Going on holiday with an electric car is possible: a 900-kilometer journey between France and Belgium shows that the charging stations are there, but that it is essential to prepare your trip to avoid running out of fuel, and both the network as well as the network are still immature compared to traditional gas stations.
The journey of an AFP team illustrates the daunting financial and industrial challenge Europe faces as it seeks to ban the sale of petrol or diesel vehicles within 13 years.
From Paris no problem with traffic jams in the Paris area: the battery lasts for hours at this speed. But upon arrival on the highway, the electric drive reveals one of its main flaws: the autonomy increases from 250 kilometers to less than 100, in much less time than it takes to cover it.
After an initial charge, we arrive at the Verdun (Maas) area with the gauge set to zero. For ten euros, the battery is 80% full, the last 20% are slower.
Depending on the vehicle and the outside temperature, it is important to plan your route because the battery drains faster in winter. To reach Belgium, it has to be recharged four times, for around thirty minutes at each break.
“Roaming charging is essential in people’s minds to go electric,” said Cécile Goubet of Avere, the organization of electric vehicle professionals. Tesla understood this well by launching charging stations at its own expense alongside its sedans, which today have many more than competing stations, each with up to 40 individual terminals.
Leaving the motorway to enter Belgium via the departmental roads reduces consumption, as does the fear of breakdowns. There are many medium-power chargers in front of town halls, at retailers or in front of supermarkets.
Night falls as Brussels approaches: you must now find a hotel or accommodation to recharge your batteries just to go with 100% autonomy. The offer is still limited to rather posh hotels or a few Airbnbs.
At the Nazareth rest area near Ghent, the Dutch, encouraged by the efficiency of their terminal network, are making a first quick charge on their way to France.
“The problem is that France lies between Belgium and Spain,” jokes Frank Berg, 55, who is going to Spain with his wife Olga.
Compared to the Netherlands or Germany, the French fast charging network is still very incomplete. After the failure of the Corri-Door network, launched in 2015 by subsidiaries of EDF and Engie, operators such as Ionity, TotalEnergies or FastNed take over.
By decree, all French motorway service stations must be equipped by the end of the year.
After years of hesitation, “there is a lot of enthusiasm for this business model,” confirms Florian Nagele from McKinsey. National and European giants are likely to consolidate in the coming years, the industry expert predicts.
Isabelle Inder, 34, is also traveling to Champagne with her partner Antalyaa. They recently chose a small SUV from the Chinese brand MG, which has a range of around 300 km, “to protect the environment” and to walk their big dog.
“We charge in small bursts every time we stop. It’s not that complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a break every hour and a half,” explains Isabelle. “You need to plan your trip, but sometimes the apps aren’t up to date and the terminal doesn’t work.”
We have the bitter experience on the Lille-Paris motorway: with 60 kilometers to go, a charging station is closed for work, we miss an exit for the next one and we are almost at zero at a station … where fast charging is not is working.
According to the International Energy Agency, 300,000 slow terminals (+30% over a year) and 50,000 fast (+30%) were installed in Europe in 2021. Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway and France have significantly increased their efforts in recent months.
But that 30 percent increase over the course of a year remains insufficient given the expected explosion in the electric car market. According to the European Association of Automobile Manufacturers, a network of 6.8 million chargers by 2030, or installing 14,000 chargers per week, would be required to meet demand.
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