The ZOE Has Landed!

The ZOE Has Landed! (Image: T. Larkum)
The ZOE Has Landed! (Image: T. Larkum)

I contacted my Renault dealer this morning about final delivery details (including proof of payment for the order deposit and reservation fee) and was pleased to learn that my ZOE (KT13 RBY) had arrived – in fact, that it had arrived some days ago.

My ZOE Intens in Energy Blue (Image: T. Larkum)
My ZOE Intens in Energy Blue (Image: T. Larkum)

I immediately drove down to see it, despite it raining hard. First off, I was taken aback at the colour – I had ordered Energy Blue and expected it to be much darker than it turned out. I guess it will grow on me.

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I signed a bunch of paperwork, then had a brief time sitting in it. Unfortunately, I was not able to get the satnav working which was disappointing as I need to drive it some distance tomorrow, soon after picking it up. I was told there had been issues with a number of ZOEs, and that their demonstrator was in the service bay. In fact I was told that I was a pioneer, so what did I expect, which was not encouraging.

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Anyway, for now I’m assuming that by the time I pick it up tomorrow afternoon it will all have been sorted, and that my online R-Link activation code will be available (and also that the SmartGuard Teflon treatment will have been done). We will see…

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Charge Point Finally Installed

Charge Point with Orange Light and Keyswitch (Image: T. Larkum)
Charge Point with Orange Light and Keyswitch (Image: T. Larkum)

The British Gas engineer who nearly installed our charge point returned today to finish the job. Having completed the final odd bits and pieces it is now up and running – so far as I can tell, which is difficult until our ZOE Intens arrives (hopefully tomorrow!).

The unit is a standard Chargemaster system, rebadged ‘British Gas Polar’. Basically it has an orange light that is on permanently. There is a keyswitch for turning the charging facility on and off, but this has no effect on the orange light so there’s precious little feedback to the user on the system’s status. There is no screen or other readout. I guess I’ll learn more when I have a car to connect to it.

The charge point is fixed halfway along the side garage wall. This is deliberate, as I have three charging methods in mind:

1. In the short term I will drive in forwards as I currently do with my Vauxhall Zafira. The charging cable will be able to reach to the ZOE’s nose at the back of the garage.

2. I want to try out the approach of reversing into the garage – something one obviously wouldn’t consider with a combustion engine. The charging cable will be able to reach to the ZOE’s nose at the front of the garage. Given that the ZOE Intens has a reversing camera and reversing sensors it should be a straightforward operation. There are a number of advantages to this, including placing the driver’s door in the space at the centre of the (double) garage, rather than against the side wall, and being able to drive more directly out of the garage (particularly if combined with automatic garage doors).

3. I have the option of charging on the drive – either my ZOE or a visitor’s EV. The charging cable will reach under the garage door to the drive. There may be earthing implications to this approach, since the engineer probably hadn’t considered it when he installed it, so I wouldn’t do it in inclement weather.

Charge Point with 5m+ Charging Cable (Image: T. Larkum)
Charge Point with 5m+ Charging Cable (Image: T. Larkum)

I was interested to read the printed specification for the charge point that came with it, and which states that the charging cable is 4.7m long. This was more than I expected so I measured it – and it is comfortably 5.2m long. Unusually, a change in specification that is an improvement!

The Pain of Public Charging

Ecotricity Motorway Service Station Fast Charger (Image: Ecotricity)
Ecotricity Motorway Service Station Fast Charger (Image: Ecotricity)

I have been closely following the development of electric cars for about 18 months and over that time have come to know and sympathise with many of the grievances felt by electric car owners. As the delivery day for my ZOE approaches, however, (it should be Tuesday this week) these issues are fast coming into focus as I will have to tackle them personally very soon.

