Fast Charging on the Long Haul - A Self-Experiment
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But if we really want to make the breakthrough of electric cars fast and feasible for everyone, we also need to find solutions for the long haul. We need good availability of public charging stations, both along the periphery of our cities and on highways and country roads. I decide to undertake a self-test for such a long-distance deployment a few days ago with my son Tassilo. Our plan: we want to find out on our road trip on a route across Germany what is now possible on the long haul - in terms of charging.

Our Electric Car for this Roadtrip

For our trip we have chosen a special challenge. We choose a Mercedes-Benz EQV in the long version as our electric vehicle, for this trip (including charging card) kindly provided by the Daimler colleagues from Stuttgart. So, our road trip should simulate a trip of a family with children. Or a business trip with several colleagues, because of course such a van is too big for just two people.

The EQV is definitely less suitable as a rather heavy and large electric car than a more economical electric Volkswagen ID.3, a Model 3 from Tesla or an Audi Q4 e-tron. But that's exactly what makes our drive so exciting. We plan to travel from southern Bavaria to Berlin, with further stops then taking place in Leipzig, Frankfurt and Augsburg, before heading back to Upper Bavaria. Our planned distance is about 1,800 kilometers - that's what I call long distance with a capital 'L'.

The electric Mercedes-Benz EQV has been available since the beginning of 2020. With 90 kWh, it has a decent battery capacity and promises a range of 355 kilometers (approx. 220 miles) according to WLTP. This driving performance is supported by five different recuperation levels and four different driving programs. Mercedes-Benz quotes the average power consumption of the EQV at 26.4 kWh/100 km. I am very curious to see whether we will be able to keep up with this on our drive.

A Road Trip that Starts in the Middle of the Summer Holidays

Our start is on a Saturday early at 6:30 am in Bad Tölz at the foot of the Bavarian Alps. We start quite early, as we thus want to avoid the expected summer holidays return traffic coming to us from Italy via the Brenner Pass. The on-board computer shows us a planned arrival in Berlin at 14:26, early afternoon. This includes the upcoming charging times for our 640 km. We should arrive in the capital with 10% battery capacity. So much for the planning.

For this trip, I deliberately charged the EQV to 100% at my charging station at home. This should not always be done in order to protect the battery, however, I hope that this full charge will give me a certain reserve for possible bottlenecks, as I am cautious. When we reach the Autobahn A99 east of Munich, we already notice an increased vacation travel traffic on both sides of the highway. No wonder, in August the North and West Europeans are drawn to the south, and somehow these crowds have to get back home.

We make our first stop at an OMV gas station near Greding with 57% or 220 km of range left. Here, two fast charging stations from EnBW with DC 150 kW power are available. This is pretty early for a first charging stop, but I want to make sure that we can charge anywhere without any problems with the Shell NewMotion charging card provided to us by Mercedes-Benz. In 20 minutes, we fill up 24.06 kWh for a total range of 310 km. Learning number one of this trip: electric cars charge fastest between 10% and 60% charge levels, from then on, the charging power decreases to protect the batteries in the vehicle. This is important for new electric car drivers because you can save a lot of valuable time with multiple, shorter stops at lower charge levels. And this is an important realization especially when traveling long distance. So, it's better to charge 2x briefly than to fill up the batteries over 90% at every charging stop.

Our second stop is made in increasingly heavy traffic at the Shell NewMotion Park in Berg behind Bayreuth. Here we add 52.7 kWh of energy in a good half hour, which corresponds to 85% remaining range. The large, charged amount in this short time reveals that we had run our EQV down to just 50 km of remaining range. Here, too, the charging card and connection work flawlessly.

At this second charging location, we then realize that the charging stations at gas stations and rest areas are not among Germany's epicurean strongholds, to say the least. Mostly located in the blazing sun, the highest of feelings is a fast-food restaurant or the gas station store, where one is greeted rather skeptically. Sure, we haven't consumed any gasoline or diesel. There is a real need to catch up here in the planning and implementation of fast charging stations on our highways: clean toilets and a good coffee, these would be great companions to a charging cycle of 20-30 minutes. Instead, we usually find the charging stations at the edge of the rest area, often hidden behind fast food or sex store bungalows. We can do better than that.

A highway like the A9 on a travel day in high summer is generally no pleasure, but unfortunately the really unpleasant part of our road trip follows on the remaining drive to Berlin. A horror scenario, so to speak, for all e-newcomers. Due to a two-hour traffic jam near Leipzig, we reschedule our stop and run into a Total service station, where four fast chargers freshly equipped by ABB are displayed ready for use on our apps. Unfortunately, all of the charging stations are not in operation and I overhear the swearing of my fellow driver, who is visibly frustrated as he searches for the next fast-charging option. At the second Total location another 60 km towards Berlin, the charging stations don't work either, despite the availability being displayed. With 16 km of range remaining, sweat is now running down my face.

