On the Road to France: A Summer Holiday Charging Experience
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Those following the current problems at European airports are avoiding - if possible - travelling by plane this summer. But even at European train and bus stations, travelling by train or bus has become a real challenge since COVID-19 ended travel restrictions. What remains is to use one's own or rented car even on long-distance journeys. But is that also possible in an electric vehicle?

The Task: Avoid Charging at Superchargers in  Southern Europe

I am starting another self-experiment with my electric car this July. Feel free to read more here about my trips to Copenhagen and Oslo in the far north of Europe. Thanks to the excellently developed network of Tesla Superchargers there, I travelled many thousands of kilometres in complete relaxation. There was no sign of range anxiety. In fact, I am a firm believer that there is no such thing for today’s electric cars any more.

This trip is not about proving that the Superchargers also work in the south of Europe. No, I am heading south during the peak travel season in the hot summer, equipped with the IONITY app and a charging card for conventional AC chargers. The car is fully loaded as my car provides transport for the family luggage.

My journey first takes me from Munich via eastern Switzerland to Bern. In the tranquil Swiss capital, I meet colleagues from the SBB and presented our MOTION Magazine. Less than 20 kilometres before Bern, I charge my vehicle at one of the IONITY Chargers, which had signalled to me a few days earlier that it had been upgraded from four to six charging points. This was absolutely necessary, because when I arrived at the rest area, all six stations were occupied.

For someone currently driving a Tesla, this is quite an exciting sight, because until now Tesla drivers were used to seeing Model 3, Y or even S and X vehicles at the superchargers. During my 20-minute charging phase, I see two VW ID.4s, two Volvo XC40 Recharge, a Ford Mustang Mach-E, a Porsche Taycan and, to my surprise, several Tesla vehicles. The variety of electric cars lead to completely new conversations with Belgians, Danes and, of course, Swiss - they eagerly talk shop on long-distance topics and the best charging spots. Refreshing.

First lesson for a Tesla driver at an IONITY station: you are rarely alone and quickly learn about the strengths and weaknesses of other electric cars.

The Jazz Festival in Montreux is my next stop. It's less than 100 km away, but I treat my vehicle to a little top-up in Lully. Of the four IONITY stations there, only three are working; next door, 12 free Tesla chargers are waiting for customers in the dazzling sun. No Tesla vehicle in sight and  almost feel guilty while charging at one of the IONITY chargers next door. The opening of the Tesla fast chargers makes sense not only from a business point of view for Elon Musk’s company, but also because they provide urgently needed charging space for the masses of electric cars that will be hitting the roads in the coming weeks.

Second learning on this trip: with only four non-Tesla charging stations at a rest area, it quickly becomes tight - especially if one of the chargers is not working.

A small detail on the side: I meet Stefan and Patrice, two subcontractors of IONITY, who travel with their van from Germany to Switzerland and Austria and clean the charging stations there. A clean, large display is a welcome difference to the Tesla chargers without any screen. With IONITY, I can always see the inflow of electricity and various information and I am instantly aware of the costs involved. The van of these two young men runs on diesel, I think we can do better here and set an example with an electric van as there are quite a few available these days.

A Saturday on a freeway in Europe - stress factor for any traveller in summer

As I leave beautiful Switzerland on early Saturday morning, I suspect that the next part of my journey to the south of France could be arduous. Saturday is bed changeover day - and with many other cars from the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, I set off on the motorway via Geneva towards Marseille and Nice.

In the back of my mind, the reassurance from a recent IONITY press release resonates: „With the opening of our 100th station in the country, France represents the second largest market for IONITY across the continent with more than 400 charging points available along the main motorways“. But a hungry air condition of my vehicle and a few traffic jams make the interruption of my charging attempts virtually unavoidable.

In order not to lose any more precious time on the way to my final destination in Provence, I head for a Tesla Supercharger near Grenoble. Of the ten chargers, only two are occupied, which is the good news. But the rest at this charging station is disappointing. The charging point is located at the end of an industrial area, no shade available and an adjacent restaurant is closed. As well as the charging works at this spot, the more disappointed I am, once again, with the charging experience at a Tesla Supercharger.

My next stop is scheduled near Avignon - Morières-les-Avignon to be precise. A new rest area with various charging providers and four IONITY stations. A friendly young man waves me to the charging station, opens the door for me and connects the charger with my vehicle. This type of service is only known to older people from the days when service was still provided at petrol stations, at an extra charge.

Jean-Marie is an employee of French service company Animéo and looks after IONITY customers here at the weekend. At 34 degrees in the shade, this is not necessarily a pleasure, but he seems happy when I ask him about his current job. He is proud to be part of this movement towards better mobility. With just four fast chargers and an older 50 kW model, he is not exactly working at full capacity, but he will get there. His goal, he says, is above all to cater to IONITY's many new customers, to offer them a pleasant charging experience. By the time I arrive around 4 p.m. he had been able to serve about 35 vehicles and thus their drivers, but especially in the afternoon hours, traffic increases. Here, too, I realise: four fast chargers at such an important location are far too few and soon two more Porsche Taycans from Switzerland are waiting for their fast charge.

My third lesson learnt: this is how service works. A nice service staff, a smile on the lips and a really good shop with different offers from coffee to organic food and clean toilets. Even the two Taycan drivers were satisfied on the spot and positively accepted the 5-10 minutes of additional waiting time. This is how you entertain new e-vehicle drivers, especially on a hot summer day.

With three new lessons learnt and a drive of a good 1,000 kilometres I finally arrived at my summer holiday destination in beautiful Provence. The weather forecast looks great, with more than 35 degrees every day. I am keen to learn how charging down south works, especially with my vehicle’s air-conditioner running at full load. Let me therefore write down my charging experience here in the south of France in another post. Stay tuned.

Photos courtesy of Michael Brecht.