Many of these issues revolve around the use of public charging points, including:

  1. Charging points are very often not well located, so there isn’t one where you need it.
  2. Use of a charging point may require a dedicated access card and/or payment.
  3. Access to the charging point may be restricted, for example many are on car dealers’ premises and are restricted to the dealers’ customers and/or to the dealers’ opening times.
  4. Finding charging points is difficult as there are multiple, conflicting charge point maps.
  5. The parking place intended to be used for charging may be blocked by a combustion car.
  6. Charging points use a multiplicity of different connectors. There are at least 5 different connectors used for electric cars, and at least 3 can be found on UK charging points (the Type 2 Mennekes used on the ZOE for slow and fast charging, the CHADEMO used on the Nissan LEAF for fast charging, as well as the standard 13 Amp socket).

It is the first three points that I want to touch on here – they are closely related. The other three issues are significant in their own right and I will cover each of them in future posts.

The first issue, that of charging point location, is a broad one. Until charging points are ubiquitous it is inevitable that there won’t always be one where you need it. Unfortunately, in the UK at least, this situation is made worse than it need be.

Firstly, many charge points are equivalent to a standard domestic electrical supply – in other words, a 13 Amp socket on a post. These are nearly useless in the public arena. At home it’s fine to leave your car overnight to charge but there are few times you want to leave your car unattended in a public place for 6-12 hours and certainly not during a long distance trip.

Secondly, deployment around the UK is very patchy. Some towns and cities (London, Oxford, and Manchester, for example) have had schemes that have installed large numbers of charge points within a designated area. At the same time other areas have none at all. For example, I work in Milton Keynes and it has 28 ZOE-compatible charging points (on the Open Charge Map). I live in Northampton, about half an hour’s drive further north, and it has none.

Thirdly, even those regions that have many charge points often have them in the wrong place. This is a point well made by Ecotricity with its Electric Highway of charge points along the major motorways:

“We chose the motorway network for good reason. The big focus so far – with charging facilities – has been town and city centres. But we think they’re needed the least here. You only need to look at car use statistics for the answer. The average car in Britain travels around 20 miles a day, a distance most modern electric cars can sustain for almost a week without needing to charge.

“Most car owners have access to off-street parking (70 per cent apparently) and are able to charge at home, at night. So most cars don’t need to charge, most days. It’s longer journeys where charging is most needed.”

The second issue is one that I’m currently fighting with. I need to do some long distance driving soon after picking up my new ZOE. However, there is no quick and easy way to get an access card that allows you to use a public charging point. No, you can’t just go into a shop or Post Office and buy one.

Not only that, but there are multiple access card schemes so that you may need to be a member of multiple schemes if you want to travel across the country. This situation is improving, however, as the schemes start to co-operate and grant access to each other’s members.

This is my experience so far:

  • Last Wednesday I applied online for an Ecotricity Electric Highway card. It starts free, but they reserve the right to charge £10 per year in future if you’re not an Ecotricity customer. The online application form requires a vehicle registration number (VRN) – which I didn’t know then – so I used my ZOE’s Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). I don’t know if that’s going to cause problems. Anyway, it takes up to 14 days to receive the card which is rather slow.
  • Also on Wednesday I applied for a Plugged-In Midlands card. Membership is £20, but it is not clear if this is in perpetuity or not. Again, I used the VIN instead of the registration number. The card is supposed to be sent within 5 working days.
  • On Saturday I applied for a Source London card, so I can visit the capital. Membership is £10 and is only guaranteed to be valid until 30 June 2014 when the scheme management is being transferred to a new operator. By this time I had been given my ZOE’s VRN so was able to use that. Again posting out the card takes up to 5 working days. The difference with this scheme is that, unlike the other two, the membership is definitely for the person, not the car, so having registered you can then add multiple electric cars to your account (a forward thinking view that I appreciate).

It’s looking pretty unlikely that I’ll get a charge point access card in time for my first long distance trip (though, having spoken to Ecotricity and their supplier, ChargePoint Services, it’s possible they can expedite me one in time). To be fair to these schemes, though, they do allow you to apply online and get a card within a reasonable amount of time (even if it’s not quickly enough for particular trips I’m planning).

