By "range", I do of course mean "distance", not "shooting range" or "frying range" - although to be fair, I have experienced frying range anxiety from my first job working at a local chippie. That was more to do with the owner though, a large, hairy Greek man called Tony who insisted on calling me Gary no matter how many times I told him I was at best "Gaz" and at the very worst, "Gareth."
Oh yes, sorry - got a bit sidetracked. Which is sort of apt for the topic of this post.
A lot is said about electric vehicles and "range anxiety" - i.e. being worried that you will not have enough battery power left to reach your destination.
Because EVs are (currently, at least) far more limited in terms of their potential range, there's no denying that not being sure about your state of charge can be something of a concern.
However, the number of public charging points dotted around the place should make this more or less a thing of the past, and I had my first real taste of this today.
The day started with me doing the school run, with Jem. I've never done the school run before, so it was nice to get out and do so. However, it did mean using up about 10 miles of precious range before I'd even started my journey to work (18 miles.)
I then had an appointment after work in Newport to see an osteomyologist about my back problem (which is still giving me a ton of pain, annoyingly) so that took off another 16 miles.
Now, ordinarily at this point, I would have just gone home (about 13-15 miles from Newport I think) and all would have been fine, but on this occasion I had to pop back to Shrewsbury to do some shopping for my Mum, so that knocked another 16 miles off (for a total of approx. 60 miles) and still left me 18 miles from home.
In theory, it would have been fine - the range meter was showing 24 miles left, but I'm not that used to the car yet so I didn't want to risk running out of electrons on the way up Harley Bank near Much Wenlock (steep hills will kill the range of an EV, and Harley Bank has a 12% incline)
I therefore hatched a plan - I would do my Mum's shopping at ASDA instead of Morrisons, and take advantage of the fast charger they have on their car park to top up while I was shopping (and, to maximise charging time, Jem and I decided to nip further up the road to Nando's for a bite to eat)
The public charger at ASDA Shrewsbury is operated by Chargemaster, and users can either register to receive an RFID card used to open the sockets, or they can pop in to the store and ask to borrow one of their cards for a £10 refundable deposit.
Unfortunately for me, this took a bit longer than planned as the woman behind the counter at ASDA had no idea what I was talking about and had to call a colleague to come and get the card for me, but all was well in the end and they even waived the £10 deposit as I only had a card on me rather than cash.
There are two charging posts, each with a 3kW and 7kW charger on board - fortunately I specified the 6.6kW charging option for the LEAF when I bought it, so could take advantage of the faster charge. I'd remembered to leave my Type 2 charging cable in the boot so I was able to hook it all up for an hour and a bit while we did the shopping and had our quickie-chickie.
Upon returning to the car (and having returned the RFID card back to the customer services desk in store) I switched the car on and found it had gone from 21% charged to 55% and that I now had an effective range of 52 miles - more than enough to get home!
I can understand why people get anxious about range with their EVs, although I didn't worry too much - even if the charger at ASDA had been out of service I would have risked it and probably just ended up getting a taxi back the rest of the way if I'd run out of juice.
I had to rearrange my plans for the evening slightly to fit in around using the charger, but it actually all worked out quite well in the end and very probably saved time - had I had the range to spare in the first place, I may have ended up spending ages driving around deciding on a place to eat!
Next time, I think I'll push the car a bit more and see if I can find out just how far I can push it before it stops.
The eagle eyed amongst you will have no doubt noticed that I didn't post yesterday, thus technically failing the "post every day in September" challenge that I've been setting myself.
However, I had a good excuse - I was driving, and as per my earlier post, I didn't really think it was a safe (or legal) time to start tapping away on my keyboard.
If you read my last post, you will already be aware of my journey. I was to drive to Gloucester, to meet up with Katy, Aisling and - of course, Jem - in preparation for their Great Highnam Court Run - the inaugural 10K race around the Highnam Court estate.
