Could little electric ZOE go coast to coast on one charge?
Eddie Cunningham was only going to stop once he reached his hotel or the battery ran out, putting Renault's 300km range claim to the test
The challenge was simple if daunting. Drive the electric Renault ZOE from south Dublin to west Galway (coast to coast if you like) on just one charge - no stopping to boost the battery en route. And then do the same thing on the way back.
It was 225km from my Dublin pick-up point to the Twelve hotel in Barna where I was to recharge (body and car). Except the chargers (car) were not working that day. Nobody's fault at all. I mention it here because it's central to my little electric-car adventure.
Renault claim this new ZOE 40 can now cover up to 400km on one electric charge, thanks to a new battery pack and other energy savings.
But they admit that 300km is a much more realistic figure. Fair dues. Yet even that seemed optimistic to me. Hence the challenge. Could ZOE live up to its 300km billing? How would its 41kWh of battery energy translate into real-world driving?
I set off with the computer immediately predicting a range of 273km but warning there would not be enough charge to get me to Barna. Strange.
By the way, there was just myself, my overnight and computer bags, and the Renault chameleon charger cable that fits all outlets.
I have to point out that driving an electric vehicle (EV) mostly on a motorway across Ireland is unfair on battery performance. EVs thrive in slower, stop-start traffic where decelerating and braking generate charge to replenish reserves. On the motorway you're draining battery all the time. To balance things a little, I said I'd cruise at 90kmh except where limits dictated lower. Fair? I think so.
So off I went. Sweet God, the 273km range shrank to 245km in no time. But in the 80kmh limit Lucan bypass, the alternator effect of slowing/braking nudged me up to 250km. I resolved to drive the car all the way to the hotel, or until it ran out of power and halted. I wasn't going to compromise. Such uncharacteristic resolve was to be severely tested. Signs for Clara, Athlone, Ballinasloe slipped by. I stopped to take and make a couple of phone calls but not to charge the battery. One call was from Mathieu at the Twelve. He'd just checked the two charging points. They were flashing red; he doubted they were working.
I could leave the car at Topaz, Newcastle Road and he'd arrange a taxi. Or I could keep on to the hotel. If I couldn't charge there, he'd take ZOE to Topaz. It would be good to go the following morning.
I kept going, nervously. The challenge was to go the full course or not, I reminded myself. The gap between remaining mileage and battery-power range dipped to 43km. Should I do the sensible thing? With dusk falling I felt awfully alone. I needed 50km more 'in the bank'. No, no. I kept going.
At last, the Oranmore roundabout beckoned. In slower traffic the range gap widened. By the time I got to the Twelve, I had 59kms to spare. Whew! Half the challenge over. We tried everything but the charging points were out. I rang ESB eCars helpline (contact numbers displayed on both units). Yes, the lady explained, they had installed them but they are now the hotel's responsibility. There was nothing she could do. Why bother with the helpline number if you can't help? Mathieu undertook to get the full charge at Topaz. The man is a saint.
But I got thinking. Say I was in deepest Connemara and this happened? Say I didn't have 59km battery charge to spare? What would I do? I needed dinner; a chocolate cake draped in 'gold' was my battery recharge.
Next morning, fully charged, ZOE awaited at Topaz. Except the keys were back at the hotel. Silly me, assuming they'd been left with the garage. Josef to the rescue from the hotel with the keys and off I went.
Battery usage seemed much higher. Gulp. Every kilometre appeared to be uphill. The difference between journey and battery range dipped to 44km in no time. It's a narrow margin for error isn't it? I didn't stop. The 80kmh Lucan bypass increased range. I made it to Sandyford in 2hrs 40 mins with 49km to spare.
So, yes, coast to coast on one charge each way can be done. I covered 445km in total. And there were 108km 'in the tank'.
The 553km total was just 47km shy of the 600km (2 x 300km) real-world claim. Allowing for so much motorway driving, it was quite an achievement.
But my adventure can't be taken in isolation. There were wider lessons. Proper back-up for out-of-order charging points is a must. And we need many more charging places. They simply must come first: to instil belief, banish anxiety and show we're committed to electricity playing a key role in future mobility.
So, would I do it again? Yes. First is always toughest. We'll all do it some day and not give it a second thought.
FACTS & FIGURES
Renault ZOE ZE 40 electric hatchback, Dynamique Nav; with battery; stop/start; zero emissions; road tax €120.
Standard spec (from entry version) includes: automatic climate control, R-Link multimedia system, electric front windows, ZE Voice, ZE Connect, chameleon charger (with a charging time of between one and 13.5 hours depending on power supply), heat pump, eco mode.
Additional on test car: 16ins alloys, hands-free card, rear parking sensors, 4x35w sound system, electric rear windows. €520 for metallic paint.
Starting price (after VRT rebate/SEAI grant) €23,490. Car tested: €28,010.