 miles
Sat 12th April: my longest EV journey and I would need at least 3 charges; I had gone the safe route and planned 4. I had backup plans and before leaving Brecon I had checked all the Ecotricity Electric Highway chargers were working; even Magor by the new Severn Crossing.
8 am I was on the road and heading up over the Brecon Beacons. No stopping at Llansantffraed hotel just staying on the A449 down to the M4 and then after 48 miles pull over to the Magor Services. Charger was free and let it charge for 20 mins up to 90%.
The next leg was really a ‘just in case’ – 20 miles from Magor to IKEA Bristol and happily pushed the car to the speed limit on cruise control and was at IKEA for opening time. Part of the goal was to avoid Bristol on a busy Saturday so earlier the better.
Whilst I was plugged in another LEAF arrived and a great knowledge swap about cars, chargers, journeys etc. I needed the full 95% charge as the next leg was a up and down country road stretch and after 30 mins was on the road.
Heading south out of Bristol was painful. Endless traffic lights and it took 30 minutes to clear the suburbs and onto the A37; but an A road this is not. It’s a single lane, winding slow road that after 80 minutes to cover 40 miles of fed up driving finally reached FJ Chalke again. Straight in and onto the charger and met a guy who had driven over 50,000 miles in his LEAF and still loved it as much as day one.
At 95% I disconnected, grabbed some lunch and it was soon back on decent roads, up the A303 and down the A36 through Salisbury. After 53 miles and 2:10pm I was at Rownhams Eastbound and straight on for a quick 15 minute charge and 26 miles later I was home by 3pm.
The LEAF and the charging network had behaved impeccably. Including some running round the Wales trip was 600 miles and apart from a blip in Bath with the RFID Source West charger the trip had gone brilliantly. Sunny dry days and cold spring nights.
With some simple planning and the right tools long journeys in 100 mile electric cars are possible; if you need to drive further you drive slower; if you have plenty of range then put your foot down. All of the charging I used was free to use, some was in exchange for custom, like the B&B but this was no issue and I was delighted with the food stops and overnight stay locations.
Wales – I’ll be back!
A couple of weeks ago one of the major Electric Car charging vendors announced that from 1 April 2014 users would no longer be able to charge for free from the network of Polar and Chargemaster charging stations.
The backlash from existing EV drivers has been severe and near universal in it’s condemnation of the cost of the new charging and the inability for the charging to relate to the amount of electricity actually used. Charging is being implemented on an hourly basis with drivers of cars like the Nissan LEAF Mk1 and the Vauxhall Ampera having to pay the same rate as Nissan LEAF Mk2 and BMW i3 drivers who get twice the amount of electrical charge, and hence range, for the same price.
There are a variety of Pay As You Go, annual pass and monthly subscription models but, at it’s most basic, an electric car driver could charge for an hour at a £2.50 using a mobile phone for payment (no smart card needed). Drivers of cars than charge at the slower 3.3kw rate are pointing out that this £2.50 charge will only give them 16 miles or range, a cost higher that running on Petrol, one Ampera driver pointed out.
As a strategy I think this is a good plan, but Chargemaster has some work to do;
- RELIABILITY As an occasional user of their network over the past 2 years I have frequently found local charging stations down, and when I call the customer support number printed on the charging station it goes to a mobile phone voicemail. I do get a call back within 15 minutes; but the reply is the same “We’ll send an engineer next week”; imagine if this was a car stuck at pump number 2 at a Petrol Station
- LOCATIONS Chargemaster have so far installed charging in City Center NCP car parks (with expensive car parking charges) and Waitrose supermarket car parks. There is a regular problem with these dedicated parking spaces being occupied by non-electric cars with no desire for either the car park / supermarket or Chargemaster to do anything to enforce or prevent the situation. Also there are locations where Charging Stations have been installed in underground car parks that hardly ever can get the required 3G signal, as a result CAN'T work...
- PRICING Chargemaster are not completely at fault here. It is UK law that only licensed power companies can bill in kWh so it is not possible to bill usage of their chargers based on kWh dispensed, however they could offer a reduced hourly rate for 16A / 3.3kw cars vs the 32A / 6.6kw cars…..
- PARKING CHARGES In Southampton and Portsmouth, Chargemaster charging stations are located in NCP car parks that charge circa £2.90 for up to 2 hours charging; add on the £2.50 PAYG cost for one hours charging and this gets very expensive. Chargemaster need to make sure that there are no extra charges when people are using their charging network, be those parking charges or other.
I don’t think we can rule out the impact of release of the BMW i3 with it’s ChargeNow subscription offering. There are three levels of charging and maintenance packages for the BMW i3 all with a monthly cost. There would soon have been a negative kickback when a new i3 owner rolled up to find a LEAF owner charging for free whilst the i3 is paying £20pm for their Charge Now subscription.
I am hoping that with the investment of BMW in the ChargeMaster business and with this new charging model we will see an increase in charging station installation and technical support for the network. One response I get when talking about electric cars is “….but I live on the 3rd floor of a block of flats with only on-street parking”. Indeed one of my local cities, Portsmouth, is largely Victorian built terraces with ONLY on-street parking. Now if Chargemaster can start installing charging stations in these streets then I can see a business model where users pay the flat £20pm fee for unlimited charging. If we don’t address how to offer charging to houses without off-street parking then there is still a barrier to electric car adoption. This requires investment which is not currently in place via the Government OLEV (Office for Low Emission Vehicles) so has to come from the private sector.
