Thursday, May 19, 2022

An electric road trip through La France Profonde –

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It may not be fast, but it’s a marvelous way to see the country.
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John Lichfield is a former foreign editor of the Independent and was the newspaper’s Paris correspondent for 20 years.
CALVADOS, France — I have just completed my longest expedition in an electric car across France — 1,777 kilometers from Normandy to the Atlantic coast and the southwest and back again.
The experience was exhausting, nerve-racking, maddening and enthralling. Electric car travel may be the future but it is also, for the time being at least, a return to the past: the good old days and the bad old days.
Driving a small electric car — a Renault Zoe — for long distances is like marathon running in flip-flops or mountain climbing in carpet-slippers.
I confined myself almost entirely to two-lane roads. The battery power of a Renault Zoe melts at speeds over 90 kilometers per hour.
Unless you have a more advanced and expensive car, long-distance electric travel is neither rapid nor cheap.
With a nominal range of 300 kilometers and three hours to refill the battery at most public charging points, rapid cross-country trips are impossible. One-day journeys took two.
This was a return to the 1960s — a France of continental size, with long gaps between towns and unheralded beauty in villages that you never heard of.
It was also, in a way, a return to the 19th century: a slower, more civilized form of travel. You have to put up at wayside inns. You have constantly to find food for your horse. You can also end up, as I did, spending two hours of your holiday in an empty supermarket car park near Limoges waiting for your car to charge.
Why do it? I leased the Zoe a year ago for short trips near my home in Calvados. I signed up for 10,000 kilometers a year. The coronavirus lockdown meant that I used only 7,000 of them.
I had kilometers to burn. Why not visit friends in the Ile d’Oléron on the Atlantic coast and in Tarn et Garonne in the southwest?
I spent two days on each leg of my triangular journey — trips which a dirty old gas or diesel-driven car would have gobbled up in four or five hours.
Replenishing electric car batteries at public charging points in France is, theoretically, simple. There are 27,661 bornes or charging points. Cards or badges give access to almost all of them.
Some charging points are subsidized and cheap. Others are less so. Some are free. I visited one town (Flers in Orne) where all three advertised bornes were dead.
For 1,777 kilometers, I spent €26.54 on electricity. Of this €24.44 went on refills in public charging points (ranging from €0.22 to €10.26). The rest — €2.10 — is the estimated cost of three charges on house mains. I also had one free refill at the supermarket near Limoges.
By my estimate, a similar trip would cost €180 to €220 by petrol or diesel, depending on the size of the car. My estimated saving in highway tolls was €90.
On the other hand, the need to recharge meant that I spent three nights in hotels that I might otherwise have avoided. Cost: €300.
Conclusion: Unless you have a more advanced and expensive car, long-distance electric travel is neither rapid nor cheap. If you wish to wander through the limitless beauty of La France Profonde, it is marvelous.
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