A Roadtrip Gone Wrong

I hear it all the time… EVs are no good for long trips, the charging infrastructure isn’t there, what is the point of EVs if you can only use them for short journeys. Well Nissan have installed a fast charger network at the Nissan EV dealers and so I thought I would give it a try and see if these criticisms of EVs were true.

Before I start, it must be said that not all EVs are equal in this respect. The Tesla Roadster has a range of well over 200 miles and due to the efforts of a few Telsa owners and enthusiasts there is a national network of chargers that are suitable for charging the Tesla now. However, these chargers are not usable with the current crop of EVs such as the Nissan Leaf or Mitsubishi I-Miev. At least, the Tesla fast charge capability is not usable and it is the ability to fast charge in minutes, not hours, that make road trips feasible.

On paper my proposed trip was very straightforward: from my home in Saltash to Exeter (50 miles) to Wincanton (60 miles) to Southampton (60 miles) and then return. All the legs are easily within the range of the Nissan Leaf on an 85-90% charge from a fast charger.

So what happened…

The legs to Exeter and Wincanton went well. Fast charging at each location was easy, quick (under 30 mins) and uneventful. I had called ahead to each dealer asking if the charger was working and letting them know I was on the way. In both cases they had ensured that the charge point bay was clear and ready to accept me. The free coffee was welcome too! This is how the system should work. Easy, hassle-free. If there were a network of fast chargers such as this dotted around the country all within say, 75 miles of each other, then long-distance travel would be simple and easy even in an EV with a nominal range of 80-100 miles such as the Nissan Leaf. However, things did not go quite so well at Southampton.

The trip to Southampton was the same as before: uneventful. I called ahead again to ask if their charger was working: it was. I asked if they could ensure that the charging bay was clear as I was now running a little tight on time as I had spent a little too much time talking at Exeter and Wincanton. They said they would.

On my arrival I was disappointed immediately: the charging bay was blocked by several cars. They hadn’t cleared the bay as they said they would. This was going to take a good 10 minutes to clear: time I really didn’t have. After clearing these cars I drove into the bay and plugged in the fast charger. It failed with some error messages on the screen. Someone came out to look at it who clearly didn’t know what they were doing but tried to power off the charger without success and eventually someone came out who knew what to do. After several attempts and a phone call they concluded that the charger had failed and needed an engineer to attend to fix it. Now I am stuck. My only charging options are all slow and that will require an overnight stop. Something I neither wanted nor was prepared for.

So there I am, in Southampton without an overnight bag and without any transport. You would imagine that the dealership would be aware of my predicament and offer to help. They didn’t. In fact they just left me there, standing by my car wondering what to do. I went in and started to explain my position and although they were not unfriendly I got the impression they did not consider me to be someone they had any inclination to put themselves out to help.

There was a Pod Point charging post about 7 miles away and as it was apparently near a hotel and shops I thought it more sensible to charge there rather than at the dealer which was a taxi ride to anywhere. So I asked the salesman in the dealer to call the store where the Pod Point was sited to check they were operational. They were and so I set off. I had plenty of charge to get me there but it was doubtful I could get back to the dealer without some kind of charge but hey! I had checked with the store… they were working so no problem. They were not working! The store manager had no idea why I was told that they were working because they had been non-operational for months! Now my only option was to get back to the dealer and charge up there overnight. The store manager was kind enough to allow me an hour of charging in his delivery bay (against his rules I suspect so thanks to him) and I returned to the dealer.

I put the car into their workshop and charged up over night while I blagged a lift to the hotel from the salesman. I know that it depends entirely on the individuals involved but I felt I could have been offered more support from the dealer. One of the salesmen was helpful when asked but no one really offered help or recognised my predicament. I am a pretty resilient fellow and can cope with these kinds of issues but if I were not, this experience could have been quite stressful and difficult. Dealers really must be more aware of these kinds of issues in my opinion and be more proactively supportive and helpful in these situations.

The next day I got a taxi to the dealer and the rest of the day went smoothly. The trips to Wincanton and Exeter went well and the fast chargers there performed faultlessly… just the way they should. I was back home by 1pm.

This whole experience has had a twin effect for me. On the one hand it shows that when the fast chargers are working longer distance travel in an EV with a nominal 75 mile range is not only possible but easy and effective. Given a national fast charge network of fast chargers within 75 miles of each other on major routes the whole issue of limited range would diminish into almost insignificance and EVs would become more attractive as main or only cars. On the other hand, when a fast charger fails unexpectedly it can become a nightmare. How many people can accept an unplanned overnight stop in a hotel in this way? I was doing my trip as a test of the system and had no deadlines. Nor was I unwilling to pay for a night in a hotel with associated taxi and food costs. To most people this kind of mishap and delay would be unacceptable.

So, until the fast chargers become reliable I suggest to all EV owners that we should use the current fast charge network with extreme caution. Be prepared for an unexpected overnight stop at any of the fast charger locations or have a backup plan should one fail. I was unlucky that a charger that had been working to that point just suddenly failed and I accept that this may not happen very often. The problem is that if it does then you are immediately facing an unexpected overnight charge… so be prepared.

One final note before wrapping up this report. The Nissan Leaf and Mitsubishi I-Miev are not designed for long distance travel and we should recognise that. However, until longer trips are possible electric vehicles will be confined to local duty and that is a shame. They are so cheap to run and pleasurable to drive that why shouldn’t we want to use them for occasional longer trips? Nissan has provided a fast charge network and I am sure that more fast chargers will be installed in the coming years so why shouldn’t longer trips be possible? I believe they must become possible if electric vehicles are ever to become accepted by the general public. A reliable fast charge network capable of charging the current crop of EVs is essential.

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