On a personal level, 95% of my charging is at home and once a week I go and have a coffee and a charge at the local Nissan dealer. I have used Chargemaster / Polar chargers about 10 times in 2 years, and only as the chargers were in the same car park I was using. I would not pay to use the Chargemaster network unless I needed it. And I do have a trip in April where I may need to use one post in mid-Wales, but only as a backup. But then myself, and many current EV drivers, are not the target market, and that’s probably why so many ‘early adopters’ have reacted so strongly.
ChargeMaster also need to work on their PR and customer relations. Ecotricity have been superb in engaging with their customers; even when their network of free-to-use Rapid Chargers is clearly having reliability issues they man the phones, post updates to web site forums and Social Networks and act with responsibility and empathy with their customers. Hence their customers trust them. The pay-as-you charge market are for new EV drivers who have given up paying £200-£300 a month in petrol costs and see £20pm as a cheaper alternative.
ChargeMaster started badly with the CEO David Martell saying "Electric car drivers are rich and can to pay to charge" with expensive pay per charge schemes that were and soon dropped after very low take-up.
I have documented many instances of arriving at Polar / Chargemaster charging location showing live and available on their map only for it to be down. A Chargemaster post at WKB Toyota was flooded and down for 2 weeks, and relocated within the car park yet showed up as live and available on the Chargemaster live web site. There are also charging station in secure car parks (Southern Electric Havant) that the public are not allowed to use, yet showing as available on the map. Is that really worthy of a £20pm subscription service?
Better reliability, better customer service, more charging locations, protected EV only parking/charging spaces and no car parking charges. Corporate history is littered with companies who failed to listen to their customers.
Last week I was lucky enough to spend 48 hours with a BMW i3 BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle) car. My written review is on the way but here is my 30 min video blog of how this Nissan LEAF driver with 20,000 miles under his belt, go on
The upcoming VW Golf GTE plug-in hybrid has been revealed in these images leaked ahead of the vehicle’s official debut at the 2014 Geneva Motor Show.
Fittingly, the sporty PHEV Golf has been given a name that follows in VW’s tradition of GT + some other letter.
GTE, which stands for GT Electric, features a 148 hp 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine and a 107 hp electric motor.
Here’s a look at the specs:
- 0 to 60 mph: 7.6 seconds
- Electric-only range: 31 miles (NEDC)
- 8.8 kWh lithium-ion battery
- Top speed in electric mode: 81 mph
- Top speed: 135 mph
- Total range: 600 miles
- Recharging time of 2 hours 240-volt 16-amp
As we previously mentioned:
Now that we know that the GTE is being compared to the GTI, we perhaps can zone in on price. The VW GTI starts at a reasonable $25,000 in the US. A loaded GTI just barely cracks past $30,000. We suspect that VW will price the GTE above the GTI, but by how much?
While VW has release no further details on price, we get the sense that the GTE will be more expensive than a Nissan LEAF, but significantly cheaper than a BMW i3. We figure $35,000-ish US sounds fairly accurate.
The Golf GTE will make its way to the US in either late 2014 or early 2015.
Look for us to bring you more details from the GTE’s live reveal in Geneva in March.
Electric Cars are getting more and more popular but it's going to be some years until we see Petrol Cars gone for good. It's exciting to be on the leading edge of a technical revolution again and to really leap ahead a few years we held an event in October 2013 that will benefit all electric drivers as they switch across from Petrol.
Taking part in the day was founder & Patron of Zero Carbon World Kevin Sharpe and fellow EV driver David Peilow for the UKs first Electric Vehicle Supply Equpment (EVSE) Build Day. We built 32 Amp portable EVSE chargers. The whole event was followed live on Twitter using the hashtag #EVSEBuildDay.
A Portable EVSE will allow an Electric Car driver to connect to 'normal' electrical outlets found on Camp Sites, yachting marinas, commercial and hotels as well as the early Zero Carbon World Charging stations. This 32 Amp Commando Connection will allow a BMW i3 or a Leaf Mk 1.5 or a Tesla to charge at the full 32 Amps. Equally you could choose to fit a 16A commando plug, or indeed anything else you would like. Or build a simple 32A to 16A commando converter - we'll show you that as well!
An electric car, like the Nissan LEAF, comes with a charging cable (AKA EVSE brick) that trickle charges a Nissan LEAF at 10 Amps, meaning about 10 hours for a full charge. Using a dedicated charging station, or this Portable EVSE Charger, the same car could charge 60% faster at 16 Amps from a commando plug connection, and hence charges 60% quicker. If you have a BMW i3, or if you have paid £800 for the 6.6kWh charger in the Mk1.5 LEAF, you can charge at a full 32 Amps using this Portable EVSE, from a 32A Commando Connection reducing charging time to 4 hours.
As I built this myself I know that all the internal components are capable of charging at a full 32 Amps and have tested this on the new LEAF with 6kW charger.
Due to the modular design I know that I can swap out or upgrade any part of this charger; for instance if I were to change Electric car from Nissan LEAF to BMW i3 it's just a new plug on the end, everything else stays the same. Equally; I plan to install a switch that will allow me to vary the charge from 7 Amps to 32 Amps - really useful for charging from Renewable Energy like Solar PV panels, or simply 'turning down' the charge if connecting to an electrical outlet where you don't know the wiring.
