I didn’t really want to go ‘over there’ for a family reunion last February but my son Greg more or less ordered me to. saying “it’s better than coming over for a funeral. And I’ll meet you in Christchurch with a hire car. The hire car’s all electric,” he said.
That clinched it! Suddenly I was very keen to get there!
I’d never driven an all-electric car, only the Toyota hybrids, and I was very keen to try one out. Suddenly, I was so pleased my son doesn’t drive.
It was a VW eGolf (VW won’t export to Australia because we haven’t any emission standards) with one of the smallest batteries on the new EV market, having only an 80% range of about 180k (full range about 230k).
We had it for 6 days and planned to drive it through the sparsely populated areas of North and Central Otagoto and on to Wanaka.
Although the east coast of the South Island is fairly well covered with charging stations, there is over 100km on this mountainous inland tourist route that hasn’t any, so it might need to be a fairly well planned trip. We were there to find out.
We picked the VW up from Europcar at the Christchurch airport and were briefed comprehensively on starting and charging procedures.
So we just walked out and drove away, just as you would with any other hire car. It drove like an ordinary car, had road noise like an ordinary car, it was just a car really, not exciting at all.
We were staying with my sister and had planned to all drive to the north of Christchurch to meet one of my cousins for lunch. But our eGolf wouldn’t start so we had to go in her old-fashioned ICE model.
How embarrassing. Turns out we couldn’t start it, because we hadn’t actually stopped it.
Like many modern cars it won’t start unless your foot is on the brake. And I had tried to stop it the same way – with my foot on the brake. One would expect to learn with age but this is apparently not the case.
When we got home Greg reached into the car while standing outside and pushed the start/stop button.
It stopped. So we started it again, parked in by the house and ran a cable through the bedroom window to charge it from a plug in the house as we had actually been driving it around the city quite a lot already.
From a supplied leaflet we estimated that a full charge from a 3-point plug could cost as much as $6-7. We charged three times like this over the 6 days of the hire.
The other times we charged were at public charging stations using one of the three types of cables supplied with the car.
Public charging stations are every 30-50km along the east coast of NZ, so leaving Christchurch early on Thursday morning we travelled to Ashburton, then digressed to Mayfield and south to Geraldine, a distance of nearly 180km while passing four charging stations.
The picturesque town of Geraldine marks the start of the inland tourist route to the Southern Lakes, New Zealand’s premier tourist playground, winter and summer, so around the main intersection is a good array of tourist amenities.
But where was the public EV charging? We finally worked out that some wag had pointed the sign the opposite way (anti-EV people are like that but soon the joke will be on them) and the ChargeNet was not far from a group of eateries and tourist shops.
It was in a public carpark which was being re-surfaced but after a while the gang stopped for lunch and we drove in.
As we were learning how to operate our first public charger, two of the men came over (EV charging is still a novel event) to give advice. One said “EVs are OK but only in the cities,” ignoring the fact we were already nearly 180k from the city we started in.
Greg’s up to these new challenges and before long we had logged in to ChargeNet’s website with his credit card.
There was a technical hitch which was sorted by a quick phone call to the number supplied then we were off to lunch for 40 mins. When we came back the car was fully charged for $10.40, which was the most we paid all tour.
Our next stop was further down the coast at Oamaru to visit another elderly cousin after which we charged again, for free, at Network Waitaki’s Eden St carpark.
We had learned by now to run on ‘the top half of the tank’ and drove from there to Kurow up the Waitaki Valley where we again stayed the night with relatives who topped the battery up for nothing.
You can see that the secret of ultra-cheap EV driving is to have plenty of rellies along the route.
The next day was going to be quite interesting. Highway 8 goes over the Lindis Pass at over 1000m and would be a test for the battery.
At Omarama the screen showed that there was at least 120k left in the battery out of the 180k the car allows itself, meaning there is 20% left for an emergency.
I wanted to give it a go as our destination for that day, another relative’s rather isolated farm, was only about 65k away even though we had a long steep climb ahead.
Greg talked me out of it so we topped up again at Omarama, again for free with Network Waitaki while we had lunch.
There is a 20 km flattish road from Omarama to the foot of the Lindis Pass then a 10 km steep climb to the top.
We started with about 240 available kms showing on the screen but the long climb took so much power that we reached the pass with only 124k left in the battery – it used 100k of power to travel only 32k!
But what happened then was even more interesting. There is a very long downhill on the inland side of the Lindis Pass, maybe over 10km, and we were able to use the engine brake extensively in spite of the very windy road.
Fortunately a road gang was just about to begin work on the downhill side and must have stopped the quite heavy traffic at least twice behind us.
The lack of following traffic enabled us to use the engine brake to maximum effect, slowing down to 20km/hr several times. Whenever 4 or 5 cars built up behind us we pulled over to let them through.
In this way we added about 100km to the battery again. Amazing.
Well, we were amazed.
We arrived at our destination with 220 km available showing on the screen meaning we had climbed over 700 metres altitude in about 65 kms using only about 20 kms worth of electricity.
We were so confident now that we drove around the district just ‘burning up power’ – with one incident standing out – while driving in to another property where no-one was home, all their sheep dogs, which would always bark at a strange vehicle coming down the drive, didn’t bark at all.
Because the vehicle had no motor sound they ignored us completely. Obviously not a ‘real’ car.
On Saturday we drove to Wanaka, about 40 km away, for the reunion and back that night when we again used the rellie’s free power to fully charge overnight.
Mid-morning Sunday we began the 400 km drive back to Christchurch, charging for free again at Kurow thanks again to Network Waitaki.
Waimate was the next stop for lunch where we topped up again while eating. Fortunately, we had take-aways and ate them back at the car where we found there was a hitch in the charging which was again ironed out after a short phone call.
This charge point is run by the local owners EV Support Group which used a different network to the charging station at Geraldine, but charges the same at 25c/kWh + 25c/minute. For us it came to $8.40.
We topped up again at Temuka and also at Hinds, because we could, before arriving in Christchurch about sunset.
The agreement with Europcar was for them to give the car the last charge for nothing so we returned the vehicle in the morning about 35% charged.
Altogether we had four charges that we had to pay for (all in Canterbury) totalling just over $30, three home charges for nothing, and three Network Waitaki charges in Otago for free.
If the home charges were paid for, in cash or in kind, the total cost of electricity would have been about $50. Not bad for a drive of about 1000 km.
The initial hire cost is quite dear, $700 for 6 days plus insurance, so adding the $50 the cost (not including insurance) was about $750.
This would compare with an ICE car at about $70/day for 6 days = $420 plus over $200 for petrol (over $2.20 a litre in NZ then) = about $620.
So the EV would have been noticeably dearer than an ICE, but it’s early EV days and in a couple of years the EV hire will be equal to or less than an ICE.
And an EV with a small battery is more challenging, although with the proliferation of charging points in NZ still more fun.
We might tour there again next year, if Covid19 will allow it. In a small EV, of course.