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Living with an electric vehicle (EV)

AA President Edmund King on electric cars

We're often asked about motoring trends and the next big thing around the corner.

With sales of new electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles doubling last year the AA and Chargemaster, the UK's leading provider of charging infrastructure, have joined forces to help drivers make the most of the EV revolution.

We'll be providing advice, support and access to a UK-wide network of chargers.

We think the UK is at a tipping point, with electric car sales set to soar, once drivers overcome the many myths.

To help bust a few of those myths, I'm going to be living with a number of different EVs over the next few months – using them for work and pleasure – and blogging here about my experiences.

With my initials, you could say I'm the right man for the job – Edmund


Read my latest blogs

Focussed
Milton Keynes
Electric rain
On the road
Focus Electric
Back to petrol
Fast charging
Charging etiquette
Stuck in the middle with you
How does it feel?
Life in the fast lane
Tesla Model S
Testing times
Charge of the light brigade
Charging point
TH!NK

 

Focussed

I'm very fond of the Focus Electric but for the types of trips I do it's not practical as my main car.

With two cars in a household the Focus Electric seems to me to be an ideal second car. Economical and safe, it can seat five, has a decent boot and is good to drive. So for shopping trips, the school run, and ferrying kids about it's great – all week without ever filling up at the pumps.

The Focus electric may not be ideal for me as a main car but it may well suit you. According to the government's national travel survey, 55% of all car trips are shorter than 5 miles and the average journey by car, either as driver or passenger, is less than 9 miles.

Edmund (19 September 2016)

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Milton Keynes

On Monday night I needed to be in Milton Keynes, a drive of about 30 miles each way. I didn't feel that I'd got enough experience of driving the car on motorways to be able to trust the range of 70 miles shown on the dashboard, but I was willing to give it a go.

My 15-year-old son however voiced caution. "Dad, it's a school night and I don't want to break down on that section of the M1 without the hard-shoulder." Yes, he had been indoctrinated with my concerns over the lack of hard shoulder so I heeded his wise counsel and we took the hybrid – my wife's car – so we could use some electric power but with petrol to back us up.

Edmund (14 September 2016)

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Electric rain

On Saturday the roads were very wet and I managed to spin the front wheels a couple of times when pulling away in the Focus Electric. You quickly learn to be a little gentler on the pedal.

I did notice that despite doing several short trips of 2 or 3 miles each way, the indicated range on the dashboard hardly moved at all. Those butterflies on the dashboard must be giving me more range.

My first real test took me on a section of the M25 so called 'Smart' motorway (no hard shoulder if you run out of charge) followed by a meander through north London to find an Astroturf football pitch near the North Circular.

I struggled a bit with the Sat Nav as I didn't have a kid with me this time and was too impatient to read the instructions. On the move the Focus coped extremely well with the mix of roads. It was solid on the motorway and indeed got to to 70mph without me really noticing.

It also coped well in busy urban traffic and was nippy enough to change lanes quickly whenever required.

There's little road noise in the cabin and I really enjoyed driving the Focus. I did get slightly anxious about remaining range on the way back when I saw a sign saying 'M1 closed' but need not have worried as the closure was beyond my junction and I got back home with 20 miles to spare.

Edmund (12 September 2016)

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On the road

The keyless entry works well on the Focus. I was then looking to see where you put the key but it has a start button so the key stays in my pocket. My son quickly worked out the radio, so with seat belts on, we were away. Backing out of the drive you have to be extra careful that there are no pedestrians around as the car is so silent.

On the road it's nippy yet has the solid feel of a bigger car, probably due to the weight of the battery. Even though the Focus doesn't look a big car from the outside, it's a bit of a Tardis inside. Head and leg room are good and the kids thought it was decent ride in the back too.

Initially I was slightly distracted by a couple of butterflies on the dashboard as I wasn't quite sure what they were. Then I got a third which apparently is pretty good and shows I was driving sensibly.