A portable EVSE gives you the flexibility to charge where and how you want. It's an essential piece of kit for the roving EV driver! Here's the video of the build:
Politics is essentially the art of presentation and self preservation. So when the leader of the opposition Ed Miliband finally got the ear of the electorate, he sure as heck was not going to let it go. Energy Prices; it's been in the news for weeks. Every politician trying to appear on the side of the of the "Hard Working family" whilst ultimately knowing they are powerless to change anything. Now I am not going to drone on for paragraphs about privatisation or "The big 6" so let me keep this bullet point snappy:
- It's a market place the UK Gov can not control. There are 6 energy companies buying gas on an open market
- The UK does not have enough gas or fossil fuel to meet our current or future energy needs so we HAVE to import from other countries
- The UK has to COMPETE on the international energy market for that gas with every other developed and emerging country to get GAS
- We cant cut the 5% VAT off the fuel prices as it's against European Law
- Nuclear power maybe low carbon, but's it's waste lasts hundreds of years and we historically have built power stations next to the sea as lots of cheap cooling water but that did not work out well for Fukishima in Japan.
Today the front page of The Sun reads "Get rid of the Green Crap" a campaign it claims to have now won. Hearing that at 6am on Radio 4 as I tried to get back to sleep compelled me to this blog post as, on the face of it, it's victory for white van man.
Let's be crystal clear: The ONLY solution to the UK's energy situation is renewable energy and energy storage;
The more home grown energy we can produce the less of the expensive stuff we have to import. No it really is that simple. In Germany the average household pays HALF for their energy costs vs the UK. This is not due to any tabloid campaign, or sound bite, but the direct result of Government renewable energy incentives encouraging homes and industry to install huge amounts of renewable energy. The home owners get paid for what they generate via Feed in Tariffs and have free energy to power their homes. Germany's renewable energy revolution leaves the UK in the shade.
Energy storage is a bit more complex but lets compare Germany and UK again. Germany has 122 days of gas storage, the UK has 15. Not only is this a risk if something fails but it also leaves the UK hopelessly exposed to market fluctuations. You can't take advantage of cheap gas over the summer and store it for the winter if you only have 15 days of storage.
So when the chancellor stands up in a few days time to deliver his Autumn statement and 'slashes' the 5% of Green Taxes off Energy Bills we'll all be rejoicing at the £112 off our annual fuel bills right? Well yes a reduction in our energy bills is welcome relief but it actually changes nothing. The Government has already reassured the Renewables Industry that all current and future subsidies remain, nothing is being stopped in terms of Feed In Tariffs or Wind Farm support as a result of this PR stunt. It just comes from general taxation. It's just politics.
What remains a huge issue is the shambolic UK Energy Strategy. Unless the Government re-instates attractive subsidies for homeowners and industry to install renewable energy and thereby create their own energy reducing our dependency on imported energy then NOTHING CHANGES. The Energy Companies will keep making huge profits and we are still on track for 17 years of above inflation energy price hikes.
I have Solar PV electric panels and Solar Thermal Hot Water panels on my roof as I personally believe in home grown energy as the strategic solution to protect against future energy price rises. I will write a 2nd blog about why and how rather than take this piece of course.
This Sunday (20 Oct) a few of us are gathering for the UKs FIRST EVSE Build Day..... we will be Building 3 or 4 32 Amp PORTABLE EVSE chargers. The whole event will be recorded for publication to YouTube and we will be Tweeting through the day using the Twitter hashtag #EVSEBuildDay
The objective is to show just how simple an Electric Car Charging station is; essentially 3 components. The completed unit will be able to charge all current and future electric cars as you can choose what connectivity.
This Portable EVSE will allow an Electric Car driver to connect to 'normal' electrical outlets found on Camp Sites, yachting marinas, commercial and hotels as well as the early Zero Carbon World Charging stations. This 32 Amp Commando Connection will allow a BMW i3 or a Leaf Mk 1.5 or a Tesla to charge at the full 32 Amps. Equally you could choose to fit a 16A commando plug, or indeed anything else you would like. Or build a simple 32A to 16A commando converter - we'll show you that as well!
An electric car, like the Nissan LEAF, comes with a charging cable (AKA EVSE brick) that trickle charges a Nissan LEAF at 10 Amps, meaning about 10 hours for a full charge. Using a dedicated charging station, or this Portable EVSE Charger, the same car could charge 60% faster at 16 Amps from a commando plug connection, and hence charges 60% quicker. If you have a BMW i3, or if you have paid £800 for the 6.6kWh charger in the Mk1.5 LEAF, you can charge at a full 32 Amps using this Portable EVSE, from a 32A Commando Connection reducing charging time to 4 hours.
We will also be showing, in a 2nd advanced video, how to install a variable switch so you can vary the charge. For instance, if you have a Solar PV installation why not charge at 7 Amps without having to import electricity (dependent on the sun being out). OR imagine hooking up to a 3 pin socket where you don't know how robust the wiring is so reduce the charge to reduce a fire risk.
As a Nissan LEAF / BMW i3 / Vauxhall Ampera / Citroen C-Zero / Mistubishi iMiev driver this will give you the flexibility to charge where and how you want. It's an essential piece of kit for the roving EV driver!
The recording is taking place on Sunday 20th October. Video is planned to be released within a few days via YouTube; Tweets will be live throughout the day
Grant Thomas (me) - hosting the event and building one of the Portable Chargers. Nissan LEAF Mk1 Driver
Kevin Sharpe - Founder and Patron of the Zero Carbon World charity. Tesla Roadster Driver
David Peilow - EV Advocate, occasionally throws things in space. Vauxhall Ampera Driver
Richard Goldsmith - behind the lens for the day. Vauxhall Ampera Driver
All participants are volunteering their time for this venture.