Upon arrival at work yesterday, I immediately set about charging the LEAF. There is no dedicated charger at work, so I had to use the LEAF's EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) adapter to plug into a standard 3-pin socket (known to plug connoisseurs as the BS 1363 Type G, and arguably one of the best plug designs in the world - yes, I have an anorak)
Our office roof is covered with a large array of solar panels that pretty much power the whole office most of the time, so the charge was effectively free.
At the end of the day, and with my battery at 99% full, I set off home to feed the cats and get on the road.
I set off for Gloucester at 7.15pm (I didn't just feed the cats in the end, I had a shower and did a couple of chores too, in a (probably vain) attempt at making Jem's life easier when she got home.
I'd already planned to stop off at Frankley services on the M5 to recharge, and did so with 35% battery remaining:
I thought I'd hate having to stop off and charge every so often, but it does actually provide a welcome break (no pun intended, especially given that the Frankley services are run by MOTO) and I took the opportunity to sit down with a coffee and read a bit of Red Dwarf: Infinity Welcomes Careful Drivers on my nook.
35 minutes later, I unplugged and continued on my way - the rest of the trip was uneventful, and I arrived at my destination with 26 miles left on the guess-o-meter (range counter) - it took me a while to find the house though, thanks to what I can only describe as one of the strangest road layouts, coupled with one of the strangest house-numbering schemes I've ever seen.
Not much of a leg, this. Or at least, it shouldn't have been. The idea was simple enough - drive to Highnam Court and drop the racers off, and then head over to Gloucester Services on the M5 to recharge in preparation for the journey back.
Gloucester Services is, incidentally, the nicest service station on the motorway - with Tebay Services (operated by the same group, Westmorland) coming a close second.
I got to Gloucester Services with just 8 miles left on the range counter, and dutifully charged up and took the opportunity to stuff a breakfast bap and a cappuccino into my face.
What should have then happened was simple - drive back to Highnam Court, pick up the racers and then go back to the house before heading home. However, I inadvertently took a wrong turn and ended up travelling 16 miles out of my way, which kind of defeated the point of recharging, but never mind - it could have been worse - Jem and Aisling, while driving from Brighton to Gloucester last night, somehow ended up taking a wrong turn and arrived in Oxford somewhat bemused at how they managed to go so far out of their way. They eventually got to Gloucester an hour and a half later than planned.
Anyway, I went back to Highnam Court and after the race finished, we had a bit of a walk around the grounds and the lovely scenery within them:
This was where it got interesting, although in hindsight there was no need to worry.
I left Gloucester with 54 miles on the range counter. My plan was to go back to Frankley services and top up there, but Frankley services is 44 miles away from where we were, and I wasn't sure if it would make it, so I considered heading back down to Gloucester services (5 miles away)
However, when I got going, I figured that it should be fine - the range counter has been pretty accurate so far, so I threw caution to the wind and went for it.
Jem, driving separately of course, went flying off into the distance and left me for dust.
On the way to Frankley, I saw one of the matrix signs on the side of the road that read "SMOKE. SLOW DOWN" - not a message I'd come across before, but sure enough, upon rounding the corner I could see that the carriageway was covered in smoke, pouring out of what looked like either a Ford Galaxy or a Vauxhall Zafira that had caught fire on the other side of the motorway.
I felt sorry for whoever owned the car, and yet at the same time felt oddly smug that the fire was likely caused by diesel runaway or something like it, and that me, in my not-creating-thousands-of-explosions-per-minute car would never have to worry about such things.
I arrived at Frankley in good time and with a good 18 miles or so left on the range counter, no doubt helped by my driving at a steady pace and generally taking it easy - which makes for a far more relaxing drive. I plugged in and enjoyed a mocha latte and a few more chapters of Red Dwarf.
I then had enough charge to get me home, but I decided to stop off at Telford services on the M54 for a further topup as my back and legs were really starting to ache and I could do with the break.
