Thoughts on our new electric car
November 2022 (from Issue 38 of House Sitting Magazine)
Our life has changed somewhat over the past year. We've gone from full blown nomadic travellers to long term house sitters in Burgundy, France with French residency, and become owners of our own renovation project too.
I guess it's time to admit we are for the moment "settled", having reinvested back into property, obtained French residency, committed to a long term sit (now into our 3rd year) and more alarmingly we've begun the process of accumulating necessary "stuff" again!
Before the pandemic we'd already invested in an older Volvo estate car as it was considerably cheaper than hiring while we were back in the UK. It was diesel-powered and had incredible fuel economy. But it was a little old, and had a few issues, so we wondered what to do longer term to ensure we had a reliable form of mobility.
Brexit had also seems to have made the process of importing British cars into France very complex and expensive.
After much research in France, where second hand cars sell at premium prices, we settled on a new all-electric car, which we have taken on a lease-with-option-to-buy agreement.
Why choose all electric?
One reason was the very attractive lease terms being offered by Peugeot along with a grant from the French government who were pitching in with €7,000.
Secondly, we have plans of installing a larger solar system at the little property we bought last year, I think it will be quite feasible to charge the car on solar, with minimal use of cheaper overnight electricity from the grid if needed.
Thirdly, I've (Ian) never "owned" a new car, so this is quite possibly a real "once-in-a-lifetime" opportunity for me.
How is an ALL electric car different?
Obviously, the biggest difference is we never need to go to a fuel station! But of course we do need to consider recharging the batteries.
When driving, one of the first things that struck us is the relative silence in the car. There’s some noise from the electric motor, and a little road noise too, but it really is quiet inside the car. It’s also super-smooth to drive.
There’s no gearbox so it’s very-much like driving an automatic car, but without even the slight pause many automatics have as gears change. The electric car simply accelerates without any hesitation or pause.
Performance is impressive too. There are 3 settings: Eco, Normal and Sport. It goes without saying that "Sport" uses up the battery much quicker than the other two modes, but the acceleration and fun to be had is worth it if you aren't planning on going far enough to run the battery flat.
The car continually estimates distance left in the battery, and when fully charged claims 350km should be possible in Eco mode, 332km in Normal, or 316km in Sport. Based on experience to date, these estimates are all overly optimistic and we've had to be quite careful when planning distances and recharge options.
The longest distance we aim for between charges is 200km, but on longer journeys we aim to stop every 150km, erring on the side of caution.
The battery is a 50 kWh (kilowatt-hours https://www.napower.com/what-kilowatt-hourkwh) battery, and knowing this can help with understanding charging times.
Our vehicle offers 3 charging options
We were given a home charger which plugs into any regular wall socket. This will charge at a rate of 1.8 kW (kilowatts), so can add 18 kWh to the battery over a ten hour period. That means if you come back home with 20% left in the battery, it will take more than 20 hours to recharge to 100%. However, to do this you will probably have driven 180+ km the day before.
For most of our use, (shopping, days out, and cycle trips), the car is almost always back at 100% the next morning.
The second charge option involves a different cable, which we had to buy. Our Peugeot dealer suggested the cable would cost around €300, but we found a secondhand one online for €90. With this cable we can use faster charging stations and they add power to the battery at 7kW.
The standard electric car top-up that most charging stations measure is how long it takes to charge from 20% to 80%... for our vehicle this equates to adding 30kWh. This means that a 7kW charger would take just over 4 hours to add this power back to the batteries.
Our home charger would need almost 17 hours to achieve the same result.
Option 3 is a fast charger, which again needs a different cable connector. Fast chargers have a cable attached, and will charge our car at about 50kW, so to add back 30kWh, from 20% to 80% takes about half an hour.
The easiest way to calculate costs is to consider cost per kWh. Charging at home on overnight rates costs about 16 cents per kWH, so a 60% charge, from 20% back up to 80%, costs around €5.
Standard and rapid chargers vary widely. We've found a few that are free to use, thanks to generous local councils and supermarket chains. When paying at standard chargers, costs vary between 20c and 40c per kWh, so a 60% charge will cost between €6 and €12.
Fast chargers might be priced between 40c per kWh and €1, but again, we have found a few of these which are also free. At €1 per kWh the cost of a top-up is €30, which means your cost per km is way above petrol or diesel costs, so these particular charge points are to be avoided if at all possible.
Using a combination of home charging and cheaper (or free) charge points while we are out and about, we find our costs are generally very low. And of course there are minimal costs related to servicing.
We've found the car fits our needs perfectly when at home, easily covering day trips up to 100km without any battery worries at all. On longer trips we use the relevant apps to find suitable fast charging points along the route, and stop off for a coffee break while the car charges.
Most of the time we only do short local trips... down to the shops for some groceries or to the hardware store for something for a DIY project. We can use the car for several days like this, then put it on charge overnight to top it back up to 100%.
The car has an option to delay the charging start time, so we set that to 10:30pm to take advantage of our cheaper overnight electricity rates.
Recently, on a weekend house sit, we found a charging point in a little car park by the canal. Our 7kW cable worked well there and the local council offer their charging points for free, so while we wandered along the canal for a couple of hours the battery was topped up at no cost.
On our recent mini-break to Paris we had to stop mid-journey on the way there to recharge. Through the Freshmile charging app we'd found a little town by a river with a rapid 50kW charger, again free thanks to the local council. As we were leaving Paris at the end of our holiday we had to add a little bit of charge at a petrol station, where - shock-horror - we had to actually pay. It cost about €12 to top up from 20% to 80%.
We love the car for general day-to-day use around home, and for day-trip shorter adventures, up to perhaps 80km away. It also works well for overnight trips especially if we can get there from home without having to recharge on the way.
Longer journeys are more challenging, as we have to factor in stops for recharging. There is always the possibility that the charger we plan to visit on route is out of order, or that someone else is using it when we arrive. This means factoring in plenty of spare time for the journey, and a Plan B option if you encounter the dreaded "out of order" notice.
Ultimately, until there is a much more robust and dense fast charging network, if more of your travels are over longer distances, we'd advise avoiding an electric vehicle.
But for a daily runabout they are fantastic, and super-cheap to run especially if you have a solar option.
In light of current electricity grid challenges, and the availability of raw materials (including the way these are extracted), who knows just how ethical or sustainable this latest push away from diesel to electric really is!
Time will tell!
Until next time, happy travels,
Ian and Vanessa
(still on our long term house sit in burgundy, France)