We would have really wanted to include many more but wanted to get the video sorted first then there is always the possibility of future workshops; subject to the capacity of my double garage and good will of the Oh!
Some people got very excited when we first mentioned this. We will be putting warnings out there that playing with any electricity caries risk; however the skill level for this build is estimated akin to wiring a domestic plug.
The parts used to construct the kit will be available from the Zero Carbon World shop shortly.
"I'd love to know what you'd think after driving the car for a year" came the question from the audience as I presented my decision to choose an Electric Car at the 2012 IBM North Harbour Sustainability day. And it's a fair question for many seeking reassurance of this "brave new transportation world". A year is a long time to reconsider a passionate or hurried purchase. A years wear and tear can expose a flaw or a substandard product. Can the marketing hype be born out in reality? Has the sheen worn off the 100% Electric Nissan LEAF after living with it through four seasons? Is Range Anxiety a reality? Would I do it again?
That year is now up.
If you have never read any of my former blogs; a bit about myself, family and transport needs. I've been with IBM 18 Years and for the last 9 of those years I have been able to choose a company car from a free choice of makes and models. My previous 2 cars were on 4 year leases; a VW Golf MK5 TDi Sport followed by a Seat Altea XL (both with same 2L Diesel Sport engine). Our family requirements; we're a family of 5 with 3 kids ages ranging from 6-17 plus an English Springer Spaniel (so a full load!) I work full time from home but my partner commutes daily on a 35 mile round trip along the M27. Now rather than go through all the rationale as to why we chose a Nissan LEAF you can just refer back to my decision making blog here. You can also see a video of my first day with the car on YouTube. :
After a year, how do you find driving the LEAF every day?
We have blown the estimates for our annual mileage and have covered 14,432 miles in the LEAF in a year. I've had over 25 cars over the years and nothing quite prepares you for the smile when you drive an EV (Electric Vehicle) for the first time. That grin is still there 1 year on.
A 'normal' car is hopelessly inefficient at generating power. It wheezes and puffs and bangs to produce power and it's still not enough so a gearbox tries to scale it up and after all that showmanship only 20% of the fuel you put in makes the car move. The rest is wasted. An electric car simply has a battery, an inverter and a motor and 80% of that power goes instantly to the wheels as torque (or power). And there is nothing quite as satisfying as pulling up silently at a traffic lights next to some boy racer. Then leaving them standing as they struggle with gear changes, and their ego, the LEAF silently launches in a relentless surge off the line. With all it's eco credentials, it's something that was such a huge surprise. I'm not recommending that as a driving strategy but to every Top Gear spotty nosed teenager viewer who thinks you need many horses of power, don't forget its the torque that counts.
The LEAF is an utter joy to drive. It's smooth, quiet, refined and such an immensely relaxing drive. I use the steering wheel mounted digital cruise control the majority of the time and find the fact you can choose exactly lets's say 32mph is such a nice touch, especially through speed controlled roadworks. Out of our 2 cars I choose to drive the LEAF. I wait for it to get home before running errands. And Jo has commented (out of my earshot!) what a great car and how simple it is to drive. It's when you get back in an old ICE (internal Combustion Engine) car that you realise how unrefined and dirty and noisy it is.
What's the longest trip you have done in the LEAF?
Last November I was invited to be part of World Record Electric Vehicle convoy at Silverstone Race circuit. This required me to get from Emsworth to Northampton with the need to stop and charge on the way. It's a 140 mile trip, in November. Now the LEAF can recharge at a dedicated Rapid Charging station in under 30 mins. That's from flat to 80% charged. This would be my first trip where I was relying on what was then an emerging Rapid charging network. Thankfully things have changed a bit since then but last November there were very few places to Rapid Charge so I had backup charging plans and contingencies all over the place. I still have the spreadsheet on my desktop with the miles between stops and backup locations if anything was not working.
Now before any readers start with the 'oh thats far too much hassle' I don't mind being an early adopter of many things. I hope that the bumps and challenges I encounter, and then feedback, helps smooth things out for those who follow along after. And there many more Rapid Charging locations live now 10 months on but let's head back to last November.
I had planned my route with 2 Rapid Charge stops. "But can't the LEAF do 100 miles on a single charge?" I hear you cry. Well that car you drive now, remember when you first got it and the manufacturer claimed it would do 58 mpg or so, but you only get about 45 mpg on your daily drive?. Well that's because manufacturers use unrealistic measurements to achieve that MPG. The same is true of Electric Car range. They too can be affected my how you drive it, how heavy your right foot is and the speed at which they are driven. They also can be impacted by things like heating and lights in the winter months.
So whilst I did meet one driver who had driven up from Portsmouth to Silverstone only stopping once, I decided that I would like to go a reasonable speed and treat myself to some heat !! I Rapid Charged at West Way Southampton then at Waitrose Abingdon and made it to the hotel in Northampton with 30% battery remaining. Total cost of journey £0 . And the hotel had ordinary 3 pin sockets in their grounds for when they had outdoor events and the LEAF happily plugged in and trickle charged overnight. People forget it can just trickle charge from a 3 pin plug.
Are you forever hunting charging locations pent up with Range Anxiety?