Yup, that's right. In total, from Broseley to Gloucester and back again (including the detour, and the associated journeys) I drove nearly 217 miles.
In my old M5, at 12 miles per gallon, that would have cost me £88 in petrol (at today's prices of £1.08 per litre - had we done this journey when I actually owned the M5, when petrol was up at £1.42 per litre, it would have been a staggering £116.
In the LEAF, thanks in no small part to the Ecotricity Electric Highway (which is currently completely free of charge - again, no pun intended) and the solar panels on my office roof, the total fuel cost for this journey was a big fat zero.
"Totes amazeballs", as I believe the cool kids say these days.
As I mentioned in one of my posts just the other day, I've been driving for 11 years now - I passed my test in August 2004. Since that time, I've gone through cars like most people go through underpants - 22 of them to be precise - pretty much two a year.
I started out with fairly small and slow cars, as would befit a newly qualified driver, and slowly progressed through to 500bhp monsters like the V10-powered BMW M5.
My tastes over the last few years have been for Vee-engined BMWs in general, to be honest - primarily V10 and V8 gas guzzlers, to be precise. The two V10 M5s would regularly achieve such heady heights of 12 miles per gallon - which, at today's petrol price (£1.07 per litre), with my current work commute (18 miles each way) would see me spending a whopping £14.57 per day to get to work and back - assuming 20 work days per month, that's nearly £300 a month - and that's just for my work mileage, not even taking into account other journeys.
My last BMW, a 750i, which I sold on Friday night, got around 22mpg on average, so that's better but is still £7.95 per day.
Plus of course, there was tax to consider - £505 per year for the BMW. Plus servicing and maintenance/repairs costs, which could have potentially been a wallet-killer on an older BMW - I once had to pay near enough £3,000 for a clutch and flywheel replacement on my first M5.
On top of all that, there's the money to pay for the car in the first place. In other words, owning these damn cars hasn't been cheap.
Something had to change.
So, it was with some excitement and also nervousness that I approached my local Nissan dealer a month and a bit ago and enquired about loaning one of their Nissan LEAF electric vehicles for a four day test drive.
I'd been following the development of electric vehicles with much interest over the last few years, a pal of mine up in Scotland* has long been a proponent of EVs, and often posted on Be Excellent To Each Other about his latest custom projects, but they never really appealed - probably because of the Clarksonist tripe often spouted about them.
However, the media coverage of the Tesla Roadster and Model S, and the frequent musings of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge star Robert Llewellyn, another strong advocate of EVs, made me sit up and pay attention.
Anyway, Greenhous Nissan in Telford were more than happy to loan me a LEAF for a few days. It ended up being a 48 hour test drive as they unexpectedly sold the demo car and had to have it back for preparation, but my experiences over the 48 hours convinced me that EVs are the future, and I paid a visit to the dealership the week after handing the car back and placed an order for my own LEAF.
I picked it up yesterday, and here it is, resplendent in the free Flame Red paint, because I was too much of a cheapskate to pay extra for metallic paint and the only other option would have been white - and cars don't look good in white unless they're also covered in Castrol livery!
So, let's cover off a few of the questions that are often raised about electric vehicles - and again, as with my Eggheads appearance, I've been asked quite a few questions, so here they are in roughly the order in which I've been asked them the most:
Q. Electric? Have you gone mad? I thought you were supposed to be a "petrolhead" - the clue's in the name!
A. Yes, it's fully electric, and no I haven't gone mad. As for being a petrolhead - I would argue that a petrolhead is someone who has an interest in cars in general, so that hasn't changed. There's no denying that the LEAF is interesting, and besides, I'm keeping the Celica.
Q. How far will it go on a single charge?
A. Official figures are 120 miles (on the New European Driving Cycle) but these figures are always a bit out of whack. Real-world usage by others suggest a realistic maximum of around 85-90 miles depending on driving style, weather conditions, outside temperature etc.
