Our misadventures with the public charging infrastructure (see here, here and here) continued yesterday. On Friday I drove from Northampton to work in Milton Keynes as usual. Then returned home to get ready for our office Christmas party (with a brief charge while doing so) then headed back south to Woburn. The party was great, we stayed the night in a hotel, then headed out as we needed to charge. Things seemed to start well, as we passed another ZOE as we drove through Woburn – the first time I have seen another one ‘in the wild’ – so naturally I flashed my lights and waved.
As always when using public charging, given my previous experiences of its unreliability, I had a standard 3 point plan (all using Ecotricity chargers):
3. If that failed, we would use one of the two medium-fast chargers at the Services.
We had a bit of a problem finding the charger at IKEA as it was in the car park under the store, the first time I have seen a fast charger under cover (though I’m not complaining!). But that’s when the problems started. Firstly, there was a ZOE there already charging – my second wild ZOE ever, so an unprecedented day for ZOE spotting. It was, however, nearly finished charging. Secondly, though, there was a Nissan LEAF queuing up to take its turn. We were surprised and disappointed to learn that although the fast charger had separate outlets for AC (ZOE) and DC (LEAF) charging only one can be used at a time.
After a friendly chat with the vehicle owners we headed for Newport Pagnell. We arrived there with just eight miles of range left, with the range indicator alarming. There I went through the usual process of charge card identification and plugged in the fast charger. Almost immediately my heart sank as both car and charger reported errors. The charger specifically said that it had some sort of overload fault in the AC side so it seemed clear that there was no point in trying it further.
Next I tried the medium-fast chargers. To cut a long story short, the first one wouldn’t recognise any of the charge point cards in my collection. The second would recognise them fine and agree to charge, only for the charge to stop almost immediately, no matter how many times I tried.
After much time wasting and repeated attempts I called Renault ZE Services for help. They couldn’t suggest any options except recovery, so that was arranged, with a truck organised to pick up the ZOE an hour later. We then retired to the services café for a cup of tea to pass the time. While drinking the tea I had the thought of ringing Ecotricity to see if they could remotely turn on the medium charger that wasn’t recognising my cards. It turns out they couldn’t, but I was given some very promising advice – ask permission from the services duty manager to drive across the access road to the southbound services and use the chargers there.
That I did immediately – and ten minutes later the ZOE was fast charging. As soon as I confirmed it had enough charge to get home I left it charging but called Renault to cancel the recovery. Once the ZOE had charged a little more (for contingency) I returned to the northbound services (my tea having gone cold in the meantime) to find the recovery vehicle waiting for me. I talked to the driver and he was fine about it – he had got the call to cancel (and clearly he had arrived much sooner than estimated anyway).
Then we drove home and everything was fine. However, the attempts at charging had been a very unpleasant experience – we really thought that we had been stranded at the services. The only benefit being that in future if I need to charge at Newport Pagnell, having learned the process of swapping carriageways, I can hope to have up to six chargers to choose from rather than three (so at least one of the six should be working, I would like to think).
So, do I have any new conclusions on public charging based on our latest experience? Not really, it seems to fall into a consistent pattern:
public charging is hugely unreliable, but ZOE has still not let us down
The UK government has spent just a third of its £400 million fund to support the uptake of ultra-low emission cars in the country expected to be delivered between 2010 and 2015, according to the Financial Times.
Much of the shortfall in spending is thought to be down to a lack of charging infrastructure for new electric cars, with around 5,000 public-available charging points now available across the UK and just 220 rapid chargers; which are particularly useful for reducing motorist ‘range anxiety’ over electric cars.
The Government’s Plug-in Car Grants—part of the £400 million package of support and worth £5,000 to buyers of EVs—have so far sold 5,702 electric vehicles by the end of September, since they first launched in January 2011. That makes the UK only the third biggest market for battery-powered cars in Europe, behind Norway and France. In the first nine months of this year, the UK bought around 2,500 EVs, while Norway, a country with a much smaller population bought double that number. France is believed to have bought around 6,300.
Following two sensational videos in 2013 featuring customers getting more than they bargained for during a Clio test-drive, Renault has turned its attention to the recently launched ZOE electric supermini with the release of a brand new film. However, as with the Clio videos which have now attracted over five million views on YouTube, all is not quite as it may seem.
Electric vehicles are no strangers to motorsport – either in full-size racing, as Renault will show with its partners in 2014 with the FIA Formula E championship, or in miniature in the form of the ever-popular skirting-board scarring Scalextric models. Drawing inspiration from these two ends of the spectrum, Renault’s team hatched an idea to take things one step further and race two full-size ZOEs on a Scalextric track. And where better for the challenge to take place than against the iconic background of central London?
Instead of the usual plethora of exotic supercars, sports and rally cars used in the famous pocket racer formula, viewers will see Renault revamping the underpinnings of its electric supermini to meet the challenge. Compact, stylish, not to mention swift, with instant torque and a 0-31 mph time of only four seconds, its flagship electric vehicle lends itself perfectly to urban racing. It’s even perfectly weight distributed, thanks to its batteries housed directly under its core, doing away with the need for even Scalextric’s trick Magnatraction™ system.
Among the alterations shown in the film was a reworked undercarriage, including the fitting of specially-designed braids, keeping ZOE on the track, as well as an aerial to enable the car to be remotely operated from the sky.
In the three-minute long film, viewers get to see the track being prepared at night, set for race action early the next morning. At dawn, two lucky online competition winners take flight in a specially chartered helicopter for the occasion to pilot their real-life ZOEs, obviously, complete with their own “throttles”.
The race sees the white and black ZOEs do battle along a 1.9-mile specially created track. Taking in several landmarks along the way, it starts at the London Eye on Southbank, it takes in Westminster Bridge and the Houses of Parliament, onto Embankment and The Strand, back over the River Thames, this time across Waterloo Bridge, then the BFI London IMAX cinema in the lead-up to the finishing straight alongside the River Thames.
Commenting on its latest bold marketing initiative, Renault UK Marketing Director, Phil York, said,
“We really wanted to create something attention-grabbing for our electric vehicle range. Given our passion for motorsport, particularly in Formula 1, and the benefits of electric models in urban areas, racing our flagship model around the streets of the English capital was a perfect scenario. ZOE is eye-catching, cheap to charge, London Congestion Charge exempt, as well as free from emissions and pollutants in use.”
Larger and more practical than the average Scalextric car, after the UK Government Plug-in Car Grant deduction, the chic Renault ZOE costs from an affordable £13,995 on-the-road, plus battery hire. The latest information on its full electric vehicle range, including ZOE, is available at http://www.renault.co.uk/cars/electric-vehicles
The creative for Renault’s latest production was undertaken by Scorch London and planned by MG OMD, with supporting assets from Publicis. The video went live on YouTube today at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DITjqRmZ7JA
The opening ceremony was held at the conference “Electric Mobility in Padua, to the Smart City of the Future”
Renault Zoe will be the champion of the new electric car sharing service launched this week in Padua, with the submission of the recharging infrastructure for electric vehicles being installed in the city of Venice.
Francesco Fontana Giusti, Communications Director of Renault Italy, said:
“The electric car sharing service opened today in Padua reflects the changing needs of the cities, undertook to find a more sustainable balance between commuting and respect for the environment. This is one of the first projects that recognizes a significant advantage to electric vehicles in car sharing service with respect to the thermal vehicles: the total absence of polluting emissions during use.”