I'll admit that I am now evangelical about Electric Cars; but the rest of the family are less so. Jo is bored of me talking about them, but thinks the LEAF is a great car. Our 17 year old, who watches at least 3 episodes of Top Gear a day on Dave, thinks unless the car is drifting sideways round a disused airfield making lots of noise it's not a car. And our 14 year old is mortally embarrassed that we have something different from her other friends and are tooooo eco. However whilst our 6 year old boy doesn't understand the environmental benefits or technical reasoning for an Electric Car, he knows how to plug it in, and happily talks about other LEAFs he saw on a recent trip to London. His generation will be the one that really make the switch.
The point is Jo drives the company car LEAF more than I do commuting 4 days a week in all weathers, so she knows what it can and can't do. She'll glance at the battery gauge and just drive. Yesterday case and point. She drove from home to Southampton General Hospital and back, plugged in for 45 mins then to Chichester and back in the evening (so lights on etc) and made it home with 2 bars / 20 miles remaining. Now I would have given myself more top up time, or parked and charged in Chichester but when you drive this car for a year through all the seasons you know what it can do, and you drive to that range. The car was plugged in at 10pm and at 2.15am this morning I got the normal email saying the car was 100% charged and ready to go again. So if you have a short journey then you can drive a little faster knowing that overnight it will be fully charged at home. If there's snow on the ground, and you're doing a longer journey then you drive more steadily using heat, lights etc. Again knowing that overnight at home it will fully charge and be ready to go.
So Range Anxiety can easily be overcome. We charge our car 99% of the time from home using a dedicated charging station. If you are in England and reading this before April 2015 you too can get a Free Electric Car charging station, even if you don't own an electric car yet.
I only Rapid Charge if on a longer journey or if on a return trip and I know I need to do another trip later in the day. And there is now a Rapid Charger 5 miles from home at WKB Nissan Waterlooville. So if I have 30 mins spare I'll nip up there and charge for free. In the last year the number of Rapid Chargers has 'Rapidly' grown. In the past month Fleet Services, both North and Southbound M3, have free to use (with free card) chargers which allows me to recharge on the way in or out of London, IKEA have just announced loads of planned installs with free to use provide Ecotricity.
Take a look for yourselves on : http://www.zap-map.com for all current installed chargers and this map from Ecotricity to see where they are installing free to use rapid chargers:
What lessons have you learnt over the year?
The biggest lesson learnt is how tied people are to NOT making the switch to Electric Cars. I have colleagues, friends and family, who I have lots of respect for, still baulk at the idea of stepping away from their petrol/diesel car. I find it quite frankly, bizarre.
I've presented and spoken about Electric Cars with a lot of people over the last year and I still thrive on the response I get. I've seen in an auditorium full of people "the lightbulb moment" or when the penny drops. "It's 90% cheaper to run, really?", "You mean you charge the whole battery in 30 minutes?" "You can run it for free of Solar, but I spend 綀a month on diesel". BUT in 12 months the reasons people choose not to make the switch to EVs have not altered one bit; they start talking about Range and 100 miles yet over 95% of their journeys. There's an Aunt in Norfolk or the annual vacation in the Lake District. To me it seems madness to drive a car that you only might need for 1 or 2 journeys a year and then for the other 360 days a year you could drive a car that is 90% cheaper to run. Why not drive a car that meets the majority of your needs and use a different car for those 1 or 2 times a year.
I priced it up yesterday. I could hire a small car for £26 a day. So having saved £2,500 by switching from a diesel to an electric car just spend £26 to do that one long trip. OR just make allowance that you need to grab a coffee while the LEAF is on charge for 30 minutes at one of the many Rapid Chargers.
The LEAF has four speeds of charging:
- Rapid Charge - 80% of the battery in 30 min
- Fast 32 Amp charge - Optional extra on the UK 2013 Built LEAF - charges the car in 4 hours
- Fast 16 Amp charge - Charges the car in 6 hours (this is the how I charge at home)
- Trickle 3 pin plug charge - 8 hours ish
Do the savings really add up?
This decision to drive a LEAF was initially a financial considered purchase, the driving experience came as an enormous surprise! With ٞRoad Tax, ٞLondon Congestion Charge, ٞCompany Car Tax and cheaper servicing costs it came out cheaper to drive than many other cars I could have chosen.
It costs less than £2 a night to charge this car from flat to full. In reality it costs us £1 a night to charge it up as we rarely run it that low. Install some Solar Panels on your house and not only will you get a 20 year tax free income from the Government but you could use that generated electricity to power your car. That's what we do and for 10 months of the year we generate electricity more than the car uses to charge. Free driving? However, even without Solar PV panels on your house there are still 90% savings to be have by making the switch to an electric car.
I'm the kind of person who makes up spreadsheets to validate such decisions. It costs about £1,900 a year to drive 10,000 miles in a frugal diesel car. It costs about £200 a year in electric to do the same if you 100% charge at home on a standard online Tariff. It's that simple, you can drive as you do today but wiping out the dependency on yo-yo fuel prices. And with no messy oil or fuels or sparkplugs, servicing is much less as well.
Now if 90% savings are not enough:
- Choose an Economy 7 tariff and you could save 30% on that electric cost by using cheap off peak electric
- Install renewable energy and potentially charge your EV for free
- You can FIX your electric cost. Imagine fixing the price of Diesel for 12 months....
- Use a Rapid Charger or charge at work for free
- There is no duty on domestic electric and only 5% VAT.
