EV Tales #3: How Many Charges North? (Egham - North East)


My day job, helping schools thrive, succeeds because of three things: planning, preparation and improvisation, usually in equal proportions. But this 1300 mile road trip is heavily skewed towards the latter. Lucy and I are learning experientially, purposefully and in context - active learning - which is actually the most effective kind.

There's a lot we don't know yet. We've planned the stages and added contingency for navigation errors, roadworks and errands for relatives (shopping, shopping again, chemists, doctors etc). And I know on a cool day, downhill, with a following wind and a Vauxhall copywriter's technical license, the Corsa E might travel 225 miles before it seizes up (Oh yes, my brother warned me, don’t run it dry, you can't push it onto the verge. It's not like your crappy Focus, it just stops. I argue that it is exactly like my crappy Focus). For all we do know, we don't - can't - know the detail. That's the fun, the real world learning.

Just a Large Mobile Phone

I'm looking here on the Vauxhall website, playing with the sliders and anticipating the challenges ahead. But that's the clue isn't it, 'a-head'. That's where it all is at the moment, in my mind. I'm crafting a future reality from the only raw material to hand - not much. Charge. Charge. Charge. I can't stop thinking about charge. It will pass. After all I'm not thinking diesel, diesel, diesel in my other car, am I? No, I'm thinking please don't stop randomly instead.

Several factors affect the range of an electric vehicle including load, driving style, speed, outside temperature and how many times the driver looks at the dashboard to check how much charge is left. A 4-day mini heatwave began today. I'm wondering if this journey to the north-east is such a good idea.

I reckon satnavs made us lazy with navigation and route planning. They stop us thinking about how we're going to get to where we're going. And conventional cars with ranges over 600 miles, and a plentiful - if pricey - supply of liquid fuel, make most journeys anxiety-free. I've a feeling that EVs will restore both the skills and, to begin with, the anxiety. They'll restart our thinking about travel. And maybe we'll notice more on the way, at the unexplored and unexpected locations of the many charging points we'll be necessarily drawn to.

The reflections above prompt me to adopt the mindset that an EV is just a larger, more consequential mobile phone. One where you can't find the charging cable and when you do it's not where you expected it to be. And it needs a wiggle to get it going. An EV is a mobile phone with wheels. And bluetooth pairing. For your phone. Which the EV can also charge.

I adopt the mindset that an EV is an EV.

You Are Not Welcome in Northampton?

female by charging station

I only know one person from Northampton and he's a very good friend. I'm sure he'll have an opinion on the following.

Lucy masters Zap Map and finds an unattended Polar BP Pulse charge point sitting alone and unloved in the Northampton Holiday Inn car park. We've 70 miles of charge left. A few taps on the screen, a swipe of the charge card, plug in the CSS 50Kwh cable and we’re away. Helpful graphics indicate that the car is becoming more charged but not very fast. We lay out a picnic rug. And have a picnic.

There’s a printed notice on the charge station reminding the public (of which, not being Holiday Inn guests, we are currently members) that they (all of them in fact) are not permitted to use the hotel toilets. Pre-COVID I lived in hotels and achieved the heady status of Platinum with the hotel group in question. I wonder if that counts?

Charge station

From experience, this hotel brand is warm and welcoming. All apart from the Northampton satellite, apparently, stuffed here in the liminal space between motorway, industry and scorched summer ‘22 countryside. Here’s an alternative sign I wrote for them:

Hi charge point users - lovely to have you here. Please feel free to use our rest rooms and take advantage of our snacks and beverage service. And if not, do have a safe onward journey! Yours, HI Northampton, the caring welcoming face of hotels that is keen to cast both Northampton and the IHG group in a good light.

I'm sure there's a reason and a story behind their sign. It's a sobering first charge. I wonder if we'll be greeted by hoards of pitch-forked luddites at future stops, chanting, 'No EV!, No EV!'

Fly squashed

Just before we leave, I notice a dead fly on the bonnet. I'm strangely comforted by this commonplace event. Have you noticed a change in the quantity of insect death on car fronts these last few decades? Less, right? Is this down to better, more insect-friendly design? Or less insects? Are we doomed? Or maybe the insects have learned to avoid cars.

You Are Welcome in Leeds?

EV at station

We depart. I drive a steady 60mph and 'miles travelled' keeps pace with 'charge miles used'. The car is in Eco mode and we're charging our phones from battery packs. Any faster and each mile we go uses more than a mile's worth of charge.

We notice on Zap Map that all the service stations we pass use a brand of charger (Ecotricity) not covered by our Onto charge cards (BP Pulse, Shell Recharge, Instavolt). We also note that BP petrol stations do not have BP chargers and, not wanting to be outdone, Shell petrol stations don't have Shell ones either. I thought, maybe, just maybe, the obvious place for global energy behemoths to situate their chargers would be, well, you know...

About 150 miles later I see on a roadside billboard the logo for a charger we CAN use. We pull off. This time I risk 50 charge miles left.

Beautiful Skelton Lake services, outskirts of Leeds. 6 Ionity chargers. The Tesla of charge points. If you exclude Tesla charge points. This time, plug in first, then tap the screen a few times and present card. We chat to some old EV hands and a family ready to implode as dad fiddles with the Ionity app. Charge stations have the water cooler effect; a smokers' corner ethos. Folks drawn together by a common theme can easily begin chatting, in this case about the ins and outs of EVs. A savvy yet unethical company would learn a great deal of value, were it to bug these areas.

We leave the car unattended for the first time and get a Too Good to Go from Starbucks, sit outside to eat and are amazed to return from a conventionally sized rest stop to a 96% charged car.

It's got 203 miles of charge and our final destination is 60 miles away. I put it in Sport mode, turn off regenerative braking and put it through its paces. I notice that each actual mile now eats 2 charge miles. I revert to eco and driving like my father. The ratio improves.

So, it took two charges to get the Corsa 'up north'.

In EV Tales #4 find out how to name your very own EV charging company, what my dad thinks of it all, and why we are grateful to Duncan Bannatyne.