One of the things that has become very clear to me during my six week trial of the Nissan LEAF (thanks to the GoUltraLow campaign) is that “range anxiety” is a very real phenomenon. I’m used to driving a car with a 350 mile range on a full tank of petrol, and when my trip computer tells me I have 70 or 80 miles range left I start thinking it’s time to fill up again. Every morning of driving the Nissan LEAF I would switch it on and it would show me that the battery was 100% full, and my expected range was somewhere between 80 and 90 miles. I found it quite a big change to be driving a car which starts the day with a range that would normally trigger me to find a petrol station fairly soon. As I said in my full review of the Nissan LEAF I found that on the whole the car’s range was fine for our lifestyle and we had no concerns with our day to day driving – commuting, travelling to nearby towns, kids activities, shopping etc. We would drive the car around during the day, plug it in to charge up overnight, and it would be ready to go again the next morning. That was all very well, but I felt that to truly test all aspects of the car we should also try a longer run, a journey that would require us to use the network of public charging facilities to charge “on the go”.
When the LEAF was first delivered to us we received a detailed handover from the lovely James from Nissan, and one of the things he insisted that we do was drive to our nearest public charge point and make sure we could use it. He assured us that most Waitrose stores now have charging facilities; but the Waitrose in our town is only small and hasn’t got them yet. So we ended up heading down the M6 to use a rapid charger at the nearest service station. We managed a quick charge to reassure ourselves that everything worked, and then headed home again.
There are a few complications when it comes to charging an electric car when out and about. First of all, much like petrol stations, there are several different suppliers of electricity charging units across the UK. Unlike petrol stations, each network requires you to have a network-specific ID card to “unlock” the charger and allow you to charge your car. In general these ID cards require a nominal annual fee (in the £10-£20 range) to operate. Also unlike petrol stations the networks seem quite regional – we have found that all the charging points in Greater Manchester appear to be operated by Charge Your Car, whereas all the points in the Midlands are operated by Plugged In Midlands. And the motorway service station points tend to be operated by Ecotricity. So depending on where you live, you may end up needing to carry several different ID cards in order to charge your car on the go. And if each one is £10-£20 per year, the costs can add up there as well.
Our first attempt to make a long journey that might need additional charging was a day trip to Alton Towers. We attended a publicity event at the Alton Towers Hotel, and then spent the afternoon in the theme park. Alton Towers is about 40 miles from our house, so given that the LEAF was showing us a predicted range of 80-90 miles from a full charge I thought we should be just able to make the journey there and back on a single battery charge. In case that didn’t work out we had a contingency plan of stopping at one of the Services on the M6 to use a fast charger there. I drove to Alton Towers in the same way as I would my normal petrol car – I did 70 mph on the motorway and dual carriageways. I was expecting the 40 mile journey to take about half of the battery, so I was quite surprised to arrive at Alton Towers with only 34% of the battery left – certainly not enough to get home, and I was worried it wouldn’t even get me to my planned contingency charging location. Unfortunately Alton Towers don’t have any public charging facilities (yet – it would be great if they did install them), but the staff were fantastic when we asked if we could borrow a mains socket to recharge the car, and allowed us to do so. When we got back to the car after a day of fun at the theme park, the battery had charged to 99% full, and we got home without any further stops.
We were subsequently advised by Nissan that we would have seen longer battery life if we had kept the speed at or below 65mph. We have tested that out, and yes, it definitely makes a difference to how long the battery lasts. Lesson learnt!
Towards the end of my six week trial period we visited some friends in South Wales for the weekend. Whilst the Alton Towers experience had left me quite nervous of the range of the LEAF I wanted to give it another go – partly because our friends wanted to see the car, and partly because I felt I hadn’t had a good attempt at charging on the go yet. With the assistance of a map of charging points and the GoUltraLow and Nissan teams we tried really hard to plan a route with stops to charge every 60 miles or so, which would have meant two stops on our 130 mile journey. Unfortunately we came up against a problem with the charging networks. Most if not all of the charging points on our route were operated by Plugged in Midlands, who were having issues with their ID cards and were not able to issue new ones for three weeks. That put the scuppers on the whole plan, and we made the journey in my trusty Nissan Note instead.
The closest I came to public charging was when I took a trip to the Trafford Centre with the kids. We located the charging points easily enough (the LEAF’s Sat Nav led me right to them), but discovered that we didn’t have the right ID card for the network. So we couldn’t charge the LEAF, but we did manage to park next to another LEAF which was charging.
Despite not having much success at travelling long distance with the LEAF, I do feel like our experiences have given me a good insight into what it would be like to take a long road trip in an electric car. It takes a lot more organisation than we’re used to with our petrol car – you need to plan your route in advance and also make sure you register with any relevant charging networks in advance. The electric charging network is bigger than I expected it to be, and growing on a daily basis. I was certainly more cautious about the prospect of a long journey with the LEAF due to having young children in the car, but I think as electric car battery ranges improve and the charging network matures this will become less of an issue. I can’t help thinking that life can’t have been too dissimilar for the early adopters of the petrol motor car – our existing network of petrol stations didn’t appear overnight, and in the early days drivers must have had to know where their nearest petrol supply was. It feels like the electric charging network is still in its infancy, and it really can only get better from here – and it is getting better fast, as we saw several more charging points appear on the map in the six weeks we were driving the LEAF.
If you want to read some other perspectives on charging an electric car on the go, then I think you might enjoy Actually Mummy’s blog about charging an electric car in London and Grant Thomas’ blog about his 600 mile round trip in a Nissan LEAF. Both of these blogs show that you can have successful long journeys in an electric vehicle.
About the #GoUltraLow campaign
I am one of five bloggers participating in the #GoUltraLow campaign. Each of us has been given a different vehicle to test, and we’ve all been sharing our experiences on our blogs. If you want to find out more about the other cars, here’s where you can find them:
- Juggle Mum tested the Vauxhall Ampera
- Mari’s World tested the BMW i3
- Actually Mummy tested the Renault Zoe and
- Mummy Barrow tested the Toyota Prius Plugin.
‘Go Ultra Low’ is a consumer campaign to help motorists understand the benefits, cost savings and performance features of the wide range of ultra low emission vehicles (ULEV) available today, including electric, plug-in hybrid and extended range vehicles. The campaign was launched by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and is backed by the government and leading car manufacturers BMW, Nissan, Renault, Toyota and Vauxhall. More information is available on the Go Ultra Low website, where you can also book a test drive of an ultra low emission vehicle.
Disclosure: We have been lent a Nissan LEAF for 6 weeks as part of the #GoUltraLow campaign. All opinions are my own.