Financial Winner: ELECTRIC CAR
Electric Cars are only useful as a second car "run-around"
Apart from the Nissan LEAF we have a Volkswagen EOS 2.0 TDi Sport as a personal car. We got this 2 years ago and it's a really great car, especially in the summer with the roof down. HOWEVER, since taking delivery of the LEAF a year ago:
- The VW EOS has done 2,500 miles
- The LEAF has done 14,400 miles
- We only use the EOS when we both need to drive
I loathe putting £65 of diesel in the EOS so I positively choose to wait until the LEAF is home. As such the VW EOS only gets filled up every couple of months.
"Who are you trying to fool, it's not that green? Still needs power to drive the thing?"
Electric Cars are by far the most environmentally friendly switch that many of us could make. They remove cancer causing fumes from street level by emitting ZERO emissions whilst being driven. Electric Cars are normally charged overnight when the National Grid is emitting the lowest level of emissions. BUT even if you did plug an Electric Car to charge up from a dirty coal fired power station it would still only use 40g/km of CO2.
Now a car like the Volkswagen Golf Bluemotion has a CO2 figure of 119g/km of CO2 but that's just what it emits whilst it's driving. To make a fair comparison you have to use the "well to wheel" argument that is the amount of fuel it takes to :
- Drag the oil out the ground
- Store it
- Transport it
- Store it
- Ship it
- Store it
- The massive amounts on energy used to refine crude oil
- Store it
- Transport it
- Store it
- Transport it
- Store it
- And THEN put it in a car
It's actually about 450 - 500g/km of CO2 for a modern efficient family car vs 40h/km if you charged it from the dirtiest power station. And what's more you can choose a company like Green Energy or Ecotricty and charge your Electric Car from 100% Renewable Energy, or generate your own electricity. The poor old petrol car has no choice, it has to get it's fuel from a petrol station where the price is fixed by a cartel called OPEC and which the government then applies huge fuel duty and VAT tax levies.
"But when Jeremy Clarkson had a LEAF and a Tesla on Top Gear it ran out of battery. So Electric Cars are crap!"
Jeremy Clarkson is a baffoon. Top Gear is an entertainment show, not a consumer advice programme, unless you think driving a Smart Car off a cliff or firing cars at caravans in a disused quarry is meaningful journalistic research.
If you were to drive a Ferrari F40 Sports Car round the Top Gear track it will achieve only 1 mile per gallon. it would only have half the range of an Electric Car. But they don't mention that it. If you were to run out of petrol in the middle of the countryside you are probably 30 miles from your nearest petrol station where as an electric car could plug into the farmers cottage, they skip over that as well.
"Yeah but that silly Tesla Roadster ran out of battery and had to get pushed off the Top Gear track, ha ha snort ha". No it didn't. Tesla representatives where there and drove the car off the track with lots of battery remaining, After an official complaint Top Gear published a small apology saying that the piece demonstrated what WOULD happen if an electric car runs our of power. They just never show a petrol car running of petrol 30 miles from the nearest petrol station.
The BBC has been really poor on it's electric car coverage with plenty of factual errors and contradictions. HOWEVER, even the Surrey Baffoon himself conceded that the Electric Merc Super car on the last series was great "for when the oil ran out" and even Radio 4's Costing The Earth programme yesterday was positive speculating if this really is the time for EVs. The media tide MIGHT be beginning to turn.
It's a looks like an old dears car!
Yes this one surprised me when I heard it, beauty is in the eye of the beholder I guess. I love the LEAF and a year ago we were a select bunch of 1,500 cars in the UK (that's now doubled in number), so when you see one it's normally lots of waving and such.
But whilst all my experiences talk of the Nissan LEAF there's a lot of other electric cars out there or about to come to market including:
- The BMW i3 launching November with a 100 mile electric range but a 180 mile extended range option with a small petrol generator under the bonnet. Prices from £25k
- The Renault Zoe - Fiesta sized, again about 100 miles with prices starting at £14k + battery lease
- Vaxhall Ampera/ Chevrolet Volt - 40 mile electric then a petrol generator allowing up to 250 miles range. £30k price tag
- The Tesla Model S - pure electric up to 7 seats and 300 mile range launching in UK later this year prices £55k+
- VW Golf Blue-e-motion: Fully electric Golf with sophisticated regen breaking - launching Frankfurt motor show
But the Battery will not last and cost a fortune to replace
No they don't. There's a LEAF in the USA that has 70k miles and all 12 capacity bars still intact. There are 2 cars in the UK that I know about with over 40k miles in 2 years and have no loss in capacity. Nissan has increased the warranty on it's battery pack that the car will retain 9 out of the 12 bars (approx 70%) for 5 years or 100,000 kilometres, whichever comes first. That is capacity not power. By the time anyone needs to think about reconditioning the battery pack this will be no more painful than a changing a clutch on a petrol car. And what happens to the battery packs after they are no longer used; well first up they can be reconditioned but they also make perfect renewable energy stores, so you can store all that free electric from Solar Panels during the day and power your house overnight. Joined up thinking.
If something sounds too good to be true......
OK here's the reality check. I was NEARLY stranded once due to a dealer telling me at 10am the Rapid Charger was working and when I arrived at noon it was not [Link to story]. And right now there are a number of charging providers requiring different cards to charge and there is no one single web page listing ALL charging points. But these are growing pains. I have not ONCE been stranded. And with so many new charging points coming online it so much more advanced in just 1 year.
"Would you choose an electric car ever again?"
I write this article in late August 2013; the Nissan LEAF has sold twice the number of cars already in the UK vs 2012; the incredible Tesla Model S with its 300 mile all electric range outselling Porsche and Range Rover in California and has JUST launched in Europe.
