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What I’ve Learned From Driving an EV

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About a week ago, The Guardian had a headline that caught my interest: “Streets Ahead? What I’ve Learned from my Year with an Electric Car.” I clicked through quickly, ready to share common experiences about driving an EV.

The article started with the thrill of being able to drive through London to see the Christmas lights without having to pay congestion or ULEZ (ultra-low emission zone) charges. It seemed “a London from a different era: empty roads and glittering shop windows.”

However, the narrative soon dissolved into a series of critiques and complaints, beginning with the reveal that the EV “purchase had been the source of considerable domestic tension.” Driving an EV, it seemed, was a complex and rather bittersweet experience — and one that need not have been so.

The couple chose a Renault Zoe and opted to lease.

Their delivery experience was lackluster at best. “A couple of young petrolheads waved us goodbye with minimal induction to the car,” the author said, “and no information about the charging infrastructure, except to ‘use the Zap[-Map] app to find a charge point.’”

Early in the driving experience, the couple had difficulty distinguishing eco-mode on/off options, and, instead, labored up a hill, “accelerator flat to the floor and still only hitting 55 mph.” Switching off eco mode pinned them “against the seats by the sheer force.”

Charging options included the possibility of a charging point outside their London terrace, which wasn’t physically possible. Instead, they sought the relatively common charging lamp-posts, only to discover that the local government does not reserve the parking spaces for EVs. “Ordinary” cars parked there, displacing EVs, and forcing the couple to utilize one of the faster, more expensive chargers.

Chargers were often out of repair on longer trips, so a hunt for other chargers in “obscure garden centres, supermarkets, and garages” was necessary. They also did “blow the electrics of our friends’ home.” Charge anxiety highlighted these road excursions, with the author knowing that the car was capable but that chargers might not be functioning as expected.

With the male partner taking control of phone apps, he assumed more of the technical side of owning an EV, “especially midnight trips to find a lamp-post.” This was a “gender division,” the author claimed, typical of early adopters, mainly male. The acquiescence to letting the partner find charging points reinforced the author’s notion that EVs at this moment in time retain the aura of the male domain.

The lack of a universal charge card for all suppliers and too few chargers overall pressed on the author, too.

Good News — Outweighs the Bad?

The author’s reaction to driving an EV wasn’t all bad. They found that “range anxiety was fading” and “no longer watched the battery gauge.” The Zoe’s gauge was accurate, and stops could be planned confidently. A new mentality of scheduling in longer stops and delays became the norm.

The EV became “a useful, boring thing” that allowed driving to common destinations on one charge. The couple laughed at the fuel shortages and reduced charge anxiety by sticking to reliable chargers. They were able to look in the rearview mirror at someone else driving a diesel and felt pride in their contributions for the environment. They became conscious of conserving energy, driving at lower speeds, and traveling by train for longer journeys.

The author ended the retrospective, though, on a rather sour note: “I cannot say the electric car has widened my horizons, but it has made me plan more carefully for reaching them.”

Point/ Counterpoint: Driving an EV

As someone who first owned a Nissan Leaf and then more recently upgraded to a Tesla Model Y, I can relate to many of the concerns raised in The Guardian exposé. I also know that there is a learning curve when trying anything new, and learning how to use technology is very different than learning content. The former needs a whole lot of 1-to-1 interpersonal guidance, while the latter can be taught in silos through texts. My gut and personal experiences driving EVs tell me that the author and their partner didn’t reach out enough to the EV knowledge community who readily assists and offers suggestions to help us all be better, more skilled, and confident EV drivers.

Let’s break down some of the particulars in the article.

Delivery experience: My husband and I started snooping around Girard Nissan in Groton, Connecticut, having seen the 2015 Nissan Leaf they had posted on the web. It was used, had low mileage, and was really affordable. The first customer service rep was honest with us — they didn’t know much at all about an EV, but they had a dedicated person who was schooled in EVs. We waited about half an hour and the person arrived, quite knowledgeable and able to answer our questions. Are many dealerships lacking such a qualified customer service rep? Uh huh, but it’s important to ask for one when you arrive at a legacy showroom. You must scrunch your eyebrows in dismay if you’re sent to someone who is unfamiliar with EVs, at best, and dismissive of their potential, at worst. Better still? Go to another dealership who’s more in tune with the EV world.