Q. That's hardly anything!
A. Well, not compared to most petrol/diesel cars, no. But the LEAF will be fine for 95% of my day to day driving, and if I do need to make any longer journeys, then a number of options are open to me:
To be fair, I'd probably take one of the first two options simply for convenience - but they're all viable.
Q. How long does it take to recharge?
A. That depends on the charger, and of course how full the battery is already. From 0% to 80% would take around 11 hours on a 3-pin domestic plug socket, or around 4 hours on a dedicated home charger, or 20-30 minutes on a rapid charger.
I'm having a home charging unit installed tomorrow (at a greatly reduced cost, as the Government provide grants for doing so) and Ecotricity have a growing network of rapid chargers installed at most motorway service stations, so a quick 20 minute stop off every hour and a half isn't too much of a problem.
Plus there are loads of publically accessible charging points dotted all around the UK - see Zap Map for proof!
Q. It's not the best looking car, is it?
A. It's alright - the arse end is a bit challenging, but I quite like the look of it.
Q. What's it like to drive?
A. At first, quite odd. It's almost completely silent, it is incredibly smooth and vibration-free. Even at speed there's almost no wind noise and the ride quality is incredible. After taking my 48 hour test drive I got back into the BMW and starting the engine felt positively neolithic with it's loud burbling and vibrations - and I like the sound of V8s!
Q. How much money is this going to save you?
A. In terms of the cost of paying for the car, it's about as much as I was paying for the BMW, but the LEAF is brand new. Consequently, it comes with a full manufacturer's warranty so I don't have to worry about paying for repairs. Maintenance is virtually non-existent thanks to there being almost no moving parts and fluids, so servicing costs are minimal. It costs me nothing in VED (road tax) as EVs are exempt, and even my insurance is cheaper.
The best part though is that to "refuel" I just have to plug it into my house, and I'll end up paying around 2p per mile - meaning that my daily commute will cost me, at most, just 75p or so per day.
Q. Coming from a 7-series BMW, this must be like driving a Lada by comparison, right?
A. Not at all. It has just as many mod-cons as the 750i, and even some more on top. A BOSE sound system with Bluetooth audio capabilities and iPod/USB playback (not even the 750i had those!), heated seats, a heated steering wheel, reversing cameras (and even an "All Round View" camera which shows you your entire surroundings:
(picture from the teslamotorsclub.com forums)
Plus, of course, I can plug the car into the house to charge and have it set to warm itself up for me in the mornings so that by the time I get into it to go to work, it's already nice and toasty warm - it'll even turn the heated steering wheel on for me for 15 minutes before departure if it's cold enough.
Q. It's not really that environmentally friendly though, is it? I mean, the electricity is still being generated by coal!
A. Well, I'm not doing this for the environment (although it is a side benefit) - but consider that most internal combustion engines are, at most, approx. 20% efficient - i.e. for every litre of fuel they use, only 20% of the energy released goes towards moving the car. Electric vehicles are closer to 65% efficient - so even though fossil fuels are still being burned to power them, you're getting more for less - and of course, as more green energy sources are used, electric vehicles become greener without needing to change anything on the car.
Q. Yeah, but if everyone drove electric vehicles, the National Grid would crumble under the strain!
A. Not really. It takes a huge amount of energy to refine crude oil into petrol and other fuels. If everyone switched to EVs, we wouldn't need to refine as much oil so that energy usage would be brought right down, making more capacity for EV charging!
Yeah, pretty much. The technology can only get better, battery life (and therefore range) can only increase - it's an exciting time to get in on the ground floor.
Hell, my lease on the LEAF lasts for two years and then I have to hand the car back (or buy it I suppose, but that won't make much sense as technology will have likely moved on by then) - so in theory I may have even saved enough in fuel costs etc. that I'll be able to switch it for a Tesla Model S...
* hello, kalmar!