Much worse is the London Congestion Charging scheme which I assumed would be similar but no, that would be too much to expect. It’s hard to believe but to apply for an electric car discount on the Congestion Charge you need to download a form, print it off, add a photocopy of your vehicle registration document, and a cheque for £10, and put it all in an envelope to send to the scheme address, then allow 10 days just for the document to be processed, then wait for an approval letter to be sent to you. Yes, really – in 2013! And in the meantime you must pay the charge in full. You can’t make this stuff up.

Anyway, this brings me on to the third issue. Since I can’t rely on having access to fully-public charging points for imminent trips I have been looking at using car dealerships as charging stations. Renault, Nissan and Toyota dealerships, for example, have charging points if they are accredited for electric car sales.

However, dealerships naturally tend to allow their charge points to only be used by their own customers, so I am limited to Renault premises (and only those that have EV facilities). More of an issue, though, is that being commercial premises there is generally only access during opening hours. While that is a general nuisance, it can be more limiting than it seems at first glance. What can actually happen – and this is likely to be the case for my first trip – is that you can have access for charging on your way to a destination. But then on the way back the same facility is unavailable because you are returning in the evening when the premises have closed.

My overall conclusion so far, therefore, is that public charge points are a pain. In fact I’m rapidly coming to a definitive but inescapable conclusion:

The various public bodies, committees and organisations that have defined, deployed and organised the UK public charge point network are staffed exclusively by people that have never owned an electric car.

Renault ZOE and Renault’s ‘The Bump’ show stand concept scoop Red Dot ‘Product Design 2013’ Awards

Renault Zoe 2013 (Image: Renault.com)
Renault Zoe 2013 (Image: Renault.com)

At a ceremony on July 1, Renault ZOE was presented with the ‘2013 Red Dot Product Design Award’ which figures among the design world’s most prestigious international prizes.

A 37-strong jury of international experts looked at 4,662 entries for the 19 different categories and chose Renault ZOE for the ‘Red Dot Product Design 2013’ laurels. ZOE is the third Renault model to secure the award, after Mégane II in 2003 and Twizy in 2012.

Renault’s new ‘The Bump’ stand concept, which has proved a hit with visitors at recent motor shows, was also singled out by the jury for an award.

On July 1, Renault ZOE was presented by the Red Dot Award jury with the ‘Product Design 2013’ award in the Electric Passenger Car category at a special ceremony at the celebrated Essen Opera House’s Aalto Theatre in Germany.

This year, the jury was asked to study 4,662 entries for 19 different categories.The jury members were impressed by the powerful sense of innovation exuded by ZOE.

Red Dot founder and CEO Professor Peter Zec observed that success in business today is closely linked to design skills:

“The winners of the ‘Product Design 2013’ Red Dot award are the protagonists of a highly developed design culture and design industry. These days, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between well-designed products. It is often only in the details that the special qualities become apparent. However, those product creations that pass the test before the critical eyes of the international Red Dot jury will not disappear into the crowd and will be able to fend off global competition.”

First organised in 1955, the Red Dot Design Awards have carved out a reputation on the international scene as a benchmark for design quality. Organised by the Design Centre Rhine-North Westphalia, it is one of the most coveted international competitions of its kind. ‘Red Dot’ awards are recognised across the world as one of the most sought-after endorsements of quality in the field of design excellence.

From July 2 to 28, the Red Dot design museum will host its traditional exhibition of award-winning products. In the ‘Design on Stage – Red Dot Product Design 2013 Award Winners’ section, design enthusiasts will be able to inspect the latest trends at close quarters. Indeed, visitors are actively encouraged to handle exhibits in the unique setting of the Red Dot Design Museum. This will allow them to have a hands-on contact with the design thinking that helped Renault ZOE to earn its reward.

Renault ZOE has been on sale in France since the end of 2012 and is currently marketed in most west European countries

First used for the Paris Motor Show in 2012, Renault’s ‘The Bump’ show stand concept was also rewarded with a ‘Product Design 2013’ prize by the Red Dot Award jury, in the ‘Trade Fair Stand’ category.

