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‘We tried out driving from Yorkshire to Dordogne in an electric car’

Journalist Nick Jenkins reports on how charging stops worked out travelling to his second home in France

Lidl is rolling out 350kW charging stations in France, so charging will take no longer than filling up with petrol Pic: Maurizio Fabbroni / Shutterstock

The screen told us we had 0% left in our battery as our electric car crawled up to the charger. We had been holding our breath but could finally let out a sigh of relief. We plugged the car in – and disaster… the charger was out of order.

Only kidding. 

Nothing at all like that happened on our recent drive to Dordogne, though it might surprise those who believe everything they read on some Brits-in-France Facebook pages. 

Electric cars are no longer a novelty, of course. 

The Renault Zoe has been around since 2012. All the major manufacturers are now producing electric vehicles (EVs) and plug-in cars accounted for a quarter of new sales in France last December – and a third in the UK.

No doubt many readers already drive one. They are clearly the future, but there is still resistance. 

Some people are so attached to the quaint mid-Victorian technology of the internal combustion engine that they cannot accept change is coming. 

"I’m not buying a Noddy car that only goes 50 miles,” one Luddite told me.

Read more: Cost, lack of charging places: blocks on buying electric car in France

Let us tackle some of the myths

First, anyone who thinks EVs are Noddy cars has clearly never been in one. Touch the pedal and instant power delivers an astonishing acceleration.

Battery power is growing fast – the first EV with 800km (500 miles) of range has already been unveiled. And there is no need to worry “where’s the electricity going to come from?” 

The UK’s National Grid website tells us (and I doubt France is very different): “Even if we all switched to EVs overnight, we believe demand would only increase by around 10%. So we would still be using less power as a nation than we did in 2002.”

Bear in mind, too, that refining one gallon of petrol uses about 4.5kWh of electricity, which would power an EV for nearly 20 miles. You can add to that the energy – and emissions – involved in getting the oil out of the ground, shipping it to Western Europe, and then delivering the refined product to petrol stations.

Read more: Recap: 2023 French state aid for switching to a less polluting car

Buying a new petrol car would have cost more

Yes, a lot of electric cars are expensive, but that is changing fast too. We recently took delivery of a new Tesla Model 3 – the most expensive car we have ever bought by a long way, but we could have spent more on a petrol car, such as a mid-range Skoda Kodiaq or VW Golf.

New electric models are coming on the market all the time and the French government is offering incentives to buy them. 

The MG4, for example, starts at €22,990. It will not be long before EVs are cheaper than the old-fashioned alternative.

Read more: France wants to make €100-a-month electric cars a reality

Enough chargers between Yorkshire and Dordogne?

Ah, but what about the infrastructure? There aren’t enough chargers, are there? 

We put this to the test in February, driving from Yorkshire to our second home in north Dordogne.

The good news is that our satnav had no problem finding chargers, and stopping to top up hardly slowed our journey. 

We would always stop every couple of hours for toilet breaks or to change drivers anyway.

Chargers in surprising locations

One surprise was that charging stations are not always where you would expect them, ie. at autoroute service stations.

In Nantes, we were directed to a bank of Tesla superchargers in the car park of a hotel. It was a welcome and civilised break: a coffee in the comfortable lounge and we were off, fully charged.

In Niort, we topped up in the car park of a budget hotel. 

It looked as though we were in the middle of nowhere, but toilets, a self-service restaurant, a branch of Paul and a shop selling regional specialities were just round the corner.

Encouragingly, in the UK and in France we saw new chargers being installed along the way. 

At the area where we stopped to eat our sandwiches, a row of brand-new superfast 300kW chargers had just been set up.

This is key: chargers are getting much faster

To give an indication, most Tesla superchargers in the UK are 150kW. 

Lidl is now rolling out 350kW charging stations in France, so we are nearing the point when charging will take scarcely any longer than filling up with petrol.

Of course, slow charging still has its place. 

“Granny charging” – a term grandmothers might find offensive – means plugging your car into a normal socket at home. We tried it at our house in Dordogne and it worked fine. 

It is slow, but no problem if you have all night to do it.

Charging at home is always cheaper and our EDF Tempo contract gives us a reduced price during those quiet hours.

We were ‘iced’ in Saint-Malo

Inevitably, EVs have spawned a whole new vocabulary. 

“Volt and bolt” means stopping for a quick top-up, but we nearly fell victim to another EV-only problem on our return journey when three of the four charging spaces in Saint-Malo were “iced” – internal combustion engine (ICE) cars parked in the bays reserved for electric vehicles. 

Luckily, one space remained, and we were able to recharge 50% while shopping for a picnic.

Driving with just one pedal is a pleasure

As for driving, EVs are a pleasure.

Most electric cars offer regenerative braking – slowing down when you lift your foot off the accelerator and returning energy to the battery – so you can drive with just the one pedal.

We barely touched the brake for the whole journey.

Certainly, electric is the future – and the future is already here.

Not just cars, of course: bicycles, motorbikes, vans, buses and HGVs are all going electric. 

It is now less than seven years until the 2030 UK ban on sales of new petrol and diesel cars, and many drivers are not waiting. 

As the switch to electric accelerates, traditional filling stations will become even more unprofitable.

Petrol car owners probably cannot imagine it now, but before long they might have to get fuel delivered to their homes by Amazon because the only remaining pumps will be on autoroutes. 

Who will be suffering from range anxiety then?

Our UK-France journey in numbers

We set off from Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire with 93% on the battery. 

The car’s sat-nav guided us to charging stations along the route, though Cherwell Valley was just a toilet stop and Havant was to top up before the night Portsmouth to Saint-Malo ferry.

What did it cost?

Woodall Services, M1: 60%-100%, 24min, £16.63

Cherwell Valley, M40: 54%-80%, 15min, £9.46

Havant, Hampshire: 35%-99%, 33min, £18.90

Nantes: 30%-100%, 29min, £14.42

Niort: 36%-99%, 31min, £13.61 

TOTAL: £73.02

We arrived at our house near Mareuil en Périgord, in north Dordogne, with 50% on the battery. 

Prices are as shown on our statement. 

The total price is slightly lower than our previous diesel Renault Kadjar at normal pump prices but a lot less than motorway diesel prices. 

The same amount of charging at home on an EDF Tempo night rate would cost less than €15.

Related articles

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Fast electric car charger designed in France can send power to grid

Electric cars: northern France to become battery-making corridor

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