The Switch: From a Diesel Van to an Electric ZOE in the French Alps
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Jai: Hi Nelly, tell us a little bit about yourself?

Nelly: Hi, my full name is Neil McLean, but my friends call me Nelly.  I am 41 years old and I grew up in Dorset, England. My mother is French and my father is Scottish, and from a very young age I wanted to live in the mountains. Finally, I made it a reality about seven years ago and moved to the French Alps. Here, I work for a food wholesaler as a warehouse manager.

Jai: Nelly, you switched to an electric car lately and bought a Renault ZOE. What was the reason for your switch?

Nelly: Yes - it is true, I am now driving a ZOE. I wanted one for a while. The driving experience in an electric car is extremely nice. Relatively recently the increases in range made them more practical to live with, so to speak. Then last year the French government had a number of incentives after the first COVID-19 lockdown and it made it ridiculously cheap to buy an electric car here, so I took the plunge.

Jai: What was the vehicle you have been driving before?

Nelly: My previous vehicle was a Fiat Doblo with a Diesel engine. I used it for transporting materials, as I was building my house here in the French Alps.

Jai: What made you choose the Renault ZOE in particular?

Nelly: Availability, essentially. When they had this offer on it was only for a limited number of cars for the particular scheme. And the ZOE was in stock with a dealer and it looked like the most suitable thing at the time. Also, I was able to buy it locally.

Jai: How do you find it driving out in the mountains, how do you find it practically with an electric vehicle, the charging situation etc.?

Nelly: It is very easy indeed. My ZOE is a great vehicle to come up the hill, interesting punch around the corners of which there are many of on the mountain roads. Charging is easy, because a minute from around my house there is a free chargepoint.

Jai: Do you find it an issue being out here and not having as many charging points as in a city like Paris, Marseille or Lyon?

Nelly: Well quite frankly, you need to be a bit organised. I use one of these charging point apps to point you exactly where the charging stations are. Mine is called chargemap, it has really proven to be reliable when I have been out and driving to different places in the country. You actually can go pretty big distances without charging at all.

© Jai Ashton

Jai: How does your new electric car perform in the snow and the ice?

Nelly: The traction control is too invasive so the car gradually slows down sometimes in situations where I know a bit more wheel spin would be fine and I’d get up the hill. Even with snow-tyres on. On ice it is the same like any other vehicle, not terribly grippy.

Jai: How much range do you get with your electric ZOE up here in the mountains?

Nelly: I am very happy with the range of my e-car. I tell you what, there was one journey that I have done when I was coming back up here and had very little power left in the batteries. While getting less range when going up the mountain you do regain when you go back down (tries to find the data in his app about the trip). I have been to ‘Les Sept Laux’ and back from where we are now, so it was 127 km each way, more than 250 km round trip. And that includes going up a reasonably big mountain once you get there and some Motorway driving as well. I have actually never used my ZOE on flat country roads to see how far you can get, but I am very happy with the range up here in the Alps.

Jai: So, what do you miss or which improvements need to be done with electric cars?

Nelly: Renault software could do with some improvements, as it is not especially reliable. My ZOE has never warmed itself up when it was set to do by the Renault app. A function that doesn’t seem to work. Also, quite a lot of times you can be charging it and while you want to know whether it is working, the app refuses to refresh with the car.

Jai: Slight change of topic, you have got an electric bike too. Can you tell us the reason why you’ve got it? They seem to be really popular up here, especially since the issue with COVID-19, especially when people can’t ski.

Nelly: My E-Bike is a Specialized Kenevo 2020 that is essentially a downhill bike, that goes uphill really fast, because it has got an electric motor on it. I’ve got it because a few of my friends have electric bikes and we all get uphill really fast to do some mountain biking together. You get a lot more descent for your effort. Still even when you switch to turbo-mode and you are going up some really steep stuff, your heartrate will be up there, and you do way steeper stuff, than with a normal bike.

I have also replaced certain car journeys with my E-bike as well. It is quite pleasant to be outside – like I’ve ridden to work with it quite a few times.

Jai: One could say, you have replaced your old car with something practical using electric mobility and the recreational side has improved with an electric vehicle as well?

Nelly: Yes, it is a fun thing to have, but my E-Bike is not a replacement of my normal bike for everything. For some tracks I prefer the normal mountain bike as the ride downhill is purer, with a lighter bike without several kilos of batteries and motor. It therefore depends on what you are doing. But yes, I have changed to electric mobility and I am very happy with my decision.