My next car is an electric (part one)

When I bought our current car in 2015 (a Skoda Octavia) I promised myself that our next car will be an electric car. So far that has been an excuse to not invest in a new car. The Octavia serves our driving needs and electric cars in our price range have not had the range/charging parameters we need. Also, we do not have access to charging where we live and changing that requires convincing a community of 82 houses to put down money to upgrade 40 year old infrastructure. So plenty of excuses to keep doing what we have always been doing.

However, recently I had a chance to revisit the question: When I decided to take a roadtrip to Denmark leaving wife and kids behind, my wife needed a second car for the short daily trips. Maybe that could be an electric? 

So I rented an electric car for one month, a Kia Niro. Range of 350-400 km when fully charged, 64 kWh battery. Great way to try it out and get some insights into the questions:

  • Is it a “real” car?
  • Can we charge it without too much fuzz?
  • What’s the cost?

But first, let’s take a look at what our driving needs are and our current fuel economy.

Driving needs

With the pandemic having both of us working remotely, I found myself driving mostly short trips of 5-10 km and less than 150 km per week, with the occasional long distance roadtrip to Denmark (2000 km return) or on vacation. Post pandemic, we are likely to go to the office again both of us, maybe 3 days per week. As we mostly take public transportation anyway, we can still keep a weekly driving budget of less than 250 km for the short daily trips.

The fuel economy in the Octavia is good. We drive 15-20 000 km per year in the Octavia. The fuel economy is between 5.0 and 6.0 litres per 100 km (16-20 km/l), better on longer trips. With prices for 95 in Sweden hitting 16,50 SEK/litre, it’s about 1 SEK per km. Plus service and insurance adding perhaps another 10 000 SEK per year, pretty much independent of how much we drive.

I’m thinking we could have a second car for the short trips and keep the Octavia for the long trips and the “dirty” trips to the recycling station.

Is it a “real” car?

YES! The rented version with back camera, built in navigator, and collision detect and lane assist in cruise mode makes for a pleasant driving experience. Plus you get the automatic gear and an engine that really kicks when you hit the gas pedal. This is not an “Ellert”. It’s hard getting back in the Octavia after taking the Niro for a spin.

Range and speed. What else do you need?

Can we charge without too much fuzz?

A major issue with electric cars is of course the shorter range and longer charging times compared to combustion engine cars. So trying out the charging experience in our setup is a major learning objective.

We live in a place built in 1972. The electricity wiring in the garage is not ready to pump 6+ Amperes into a battery over several hours every night. The current installation has a capacity of 35A over 20 garages, this will support 5-6 cars charging at the same time out of 20. If we go with the existing installation, it will take 2-3 days to fully charge a 64 kWh battery. So no doubt that this will be a project that will cost money and needs to pass a vote in the association. I am not too optimistic that we can get such a proposal through any time soon.

Recently I came to the realisation that we probably don’t need to charge at home in order to have an electric car. 

Nobody wants to wait in a queue for hours in a windy freeway service center while a queue of electric vehicles pass through a charging station. But maybe there are other options? Where is one place you park the car one hour every week anyway? When you go grocery shopping. Would it work? I decided to find out.

Charging while shopping

We go shopping about once per week at a nearby super market, less than 1 km away. At the moment, they do not offer charging stations. I’ve asked and they say they are waiting for the energy company to provide the infrastructure.

However, a bit further away (6 km), there is a shopping center that offers charging for free while shopping, so I tried it out. 

4 stations available, offering 11 kW. Parking up to 3 hours. When I came, 3 were taken. This was mid-day on a weekday. I’m guessing chances of charging on a Saturday are poor. I had to drive around a bit to locate the charging stations, but once I had parked, plugging in and starting charging was easy. One and a half hours later, I had added 16 kWh to the battery or about 100 km range.

So a weekly shopping trip will not cover our driving needs, it can only be a supplement.

Shopping centers closer to the centre offer similar options, so we will not have to go to the same place every week, but we still can’t cover our entire charging needs from charging while shopping. 

Charging while eating

The nearest charging station to where we live is at a fast food restaurant next to the freeway. It’s a 50 kW charging station for a price of 2.40 SEK per kWh. With a 64 kWh battery, a 30 minutes stop will give you about 150 km range. While the kids love the idea, my wife and I are more lukewarm on the idea of a weekly visit to a fast food restaurant to charge the car. It is just a short detour from our way home from school, so I tried it out one day. 

50 kW DC going into the car without blue sparks flying around.

While the charging station was free and plugging the car in was easy, finding out how to pay and start charging took me about 10 minutes of fiddling around with the phone. You need to download an app and register a credit card, then you need to locate the charging station. Simple steps but the app didn’t score high in UX. Next time will be easier — but hey, if first time is fiddly, there may not be a next time.

22 minutes of charging gave me an additional range of 100 km for 54 SEK. Plus 200:- for the food.

With the app you can see if the charging station is working and is occupied, so when it is a place you drive by daily, it might work with just stopping and charging once in a while.

So maybe a 45 minutes weekly visit could cover our charging needs. However, I feel we will grow tired of fast food very quickly, even the kids. Could I imagine waiting in the car while charging? Reading a book or working on a laptop? I don’t know. Maybe. Feels like a chore.

Charging away from home

So far the answer to the charging question is a much less impressive MAYBE. Charging options away from home all come with some inconvenience, at least initially. Things are likely to improve as the charging infrastructure improves but it is not quite there yet. There will be some hiccups and attention needed to ensure the car is charged so we can reliably use it every day.

Charging while exercising would be ideal. Even on the long trips to and from Denmark we do breaks to stretch our legs and fill our stomach. Great if the car could recharge at the same time. Copyright Frederik Jensen, 2021.

To be continued…

Next post I will evaluate further charging options and look into the cost of ownership. Is it time to buy an electric car yet?

Stay tuned for the conclusion!