The ‘Great Australian Road Trip’ is embedded deep in the psyche of most Australian families.
The idea that our cars must be capable of this almost mystical event means the question “can an EV can do it?” is an ever present issue whenever Australians think about full battery electric vehicles (BEVs).
That question, cunningly exploited for political ends in the last federal election, has now taken on greater significance than ever: and the bar has been raised to not just counter the spin by showing on paper that it is possible, but to actually do such trips and write about the experiences.
But how does one quantify the Great Australian Road Trip in order to prove EVs can/cannot do it? In its simplest form, it is the several hundred kilometre run to a summer holiday in a seaside town, or a country weekend away.
In its toughest form – it is an endurance-run comprising part or all of the Adelaide/Melbourne/ Canberra/Sydney/Brisbane/Cairns highway route. (Or its WA equivalents).
Generally speaking, people have come to realise that Teslas are capable of long distances holiday trips on their batteries and amazingly fast DC recharge times at the ever growing network of Tesla-only Superchargers. But what of the ‘average’ EV?
Can the more affordable BEV models (i.e. not Teslas) do similar things? Well, the simpler holiday tour to a seaside town has already been proven to be within the capacities of a new Nissan Leaf or Hyundai Kona (if not a Renault Zoe) – as written up here.
That still leaves both the intercity ‘endurance-run’, as well as the extended road-trip touring holiday for testing the capacities of a non-Tesla EV. In an effort to test the ‘endurance-run’ category: I recently set out on a Melbourne to Sydney road trip in my new Kona electric.
The challenge: I wanted to attend an EV conference in Sydney (Ed: The Electric Vehicle Transition Conference), and had only 1 – 2 days spare each way to do it. Could it be done in a full battery EV?
First hurdle on checking the EV Charging Bible (otherwise known as PlugShare) was that there was a ‘Great Fast-Charger Desert’1 between Albury and Sydney.
Going directly to Sydney via the Hume Highway would mean between 9 hours (at 7kW) to 28 hours (at 2.4kW) stopped to AC charge somewhere.
To go all the way using fast-chargers would require a detour via Canberra, adding around 180km to the run. That became an advantage to this trip, as it turned out a mate in Canberra wanted to attend the same conference so I could pick him up and share the driving to Sydney.
So I set off first-thing from Melbourne on a sunny Saturday morning – with an odd, nervous feeling I had not felt since my first ever road trip to Brisbane in the early 80’s.
That feeling I put down to the trip being a very different, and new, experience to the usual petrol station hopping trip: will my Kona electric range be what it is purported to be?
Will I be able to find the DC chargers? Will they work? Will I have to wait in a que?? Do DC fast chargers really provide charging speeds matching the manufacturers’ claims???
Perhaps this is what the non-EV driver feels about EVs in general, and why unscrupulous politicians can exploit this ‘fear of the unknown’ to their advantage.
Having driven EVs around the suburbs for nigh on seven years now, I can attest to all those fears being well and truly allayed in relation to local EV driving: but they were surprisingly resurfacing on this, my first EV Great Australian Road Trip.
So how long did it take?
Day one saw Melbourne to Canberra in 11.5 hours, and a few DC charging lessons learned. Morning tea and a charge at the Euroa servo fast-chargers took about 40 min: no real hold-up there as I needed the break to stretch the legs, have a snack, coffee and take a toilet break anyway.
Lunch was a tad more complicated though, as I had to first stop to buy food in Albury to take back to the charger, as it was 8km out of town …. at the tip!
That stop also took longer than 90 minutes even though I had over 50% charge to begin with. This was because I wanted 100% charge to safely cross the Great Fast-Charger Desert, so I wanted to get the car to 100% before leaving.
It was then I discovered that 0 – 80% might be 54min for a Kona electric according to Hyundai, but 80 – 100% takes considerably longer. (Long distance EV driving Lessons #1 and #2.
Lesson #1: the Kona’s range around town is around 450km, but at 110km/h and the heater on – that falls to 360-ish. As the Albury tip to Canberra is around 340, I wanted to be 100% sure I would get there! Lesson #2: For shorter stops, charge only to 80% if you can).
Finally leaving Albury tip at about 2pm, I headed to Canberra at 110km/h and heater flat out: I was now becoming more confident in the Hyundai dashboard range estimator. My confidence was well placed – I arrived at my Canberra stop at 5.30 with 28km range left on the display.
I could have kept going to Sydney after a fast-charge there, but not being 21 years old anymore, I opted for an overnight in Canberra to rest. It was mid-morning the next day before we left for Sydney (With more than enough charge to get to Sydney – I plugged it into an AC EVSE at my stop. No ‘waiting’ time involved: it charged as I slept).
From Canberra: a quick top-up to 80% at Mittagong (not actually needed as I had AC charged overnight) – but a coffee stop/rest break was a good idea after two hours of driving, so why not top up – for free – whilst we did that?
Smart thinking on the part of the Mittagong RSL to host an NRMA DC charger: this was also the only DC charger where I saw another EV getting charged on the whole trip.
Hosting EV fast-chargers will only increase their business in the long-run too as EVs become a greater percentage of the road fleet. (Also – Long distance EV driving Lesson #3: if you can organise a 2 hourly stop near a DC fast-charger – just charge it).
The return trip was done applying the lessons learned on the way up.
Leaving at 5.30pm Tuesday, we stopped at that highly useful Mittagong RSL DC charger to let it charge whilst we took a dinner break, then arrived in Canberra around 9.30pm to have a quite drink in town whilst the car charged to near 100% at another NRMA DC charger.
Heading off the next morning at 6.30am saw me stop at the just opened Holbrook NRMA DC charger. A short walk into town, breakfast and back meant that the charging took no longer than I would have taken for a normal breakfast stop.
A full-charge could possible see me get to Melbourne from there, but as I was going to have to stop ever couple of hours to be safe, 80% was fine and there was no need for an 80 – 100% charging delay.
Holbrook to Barnawartha was therefore an easy 90km trip. Doing lunch at the conveniently placed picnic table by the chargers at the Barnawartha servo also meant that only a short time was spent in getting back to an 80% charge. (Enough to see me home in Melbourne).
Therefore no real delay there either. Needing a toilet stop and leg stretch as I neared Euroa, I decided to pick that as a break stop and did a 20 min top-up charge – effectively unnecessary – but it too was free, so why not? (Like all but the Albury tip charger, ChargeFox and NRMA chargers do not yet charge for the electricity you use).
Arriving at the bottom of the Hume at 4pm would normally have seen me home in another 30 – 40 minutes. However, a wet Wednesday saw a slow trip for the last part – but that’s a Melbourne traffic story, not an EV one!
The trip up to Canberra from Melbourne took 11.5hrs (longer than doing it in an ICE vehicle if taking rest breaks every 2 hours: I’d say about 1.5hrs longer than I would have done it in an ICE car), with the Canberra to Sydney legs no different to an ICE car.
Applying my DC charger learnings from the trip up also meant the Canberra to Melbourne return trip time was reduced to around 9.5 – 10 hours, equivalent to an ICE car taking coffee etc breaks every two hours or so.
- Non-Tesla BEVs can do the Great Australian Road Trip (endurance run version), provided DC fast-chargers are available.
- With the opening of the Holbrook and Jugiong DC fast-chargers, the direct run Melbourne to Sydney is now possible – at a very little, if any, longer time than doing it safely in an ICE vehicle.