Charging is simple, using my home Chargemaster charging point, and it took only seconds to grab the lead from the boot and plug in.

When the car was fully charged, the indicated range did move up to the mid-70s.

Edmund (12 September 2016)

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Focus Electric

OK, so you may be thinking why is EV King only testing the top of the range EVs?

Today I took delivery of a Ford Focus Electric, and it's interesting how you instinctively look for different things on an EV when you use it for the first time. Or maybe not?

When I rent a car I always check first if it's petrol or diesel. With the Focus the first thing I checked was where the charging point was and does it have a cable. I'd backed onto the driveway but the charging point is at the front, so I should have come in forwards.

I guess the second thing I look for or indeed ask is 'what's the range? That wasn't so easily answered on this car. The dashboard showed me I had 53 miles and it looked like the charge was full. I couldn't find a manual, but on line, I found reference to a range of 76 miles and another to 100 miles.

Not knowing for certain the range does lead to some anxiety as one is unsure whether the dashboard indication of 53 miles is correct or could it be 76 miles, or 100? Either way it made me doubtful that it was safe to try to drive the 60 miles in congested traffic to AA HQ in Basingstoke. Probably not.

On the plus side I was delighted to read that it comes with £0 vehicle excise duty and has a 5-star Euro NCAP safety rating.

Edmund (12 September 2016)

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Back to petrol

The worst thing about getting back into a petrol car for the first time in two weeks was filling up at the pumps. It somehow felt wrong paying £60 to fill up when I knew there were viable, cheaper alternative ways to run a car.

I also had to adapt my driving style. In the Tesla I prided myself on never braking on some trips as the regenerative braking was so effective. This morning I pulled my foot off the accelerator and expected to slow down but had to brake as the queue of cars ahead got closer.

The thing I did love about getting back into the petrol car was the throaty roar of the engine, particularly with the roof down when I pulled away.

I didn't find the EV particularly quiet on the motorway, mainly because of tyre noise, and in some ways I actually like the sound of the petrol engine going through the gears on the motorway.

But with the Chargemaster post at home gently blinking at me through the bushes I know I'll have to find another EV to charge up soon.

Edmund (29 August 2016)

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Fast charging

The day before the Model S went back, I set about giving my own charging etiquette a charge-up.

I drove to South Mimms Services, where the A1 crosses the M25. Perhaps not your usual destination for a Sunday afternoon drive, but I had an ulterior motive as South Mimms is the nearest location to home with one of Tesla's own network of fast chargers.

I quickly found the regular charging points but was struggling to find the fast chargers until a 12-year-old boy outside Starbucks clocked me as a lost Tesla driver, flagged me down and helpfully pointed me in the right direction.

I was a little surprised to see ten Tesla charging points, although two were under wraps.

There were three other Teslas 'filling up' so still plenty of room for me and it was all very easy.

Reverse into the space until your tyre hits a small hump which tells you that you're lined up. Plug in you're in business. No cards, locks or delays.

If you're lucky enough to own a Tesla Model S you get this free charging for life.

I wandered off for a coffee, returning 30 minutes later to find the car's estimated range was back up to 260 miles.

It really couldn't have been easier or cheaper, and saved my home electricity too. I did start to wonder what happens when everyone drives a Tesla though?

Edmund (26 August 2016)

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Charging etiquette

As a relative novice I'm still not really up to speed with EV "charging etiquette".

Arriving early one morning at AA towers in Basingstoke I was slightly miffed to see that, like a German putting a towel on a sun lounger, a plug-in hybrid had already nabbed the charging point.

As it was a plug-in hybrid, I have to admit thinking that mine, a full EV, should have preference. I was annoyed to see it still there after lunch.

I needn't have been annoyed though, as the AA has a way of dealing with the issue. Everyone who wants to charge gets a card from reception and leaves their number so they can be asked to move after 3 or 4 hours. I also learnt that there are actually two Chargemaster charging points there!

After charging, I embarked on my longest journey yet, interested to see if range anxiety would be an issue.