My subsequent Model Y delivery experience at Tesla West Palm beach was totally fulfilling — with an assigned customer service rep, an hour reserved for acclimating to the car and setting up profiles, and an easy Q&A session. The Tesla delivery was an A+ experience.

Eco mode: You just gotta play around with the buttons and toggle switches, and, yes, you should read the owner’s manual of any new car — but especially an EV. It’s a computer on wheels, not an internal combustion engine (ICE) with associated moving parts. So, driving an EV means learning about how it functions differently from your former ICE vehicle; you need to adjust accordingly. There’s a lot to learn beyond eco mode, and doing so will make you a more competent and skilled EV driver.

Charging options: Do you have to upgrade your flip phone to find network chargers? It’s likely, and smartphones offer clearer screens for installing and locating apps. Get as many charging apps as possible on your own phone — don’t rely on your partner or your own memory to know where chargers are. If you space out and find the screens screaming at you to Get Thee to a Charger, you won’t be fumbling with getting a WiFi signal and downloading the necessary information in a stressful situation.

Longer trips: My early EV-owning goal was to use it as a second car, acknowledging that 90 miles of range would be absolutely sufficient for errands and local jaunts. I also learned pretty quickly on that, when I wanted to take longer trips, my really reliable 2013 Honda Si would be the better choice — not for the environment, but for peace of mind on those long highway miles in New England in which heat is a typical necessity for comfort. (Most readers of this article probably already know this, but EVs use up more charge when heat or AC is on.)

Technical side/gender divisions: Women, rise up! Don’t accept subjugation into a secondary role as an EV driver. Is it difficult at first to learn to navigate internet-based information? Sure, it is. Can a on-time need to access apps or instructions be frustrating? Yes, definitely. Are there online information sources to assist your technical learning? But, of course. There’s a Renault Zoe Reddit, for example, which is a forum where people pose questions and offer answers about that EV. There are many other online communities, too, that are ready and able to help you answer single or multiple questions so you can gain EV confidence and expertise.

Universal credit card: This is a good idea, but it probably won’t happen during the time when a current person owns a particular EV. So we all need to research which charging networks work for us, establish credit card accounts across the options, and be ready to charge at different networks when the situation calls for it. And, let’s be honest, don’t most of us have multiple credit cards, assigned to different purposes in our lives? Weren’t some of them for particular petrol stations so we could get member discounts? It’s similar with EV chargers right now, and being prepared is the best way to tackle the discomfort that comes with lack of charger universality.

Too few chargers: It sounds like the UK doesn’t have quite the array of chargers that I have around me here in Florida or when I vacation in Connecticut. That will come with time, but, until then, plan, plan, plan when you’ll need to charge, and adjust your schedule accordingly. Anyway, it makes good sense for good health when traveling to stop every 2 hours, stretch, use a bathroom, and refocus. When I interviewed Arthur Driessen a couple of years ago at the 100,000 mile mark of his Tesla Model 3, he told me that this was his approach to long-distance travel, and it allowed him to clear longer miles each day.

Editor’s note: I think it’s well known, but I would just add that Tesla Superchargers make the charging situation much easier for many drivers, and is still a big selling point for the Tesla brand. I recall relying on slower, less reliable charging stations in non-Tesla EVs, but with a Tesla, there are not the same concerns or issues thanks to the Supercharger network. — Zach Shahan

Tesla Supercharger in Florida, by Zach Shahan/CleanTechnica.

Final Thoughts

In the final retrospective of The Guardian article, the author moaned that driving an EV did not widen horizons but only accentuated the need to “plan more carefully for reaching them.” I think that’s kinda sad. Driving a Tesla EV has made my life much easier, and, even with a lower tech EV like the Nissan Leaf, I obtained pride in my support of lowering carbon emissions, affiliation with a visionary community of people who understand how important it is to Electrify Everything, and insights into the distinctions between EV models — as is necessary when accessing ICE car selections.

More importantly, through forums available on CleanTechnica and other online portals, I’ve been able to ask questions, share ideas, and wonder about what’s next in EVs with other EV owners and aficionados. That camaraderie makes me part of a community, and, after all, humans are social creatures. We need that interpersonal interaction to become our best, self-actualized selves. It’s not embarrassing to ask for suggestions (and, if someone responds with a snide remark, challenge them back about their motives). In fact, I’ve gotten lots of good ideas and a richer sense of belonging by being part of EV conversations. Give it a try.

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