We have been off the radar for a while. Attribute it to winter and waiting for the arrival of our electric vehicle (EV) which was a floating (it was coming by sea) date.
June was the scheduled month of arrival. When was the ‘million dollar question’ the agents did not seem prepared to commit too. Finally, last week we received the call, it was ready for collection. Collection was to take place 517km south of Kerikeri at Taupo in the central North Island. That is 517km closer to the South Pole in the middle of winter, time to dig deep into old clothing to see if we had any warmer attire that we hadn’t disposed of.
We had one last fossil fuel drive to Auckland in the Suzuki and then did something rather unusual for us in our own country, we caught a bus, from Auckland to Taupo. Yet another new experience which I have to say was far more pleasant than our last bus trips in Laos and Cambodia. We decided that it is probably a reasonable option for some of our bike trips (to start and from finish). I inspected the luggage holds and they looked very ‘folding bike friendly’.
Taupo greeted us with freezing light rain that actually did freeze on the footpaths. The next morning while walking into town we agreed that living in the Far North had erased all of our childhood memories of dealing with icy paths in times where we had no choice on where we lived. We looked like a couple of geriatrics hobbling along the path holding onto each other, just in case the legs decided to head off uncontrollably in the wrong direction. We had left our normal walking footwear and home and were totally underprepared for the conditions. ‘Shoe chains’ were required.
At the duly appoint hour we picked up our Renault Zoe R90. We were given a ‘thorough’ introduction to the key differences of our electric vehicle like:
- No key – you switch it on – that one takes a little getting used too
- No noise – very strange, “ready” shows on the dashboard and a little-mobile-phone like alert sounds but there is nothing else to suggest that anything has happened.
- That initial sensation of moving without any sound is odd but once going the road noise kicks in.
- You plug it in rather than pour petrol into it. This requires planning your trips – charges are not ubiquitous like petrol stations.
- No fuel gauge, temperature gauge, rev counter – just an available range which is not really to be taken as gospel.
That was all fine but there were a few other issues that were foremost on my mind, like; getting back to Auckland without having to face the embarrassment of a flat battery in the middle of nowhere.
That seemed a hard question to get a straight answer too . Firstly, the reading for the available range in kilometres was not going to be accurate until the car worked out what sort of driver I was. “Should be good by the time you get back to Kerikeri“.
“How long will it take to charge”? “Depends upon the type of charging station you hook up too“.
“What about the navigation system, I understand it shows me what chargers are available in the available car range”? “Well yes but the car is loaded with UK maps only, you will need to go to a Renault dealer to get those updated“. Well at least we had a backup on the phone.
“Do all chargers have our type of plugs”? This was a question that seems really difficult to get a straight answer to and I was not surprised when the answer was vague. There was an app that showed good coverage for our car when I first filtered it on our model. However, I found out that those setting were wrong and when I manually updated the filter the results made our trip look a little more challenging.
Oh well, we had been thrown into ‘far deeper water’ when we acquired Agnes, our cruising launch, this was far less life threatening if we got it wrong. A red face and no doubt being the butt of a few jokes was nothing compared to appearing in drowning statistics.
The next morning we left Taupo feeling inadequately prepared and with only an 80% charge.
We decided to play it safe and would top up at the first available charging station that hopefully worked with our car, at Cambridge some 128km along the road. We quickly found out that it is not just the terrain that you are travelling over that chews through your battery but also having to use lights in thick fog and having the heater on to combat a -5c temperature outside. Apparently batteries don’t like exceeding cold weather and punish you by reducing their range.
A small positive was, that while I freaked out at the rapid drop in range as we drove up the many hills our country in blessed with, I got to de-freak going down the other side as power went back into the battery, pretty much leaving us only a little lower in range than when we started up a hill. I started to actually wish for heavy traffic where a lot of breaking was a big power positive.
We made Cambridge and I was relieved that we had chosen to be conservative. The charge point was compatible with our vehicle and even better, the power and parking were free. It must be some sort of a compensation for the hassles of being an early(ish) adopter. Another positive was that we finally had a reason to stop in a town that we had only ever sped through and we had a bit of time to kill (it takes longer to fill-up with power than petrol). We wandered around the town which was surprisingly pleasant but a little chilly. Found a place for lunch and by the time we got back to the car it was fully charged and Ruth had picked up some wool at a trendy little store she found. I dropped a pin on the charging station and she dropped a pin on the wool store. I did note when leaving that the other available EV charging park was used by petrol vehicles as a car park – best I keep some paper and pen in the car so that I can educate them on why it needs to be left vacant for desperate EV owners.
By all calculations, our charge should be more than enough to get us through the next 185km to Whangaparaoa but R90’s computer was still not convinced that I was an economic driver. It still seemed to be placing me somewhere between F1 and a homebound commuter. We searched our PlugShare map and found another free, fast charger, at Te Kauwhata, another little village off the main highway that I had not visited in probably 50 years.
With no onboard navigation, we got a little lost trying to find this charger. We headed for the village but when we consulted the PlugShare app we noted that it was out in the countryside. Again luck was with us, the charge point was working, free, and available when we rolled up. We got to enjoy the countryside for the relatively brief time it took to ‘top-up’.
We stayed with Ruth’s mum for a couple of nights and topped up again, this time off the power supply at her place. It is a much slower process on a domestic source but plug it before you go to bed and it is all ready for you the next morning.
I had hoped to use the fast chargers located near a cafe that we regularly visit but found that it did not have a compatible plug – in fact the Zoe, unlike most other cars, does not need a fast charger. I am not sure how much of an advantage that is yet. Much of the current charging network is built around the fast charging of cars with slow on-board chargers. It does cut our options down a bit but is not a game breaker. However, these slow charging cars can spend long period of time sitting on a slow charger, as I was soon to find out.
Ruth needed to stay in Auckland so I travelled back to Kerikeri alone. Fortunately, I had updated the navigation software but found that no New Zealand charging point we loaded, a job for me over the next year.
While a single charge should get us through the 218km and R90’s computer was giving me a thumbs up and had added a bonus range which should more than cover me, it is a very hilly route, especially to Whangarei.
I decided on caution and aimed to top-up in Whangarei. This is where I struck some challenges. My target charging point would not let me plug in, I suspect it had not yet been commissioned. The second option had a car on it (a slow charging one) and they had not bothered to check in using the app (this tells you how long they will be), the third and last option had cars (again slow charging ones) on every plug and they looked as though they had gone to work. Again, no notes (like unplug me to use and plug me back in when you finish), no check in on the PlugShare app (where you can advise how long you will be) and no nearby cafes. I returned to Option 2 while trying think about what my own Plan B would be. Fortunately, as I cruised up, the car was leaving. I swooped in, connected up and wandered over to the nearby waterfront cafe for a bit of lunch. By the time I was finished there was enough ‘juice’ in the battery to get me more than comfortably home. I probably would have made it without the stop.
I think our longer distance travel is going to be a little more adventurous now. As we drove back into Auckland we were reminded of one of the motivating factors behind our decision. The petrol stations were displaying their shiny new petrol prices following the addition of an 11c tax to help fund local transport issues. $2.28 a litre for 91. Not only were we helping to save the planet but we were helping to save a bit of money as well. Well at least it was starting to more than offset the slightly higher cost of the vehicle.
I should add that after only 600km we are not disappointed with our decision. It is a super car to drive, we can drive guilt free and we covered the 600+km for a cost of around $6. We knew that there would be a steep learning curve and were prepared for it.
I suspect we could become EVangelists.