I drove the 60 miles from Basingstoke to Devizes on a combination of motorway and relatively fast single carriageway roads with plenty of hills. When I left I had a range of 260 miles and arrived with 190 miles left so was pretty close to the estimate.

It was a beautiful drive and the Tesla performed as well on the winding, hilly rural roads as it does on main roads.

After Devizes it was a 100-mile drive home, but still found myself studying closely how the estimated 190-mile range was counting down. I found myself doing calculations in my head regarding how many extra miles I'd covered. As darkness began to fall the dashboard changed with brighter displays and I noticed how the charging points in the local area – I was near Reading services by now – were flashed up on the sat nav.

I wasn't really suffering from range anxiety but tracking my mileage and range remaining did encourage me to drive more efficiently, keeping the dial in the green and avoiding braking whenever possible.

I needn't have worried as I still had 73 miles to spare by the time I got home, but it did make me think what if the range had been only 100 miles to start with?

Edmund (23 August 2016)

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Stuck in the middle with you

I've now got used to using my home Chargemaster unit. The only issue, and it's a minor one, is that I sometimes get scratched because the socket's pretty much hidden behind a hedge.

It's pretty quick to grab the lead from the boot, release the charging point cover on the car – by pressing a button on the screen – and plug the lead into both car and charge point. Turn the key on the charger and you're in action.

If you want cheaper charging, you can set the timer on the car so that charging starts at 1am when electricity tends to be cheaper. This became routine but what happened when I tried using a public charging point for the first time?

I was recently invited to a top secret 'Chatham house plus' policy event at the Royal Automobile Club country club at Epsom. The invitation helpfully said there were charging points.

When I got there the carpark was full but that wasn't a problem for me as the two charging places were still free. I reversed in, next to a Rolls Royce (not an EV), and was pleased to see a Chargemaster charging point as I know how to use these. At least I thought I did.

There was a lead plugged-in already, so I just plugged the other end into the Tesla and it started charging. Wow this is easy. No cards, no additional leads etc.

I've mentioned before how the Tesla turns heads and, later in the day, Professor Phil Blythe, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Transport and Director of the Transport Operations Research Group at Newcastle University, asked to see the car. It was fully-charged by this time so I pressed the button to unlock the charge point and asked Phil to unplug the lead. He couldn't. We tried several times.

There was no switch on the charging point, no card access, nothing, but we couldn't get the plug out of the charging point or the car. I was stuck.

At this point it started to get embarrassing as other members of the seminar were coming outside and were attracted to the car – amongst them, some of the best qualified EV experts in the country.

There was the Director of OLEV, a top Technical Director, the Director of International Vehicle Standards at the Department for Transport (a mechanical engineer with over 30 years' experience), the Director, Energy, Technology & International at the Department for Transport, the Treasury's transport expert and many more.

The plug still wouldn't come out. But the groups advice wasn't too helpful:

"Just put your foot down Edmund and go for it."

The professor then put his mind to it.

"The plug won't disconnect because the car still thinks there's a charge going through it, even though the car is fully charged. There's no switch on the charger but electric current is still present. So we need to stop any power to the charger."

Some unnamed hero spotted a large mains switch further along the wall towards the Clubhouse. It could have knocked-out all the lights in the Clubhouse and set alarms off, but not waiting to find out, he bravely flicked the mains off. Like magic, the charging plug was now easily disengaged from my car and there was no alarm and no uptight porters. Phew!

It had taken the combined efforts of the top automotive brains in Britain but we managed it. As a reward I gave a few of them a lift to the station.

Edmund (15 August 2016)

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How does it feel?

Living with an EV you do have to get used to a few quirks. I still find it odd just getting into the Tesla, engaging D (Drive) on the small lever and pulling away. There's no need for a key – to get in or start the 'engine' – it's silent, and there's no parking brake to disengage.

Pulling out of the driveway you do have to be extra cautious of pedestrians. They won't hear you coming as the car's almost silent.