The generously spaced, animated approach to the presentation of the new Renault strand creates a vivid atmosphere that envelops beholders and adequately represents the brand values of motion and change,” said the Red Dot jury.

The design concept is inspired by a value that all cars on display on the stand have in common motion. The idea was to translate the feeling of motion to a stand. Featuring two hills and a concentric vehicle layout, the concept cars or new vehicles spin on rotating platforms at the top. Depending on where viewers are standing, the vehicles can consequently be seen from different sides. The sensation of motion created by this three-dimensional layout is further enhanced by the floor and ceiling lights, with balls of light subtly changing colour.

The new Renault stand was designed for use at international motor shows around the world, including those in Geneva, Shanghai and Frankfurt.

Charge Point (Very Nearly) Installed!

After much anticipation, a British Gas engineer turned up on Thursday as promised to install a chargepoint in our garage. In advance I had cleared out some junk to make the garage junction box accessible.

Unfortunately, it turned out that the wiring to the junction box from the house consumer unit (‘fusebox’) was not thick enough for the power required for the 32A charge unit, as it used 2.5mm gauge wire rather than 4mm I believe. I understand it would have been fine for a 16A unit. Anyway, this meant that a new wire would need to be run from the consumer unit or the supply meter, both of which were on the far side of the house from the garage. There were three options for routing this new cable:

1. Along the same route as the existing cable, under the floor of our landing.

2. Around the outside wall to the meter cupboard.

3. Around the outside wall and in through the house wall to the consumer unit.

We spent an hour or so investigating the first option, which involved moving furniture, lifting carpets and opening up the floorboards.

The devestation after trying to route the new cable along with the original ones (Image: T. Larkum)
The devestation after trying to route the new cable along with the original ones (Image: T. Larkum)

However, we concluded this approach would have required cutting access panels all along the floor so as to allow for cutting feed holes for the cables through all the joists, and so we gave up. The second option was excluded as our meter does not have the necessary junction box. The decision was therefore taken to route the cable around the outside wall of the house.

The work was begun by fitting the chargepoint on the wall of the garage, then feeding the cable down and out through the garage wall.

Chargepoint fitted to inside garage wall (Image: T. Larkum)
Chargepoint fitted to inside garage wall (Image: T. Larkum)

It then went across in front of the front door – here I was impressed to see the engineer lift the front path to hide the cable and then re-lay it neatly afterwards.

Cable being laid under path (Image: T. Larkum)
Cable being laid under path (Image: T. Larkum)

The cable then went across below the dining room window (mostly hidden by creeper) then around the side, up and in through the wall to the cloakroom housing the consumer unit.

Running the cable up and then through the wall (Image: T. Larkum)
Running the cable up and then through the wall (Image: T. Larkum)

Inside it connects to a breaker box and will then go into the consumer unit (this last connection hasn’t yet been made). It adds to the various cables, meter and isolators for the two solar arrays around the consumer unit so the overall effect is getting a bit ugly – I’ll probably look into boxing it all in at some point.

The chargepoint cable is the low black one curving up into a breaker box (Image: T. Larkum)
The chargepoint cable is the low black one curving up into a breaker box (Image: T. Larkum)

Nonetheless, overall I am pretty pleased with how it turned out. I am particularly happy with the way the thick, black, armoured cable is largely hidden from sight as it goes around the front of the house.

Front of house, with cable route marked (ImageT. Larkum)
Front of house, with cable route marked – if you look closely you can just see the black cable on the garage wall and going around the right-hand house wall (ImageT. Larkum)

Although largely installed, the chargepoint is not yet up and running. The engineer is due back on Monday to finish off, including fitting a missing breaker, connecting the breaker box, hiding the nearby cable in some conduit, sealing the holes in the walls, and adding some missing cable clips. I hope it all goes to plan as I’m due to pick up my ZOE on Tuesday.

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