I recall as clear as yesterday trying to explain to my Nan and Mother in 1996 why I had developed my first web site Emsworth OnLine on this thing called the internet, just before it took off. Or as recent as 2 years ago trying to justify installing Solar PV to a room full of folks who really thought a new kitchen was a better application of funds; then the government slashed the Feed In Tariffs weeks after my install. I'm a Realistic Optimist. There is now considerably more interest in Electric Cars than a year ago, BMW stepping into the ring has made Mr Mainstream sit up and many more people have engaged in dialogue with me rather than just me banging on about how great Electric Cars are.
I spent a year in the Motor Trade before joining IBM 18 years ago, people are INCREDIBLY passionate about their cars. Getting people out of dirty petrol cars to electric cars will takes lots of time with many carrots and sticks. The charging network we need for long journeys is still rolling out. The range of the cars on the market is increasing and new models are on their way. Yet if you make that switch now you will get the ٣k grant and free charging station from the government but you will NEVER have to pull into a petrol station again.
Every single one of us will be driving an electric car (of some sort) in the future. Anyone who differs from that conclusion does not understand the issues, has their head in the sand or is called Jeremy Clarkson. My VW EOS, a great car, is doing 2k miles a year and depreciating by ٠k a year, it's pointless holding onto it. So it's going. And in it's place a Japan built Mk1 Pearl White Nissan LEAF is on the shopping list. Exactly the same as the LEAF we drive today. We will have a matching pair.
To answer those questions in your head right now. Here's the strategy:
- Our company car Nissan LEAF has 2 years left to run on it's lease. This would be replaced in 2015 with an Extended Range Electric Car like the BMW i3, or similar. This would allow us to drive 180 mile on an electric motor, 100 miles using the battery and 8 0 miles using the small 4 cylinder petrol BMW motorbike engine as a generator. It rapid charges like the LEAF (on AC rather than DC) and with a petrol backup you have that flexibility.
- Yes there is a UK built new Nissan LEAF, I drove it last week and it does have a slightly better range and the drive is certainly better than the Mk1 Jap built car. However, to get the same level of equipment as in the Mk1 LEAF you need to be looking at the middle or top level of trim and we are now fast approaching £25k level
- Right now there are over 150 nearly new LEAFs on Auto Trader. Most have less than 10,000 miles on the clock and prices start at £12k
- If we need to do a long journey before August 2015 we either use a Rapid Charger or hire a car for the day for £26
So today you can purchase a 2 year old electric car, with all the technology for a saving of 66% against it's original price. Purchase that from a Nissan Dealer and you'll get a 2 year warranty and 2 year free servicing (usually 12 months). And with ٞroad tax, ٞcongestion charge the only thing you have to pay is insurance, for me that's under £200 a year. Which is exactly what I plan to do........
Amazing weather for Renewable Energy; in the past 10 days our Solar PV has produced 251 kWh, thats £121 tax free from the Gov via Feed-In-Tariff, and enough free electric to drive over 1,200 miles in the all Electric Nissan LEAF.
As for the Solar Thermal Hot Water well the Gas Boiler was turned off in May and a on typical day I turn the overnight electric immersion off at 7am, the morning showers use most of the top half of tank then Solar Thermal will heat the whole 250 litres to 60+ degrees during the day ready for the evening water demands, for free. Then immersion goes back on at 10pm for overnight top up ready for the morning. Plus on Friday they finally published the rates for Solar Hot water so another £400+ a year coming from that starting next spring.
Currently costing £1.80 a day in Gas & Electric for a family of 4 / 5 to cook, wash, work, play, and commute to work. And even that figure is wiped out by the electric Feed In Tariff.
Sharing as it sometimes helps to hear from folks that 'walk the talk' rather than the companies that try and sell you stuff. Happy to answer questions, share and discuss as ever
When's the last time you switched deodrant brand, or your favourite shops underwear? I don't mean to be overly personal but us humans are creatures of habit, we get used to something and then the grocery store moves where our favourite breakfast cereal has been for the past 3 years, and now its 6 aisles away. We don't like change. I'd like to think that after 8 years of working in day job that involves implementing change I'm more flexible but we all have our individual routines and preferences.
So when the opportunity came up to drive a different electric car; how much could I park my Nissan LEAF driving habbits and try and approach the Vauxhall Ampera without precedence. It's pretty much impossible. We've driven 13,000 miles in the Nissan LEAF in just under 11 months and we both really like how it drives in all weather and conditions, the only
limitation consideration is that for longer journeys every 80 -100 miles to stop and charge it up in under 30 mins. With the Vauxhall Ampera you don't have to; it has a 40 mile electric battery and a petrol generator that powers the electric motor when the battery runs out.
The Vauxhall Ampera is in fact a re-badged Chevrolet Volt, GM;'s response to the charge of Nissan and the Electric Car. On the surface the Ampera and its mechanical twin appear somewhat different, but underneath their skin they're practically identical. Built alongside the Volt in Hamtramck, Michigan, the two differ only by means of front and rear fascias, wheel designs, and some interior trim. Beneath the skin, both share the same 16-kWh lithium-ion battery pack, and the same 1.4-liter turbocharged I-4, which primarily serves as a so-called range extender
"You mean a hybrid then?". No, no, no. Big difference. A hybrid uses a petrol engine for propulsion with a bit of battery assistance at low speed. The Ampera is an Electric Car with an Electric Motor (drive-train); the petrol engine is just their to charge the battery.