My main gripe is with the A-pillars which are quite thick. This affects vision and really does mean having to think once, think twice, think bikes. (I must put some AA #thinkbike stickers on the car).

The rear window isn't the easiest to see out of although you are well supported by rear view cameras and parking beepers. Call me a luddite but I still prefer to reverse using the rear window and mirrors.

A colleague did point out that although the dashboard looks great it sounded a bit hollow when tapped, but hey, we're splitting hairs. This is one super car that I could easily live with… or could I?

Edmund (12 August 2016)

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Life in the fast lane

Even without engaging 'ludicrous mode', the Tesla Model S is clearly a performance car and there are plenty of YouTube clips showing just how fast it is. Don't try this on the highway.

Accelerating to 60mph in under 3 seconds it beats many super cars.

My first proper drive tested the car in more challenging conditions. Coming back with my son from MK Dons football training the heavens opened when we were on the M1. Torrential rain, spray, wind and low visibility lead to several crashes. The Tesla coped brilliantly and safely. Super-fast automatic wipers kicked in and the weight of the car with batteries low down in the chassis had a real stabilising effect in the rain and strong winds.

From 'filling up' at home using my Chargemaster post, the round trip to MK Dons the car seemed to use up the miles that it said it would – the indicated remaining range dropped by the distance I'd covered. So no exaggerated range boasts here. The model I had seemed to have a top range of 291 miles which is more than adequate.

Edmund (10 August 2016)

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Tesla Model S

There's no doubt that the Model S is a desirable car. A neighbour who works in the police force commented on how great it looks and the kids took their time to check it out when I was parked up by a local school.

Cargemaster's CEO, David Martel, had parked his own Tesla Model S next to an immaculate Aston Martin at the AA Chargemaster partnership launch and this prompted me to ask him honestly which car he'd really prefer. With no hesitation, David pointed to the Tesla saying that he'd owned all sorts of cars from Ferraris to Fiats but this was the car for him.

Before getting too carried away we do have to make it clear that we're talking top end EVs here, as the Tesla S model range runs from £53,000–£92,000.

But it's worth remembering that you can save thousands of pounds on petrol, vehicle excise duty, parking and congestion charges if you're lucky enough to own one. I feel a spread sheet coming on help me justify getting one…

There are many little things about the car that extol class like the way the door handles pop out of the body as you approach and the 17-inch touch screen that allows control of everything from the sunroof to timed charging at night.

The interior is spacious too. My kids concluded there are three decent, comfortable seats in the back. Must try it out.

Edmund (8 August 2016)

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Testing times

My first modern EV experience was to come courtesy of our charging partners, Chargemaster, and it just happened to be one of the best on the market. My own interest in Tesla was sparked off some years ago when I heard that they were working with Lotus to develop an electric roadster.

I grew up living next-door-but-one to Colin Chapman in Norfolk, and have been interested in the Lotus story since the age of 5. As kids, we'd hang out with his son and daughters, and I was even flown to my first Grand Prix by Colin Chapman himself.

Anyway, this sparked an interest although I noted later that Tesla were keen to point out that their great roadster was not a converted Lotus Elise.

When Tesla's Model S was launched it became one of the few cars I was truly excited at seeing at motor shows and indeed, one of the few I really wanted to drive.

I did manage to get a brief test drive from the White City Westfield showroom a couple of years ago but being my first drive, and in dense London traffic, I didn't really get to experience all the car could offer!

Now Chargemaster have loaned me one for a couple of weeks…

Edmund (4 August 2016)

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Charge of the light brigade

I remember being at the What Car? Awards, some eight years ago, and bumping into David Martell who I'd known and worked with during his inspirational time at TrafficMaster. I asked him then what he was up to and he mentioned working on a start-up electric car charging company.

Today Chargemaster has a network of some 4000 charging points and is looking to add another 500 this year.

We're now working with Chargemaster to promote the take-up of EVs and to encourage AA accredited hotels to put in charging points for their customers to use.

