Crossing Europe, Sans Gas? My Summer Vacation 'Stress Test' For Electric Cars
The author set off on a three-week vacation trip across Europe in an electric car. Would the charging infrastructure be enough to get all the way, or would they end up stranded without battery, far from home?
BERLIN — "Do we really want to do that?" my wife asked. "Nearly 3,000 kilometers across Europe, in an electric car? We've already failed over much shorter distances."
She was right about that. But it's 2023, and e-mobility has outgrown its niche. It is set to become the new reality — in fact, it already is. After all, we're driving through Europe, not the desert.
After a lot of persuasion, I finally managed to assuage her worries. But I also prepared myself for a fairly big adventure. After all, our three-week vacation tour this year took us not only through Germany, but also Austria, Slovenia, Croatia and Italy.
On our last long electric trip just over a year ago, we got stuck in a charging station jam after only 160 kilometers. The charging park in Nempitz, Saxony-Anhalt, was overrun, and before we could get to the charging point we had to line up and wait for 45 minutes.
Progress of electromobility
In total, the first charging stop took an hour and 20 minutes. The mood of my wife and children took a nose dive — and the fear of the next charging jam was ever-present. This time, we were going even further.
No wonder, then, that the family's skepticism was high. Unjustifiably so, as we now know — this time, we mastered the Nempitz hurdle effortlessly, and many others.
Where is the next charging point? What's plan B if something doesn't work technically?
At this point, therefore, let us praise the progress of electromobility in Germany. Over the past three weeks, I have carried out the ultimate endurance test in terms of charging infrastructure: 2,800 km across Europe, in the middle of the peak vacation travel season.
Result: no problems whatsoever.
There were no traffic jams at the charging station, as I had regularly experienced in previous years. In fact, a remarkable number of new charging options have popped up on long-distance roads over the past 12 months.
Suddenly, you can find so-called fast-charging parks at almost every second major rest stop. For the first time, I had the feeling that I no longer had to explicitly plan my charging. There was the security of being able to react flexibly to the falling battery level.
This weakens a central argument of the e-car skeptics. They criticize the loss of freedom when driving, and the need to plan every longer route in detail. Where is the next charging point? How fast can I drive? What's plan B if something doesn't work technically? Range anxiety has been omnipresent — and still keeps many people from buying an electric car.
Die Welt journalist Nando Sommerfeldt driving
The expansion must continue
But the reality is now different. If you miss one road exit, the next one appears within 50 kilometers. Highway signs have also been adapted accordingly. Information is provided in front of all rest stops or car parks about whether charging stations are available.
But that's not all. The charging points are not only available more and more often — they also charge much faster, and their capacity has changed radically. Previously, people were fobbed off with models that delivered a maximum of 50 kilowatts (kW), but now, models with four to six times that power are now available. Within 20 minutes, you can often "recharge" 200 to 300 kilometers of range.
Another positive finding: I completed about 30 charging attempts during the tour, using a single chip card. Every attempt to charge the card worked. Not a single one was aborted. At every charging point, even in the deepest Croatian province, I got electricity without any problems.
The era of lavish subsidies for the expansion of the charging infrastructure should end now.
I know my experiences are nothing more than a single eye-witness report. But this three-week "spot check," in the middle of the peak season for long-distance travel, reveals the end of the eternal traffic jams at charging stations. It is at least a strong indication that Germany and other countries have made progress in expanding charging infrastructure.
What does it all mean? Of course, the expansion must continue at an unabated pace. In the near future, we must reach the point where electric cars can actually recharge their batteries at every major service station, especially since the number of e-vehicles continues to increase — growing by 55 percent within the past 12 months. The infrastructure must also grow at this pace.
A lucrative business model is emerging
One thing is certain, however: the era of lavish subsidies for the expansion of the charging infrastructure should end now, at least here in Germany. The chicken-and-egg problem has been resolved. The question of what should be built first — e-cars or charging points — is moot. Both are now all around us. Electricity for charging parks is now a good way to generate profits, especially since prices are high and are likely to remain so.
Given the e-car growth, a lucrative business model is now emerging for infrastructure operators. Thus, no company should be motivated to build charging stations by millions of euros in government subsidies — the business case is already clear on its own.
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