In the end, we discover a fast charger on our app in Michelsdorf near Beelitz in Brandenburg, just outside of Potsdam, and set off on our journey: eight kilometers of country road, always keeping an eye on the remaining range indicator. And sure enough, the charging station in the center of town works - we are relieved.

However, the fast charger is occupied by a family from Saxony. They had previously failed at the same charging stations at Total/ABB on the way to their Baltic Sea vacation and are now charging their brand-new VW ID.4 here for the next forty minutes. The eight-year-old son proudly explains to us that 'daddy drives the coolest car in their class' - the younger generation clearly has no reservations at all about e-mobility. Another learning here at the charger.

After switching to our EQV and barely forty minutes later, we too set off in the direction of Berlin. My call to Total then clears things up: The charging stations we approached are already officially connected, electricity is available, but unfortunately the stations have not yet been cleared and signed off and are therefore incorrectly reported as available. I try to attribute this circumstance to the introduction dynamics of e-mobility in Europe, but I really don't wish this experience on anyone.

In Berlin, we will be attending the Formula E finals on Sunday. You can find a detailed report on this exciting event here.

We could write a separate report about the charging situation in Berlin itself, but I don't want to go into that here, because we're focusing on the long haul. Just one note: Berlin - like probably many other cities - urgently needs to get a grip on charging station blockers in the form of combustion engine vehicles and electric sharing cars. Ask the one or other e-driver in Berlin, relaxed charging looks different.

After a few days in Berlin, it's back on the long haul, to Leipzig to be precise. Shortly before Halle, the indicated Solar Park with fast-charging stations entices us, so we make a short, 10-minute stop here near Bitterfeld Wolfen at the so called ‘Sonnenfeld’. What is wonderful about this short stop are the conversations with an Audi e-tron and a Hyundai Kona driver and other interested parties - the interest in e-mobility is noticeably high, especially here in the eastern states of Germany. In general, drivers of electric cars like to greet and talk to each other. For me, this has something of earlier experiences 'at the gas station'. Up to the 80’s, people used to talk to each other at gas stations, but this communication has been lost to us nowadays, and is now coming back to life at the charging station.

In Leipzig, our EQV is then charged overnight in a parking garage directly on the City Ring, where everything is well lit and excellently organized. Leipzig seems to us to be very relaxed when it comes to charging infrastructure, perhaps because of its proximity to the Porsche plant, where the Porsche Macan and Panamera model series are built. In fact, the EQV stays alongside a Porsche Taycan for a whole 11 euros, which is a third of the price of parking overnight in Berlin.

On our way to Frankfurt and later in the direction of Augsburg, we experience the perceived luxury of the IONITY fast chargers several times. These are by far the best charging stations for our trip, because the parking areas are easy to find and clearly marked in the middle of the rest area parking lots. The large, easy-to-read display on the charging station itself provides first-class information about the connection and charging power. Those who rely on IONITY for the long haul are on the safe side, we conclude. Now, Daimler (like the BMW, VW, or Ford vehicles as well), as one of IONITY's shareholders, is favored in terms of price, but even the drivers of other e-car brands we met at the IONITY chargers spoke very positively of their charging experience with IONITY. This is how charging works on the long haul.

My conclusion on our charging experiences on the long haul

Long distance travel with an electric car works! Despite a really unfortunate charging problem just outside Berlin, we were otherwise able to pack power into the EQV on the long-distance roads and at all charging stations using our charging card. In general, the quiet gliding of the electric vehicle is a really pleasant way to travel - including our interesting conversations at the charging stations. What needs improvement is the equipment at the fast charger locations themselves, because at the moment you are rather an unwelcome stranger there among the dying breed of combustion vehicles. The IONITY charging stations are the great exception here; they deliver energy with the same quality and reliability that I have experienced at the Tesla Superchargers so far.

Our EQV electric car consumed an average of a good 30 kWh per 100 km, which is a bit too much for my taste despite my self-imposed top speed of 130 km/h. However, thanks to its good charging speed of up to 110 kW in 45 minutes, the EQV is also good for long-distance driving, as it thus again is ready for more than 250 km of range. It also shows that it is always a combination of range and charging speed that counts when using an electric car.

Activation and payment are normally carried out by Mercedes-Benz via the mercedes me Charge functions, but we used a NewMotion Shell Recharge card on our road trip. The payments to other providers such as EnBW or IONITY were settled via roaming. Lessons learnt: if you want to tackle the long haul by electric car with a little organization in Germany, you really can do it today. Next to traveling by train, the electric car is certainly the most environmentally friendly way to travel - promised.

Photos courtesy of Tassilo Brecht.