Breakdowns

Sometimes AA members ask if we'll be able to help if they break down in an electric car. Well, the answer's yes. All of our patrols are trained in how to work safely on electric and plug-in hybrid cars and, indeed, we already provide the breakdown service for big EV brands such as Tesla, Ford, Vauxhall and Volkswagen.

Reliable?

Generally, our figures show that electric cars are pretty reliable. On the one hand, EVs have fewer moving parts to go wrong – no gears, oil etc. – but on the other, the most common types of breakdown can occur on any car. We still get many EV call-outs for damaged tyres, punctures, lost keys and sometimes battery problems. Servicing costs also seem to be cheaper as again there really is less to service.

Enough background. I think the time's right for me to get out there and test some cars.

Edmund (2 August 2016)

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Charge point

To really live with an EV I needed a charging point at home

Generally, our cars spend ten times longer at home than on the road so it's the obvious place to charge an EV, if you can.

When I first used an EV (a TH!NK fifteen years ago) I lived in a first floor flat in the city and had to resort to running an extension lead out of the window to the pavement below. Not ideal.

Luckily I now have a driveway, and we estimate from our AA-Populus surveys that around three quarters of AA members should be able to charge an EV at home.

Installation

When Chargemaster's technician, Thom, arrived to check out my home electrics I was slightly worried. The charge point couldn't go in the garage as that's long been converted into the kids' TV room and I didn't want a Las Vegas style flashing beacon outside the front door.

I didn't need to worry though as Thom assured me the charging unit could go on the front wall of the house, hidden behind a bush. The installation was incredibly neat and professional and what's more I got a government grant for two thirds of the cost.

So for around £300, the cost of 6 tanks of petrol, I was up and running.

With some new EVs you can even get the cost of a home charging point included in the price.

Once the charging point is installed you can sign up to 6 months free use of Chargemaster's public network of charging points.

The charging network helps to give reassurance but in reality most people could probably do most of their charging at home.

Right I am charged up and ready go.

Edmund (25 July 2016)

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TH!NK

Recalling my first EV experience

Electric cars aren't new. I had my first some 15 years ago.

It was a Th!nk City Car and I was handed the keys by Ken Livingston, the then Mayor of London, in Trafalgar Square. I was part of a fifteen company trial and had the car for six months.

The launch was intended to generate press publicity of course, but fateful events elsewhere on 9/11 in 2001 understandably meant that didn't happen.

The TH!NK City was made of polyethylene – the same plastic used for bottles and plastic bags – so I didn't have to worry about scratches. I had an underground parking place near the Mall where I could plug it in to charge using a standard 13amp plug.

It was quite fun tootling around London and taking advantage of free parking although I did have to put a big sign in the windscreen to remind over-zealous parking attendants that it was exempt.

The long way home

One Friday evening, fed up with over-crowded trains, I decided to drive the 26 miles home. With hindsight I guess this was quite risky as the range was only about 36 miles on a full charge.

What I didn't know was that a colleague had earlier given an MP a spin round Westminster in the car. So I set out believing that I was on a full charge. I hadn't reckoned on having to use the windscreen wipers or lights that night either!

I avoided the motorway as the car could only reach about 50mph and took the back roads, but six miles from home, with the charge dial on zero, I free wheeled into a residential cul-de-sac. I did think about knocking on a door and asking if they had an extension lead but didn't really want to wait all night for a charge.

I called for roadside assistance. "Battery problem, Mr King? No problem." Well, it was a bit of a problem as the car had to be recovered to my home.

I borrowed a new EV last weekend and wow how things have changed.

The old Th!nk had a range of 36 miles (on a good day), a top speed of 50 (downhill), took what felt like minutes rather than seconds to accelerate from a standing start to 50mph, and looked like a pod.

The new model (of which more later) has a range of over 220 miles (on any day), a top speed of 100 plus, does 0–60mph in just over 3 seconds and looks amazing. So is the world ready for proper EVs?

Edmund (22 July 2016)

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