"Well you're a bafoon for choosing the LEAF a year ago then aren't you?" Not so fast. The Vauxhall Ampera was absolutely on my short list of cars and my reasons for not choosing it then are as sound as my reasons now for still recommending the Nissan LEAF ahead of the Ampera as this review will hopefully point out.
So we've had the Ampera for 4 days and tomorrow it goes back - our longest journey in a day was 90 miles and we have charged at home and out and about the same as we would do our Nissan LEAF, or I say nearly as normal. 40 miles isn't enough range for a battery mode. You are forever looking at when the battery power will run out and you have to start using the oil juice. I was speaking to an Ampera driver a couple of days ago about a meeting coming up and he readily said that he would not be able to make it there and back on one charge and would have to plug in. People who drive Chervrolet Volts / Vauxhall Amperas are range obsessed, there's even a 50 mile club for those that have squeezed this milestone of mobility whereas the LEAF does that 50 and keeps going to 70, 80 or more miles.
I found myself doing a 20 mile round trip then rushing to plug in as half the battery was gone, thats just not EV driving. The Ampera has nearly the same size battery asa Mitsubishi iMeiev / Citroen C-Zero type car but only does half the miles due to hauling around all that extra weight of engine and fuel.
Now this is not a Ampera bashing blog, there are many things I did like about the car, the electric motor IS quieter than the LEAF, it also squats down low, handles better and has a much more aggressive look about it than the 'happy' LEAF. But let's just get my list of niggles out there:
- With its super low ride, the rubber skirts under the front bumper hit just about every speed hump, or car park ramp that you encounter
- You can feel every bump and ridge on the road - a far more hunkered down drivers feel - trying to take a non-blurry camera shot when the car is in motion is near impossible.
- It's a cramped cockpit with little headroom and annoyingly big A and B pillars couple that with black leather seats, black dash and door panels and charcoal grey console make this is a dark place.
- My biggest issue - usability. Whoever designed the infotainment system and the ridiculous center console, more akin to an aircraft cockpit, should be rounded up and issued out the door. It's bad. Buttons randomly vomited over the centre console with no logic to when you twist or push buttons to try and change options or radio channels. Ampera is the ZX Spectrum to the LEAFs Apple-type touchscreen interface, they are poles apart. At the end of the 4 days I had just about got to grip the sequence of buttons you had to press to make things happen. Think 'Simon Says' game.
- Acceleration - theres a noticeable lag between depressing the accelerator and response compared to the LEAF, you get used to it but the drive train is not as smooth as the LEAF
- Brakes - theres an audible clunk when they applied at low speed, functional but quite un-refined
- No Telematics service - so no preheating the car from your iPhone while laying in bed, no monitoring charging or sending maps to the car from your home computer. I would really miss this after the LEAF.
- REALLY LOUD REVERSING BEEPS and front beeps, this may be configurable but lept out of skin upon first invocation
- There is only one charging socket that charges as 10amps through the supplied EVSE cable or 16 Amps if you have a charging station. Put your feet up for a 6 hour wait before you can drive this car another 40 miles on Electric. The LEAF can recharge via a DC Rapid Charger in under 30 mins and you can drive another 80-100 miles before stopping again. You cannot drive long journeys on the Ampera without using the petrol engine, which kinda sucks. Also the new LEAF can charge at 32 Amps from a charging station at home thats down to 4 hours for a full charge to go twice the Ampera distance.
- Only 4 seats - big, big issue for us and unworkable for us as a family of 5 and one of the key reasons we did not go for this car last year
- The Ampera used a lot more juice to charge than the LEAF for less range. I have a kWh meter connected to my home charging station and the readings over the 4 days were much higher though I did not record daily mileage to give an accurate recording.
Jo summed it up today when she said, "Its a really comfy car to be a passenger in but way too big to drive". Compared to the light, airy LEAF it does have a stretched NASCAR look and feel about it but with a pretty small passenger cabin. One last issue, the price. The demonstrator is the top of the range issue with heated seats etc and comes in at a weighty £33,995 (after £5k UK Gov Subsidy). That is just bonkers. The LEAF is now £9k cheaper than this for it's top of the range model complete with Telematics (log into your car from your iPhone) and double the electric range.
HOWEVER, 95% of UK drivers do less than 40 miles a day; therefore you could drive the Ampera using it's battery range for most journeys with the reassurance that if you wanted to drive longer without stopping occasionally you could do so without the worry of charging. Our longest trip over the 4 days was 90 miles and the battery ran out after 40 miles. We used 2.72 litres of fuel which works out at about £3.70 in petrol for that trip. Had we of found somewhere to plug it in and waited 6 hours we could have made the return journey for free, at which point you pay accept the £3.70 fuel cost as an infrequent trip. Dashboard worked that out to be 120ish MPG.
Given all the above issues, we liked the Ampera and in 2015 when our Lease on the Nissan LEAF is up may very well consider it's sister, the Chevrolet Volt which has a much lighter interior and more modest pricing structure. However I would not be without the LEAF and would buy one and choose the Chevy Volt as it's long running mate. The Nissan LEAF is a far better designed and executed Electric Car with a smoother drive and a really usable interface to a colossal amount of tech. The Chevy Volt / Ampera is GM's response to this threat and it is a great, great start.
Could I recommend the Vauxhall Ampera / Chevrolet Volt? IF
1) You already have a LEAF or
2) You're a travelling salesman.
It's a low slung, fast, fun EV that is comfortable and ideal to have for the longer journeys, but it's massively overpriced, short on range and way too slow to recharge. It would be great if there were some competition in the Extended Range Vehicle (ERV) space.....