There are now more than 100 Ionity fast charging stations in France along the highways, as well as 722 Tesla Superchargers open to the public in the country. As of 30 June 2022, French motorway companies already claimed 800 charging points across the motorway network, spread over 219 areas, i.e. “one station every 80 km on average” with 70% of the terminals providing a power of at least 150 kW (and a network expected to expand in the coming years). In theory, the time when taking a trip in an electric car was akin to a suicidal act therefore seems to be over and many electric car users regularly take long trips in France. New electric cars also almost all have onboard trip planners to simplify travel and there are now many apps dedicated to optimizing trips. But this type of electric car journey remains subject to a terrible danger, that of possible malfunctions of the fast terminals combined with insufficient feedback of information about the state of the network.
Cold sweats on the A7 motorway
This Tuesday morning, November 1, 2022, we left Marseille behind the wheel of a Porsche Taycan Sport Turismo Turbo S at 9am, after having had to explore the city the night before to find something to charge the battery to 100% (the two 22 kW public terminals near the starting point are out of order). This big baby of 625 horsepower, capable of officially covering 430 kilometers according to its WLTP homologation, is in theory an excellent traveler thanks to its fast charging capacity of 270 kW and its sufficient autonomy. To plan our trip to Paris, we rely on the car’s on-board system and the Chargemap app. The two interfaces offer us three quick stops of a few tens of minutes on this route of just under 800 kilometers. Launched on the road at legal speed (and up to 140 km/h counter equivalent to a real speed very slightly above 130 km/h), the consumption of this superpower sports sedan stabilizes around 25.5 kWh/100 km (or i.e. approximately 350 km of autonomy at this speed). Both Porsche’s on-board planner and Chargemap advise a different first charging point and we decided to choose the one defined by the Chargemap app, assuming it offers better up-to-date information. But when you arrive at the Saint-Rambert d’Albon rest area, as indicated in the Chargemap planner, surprise: the expected fast charging stations (four points at 120 kW) are turned off.
We called the assistance service with the number displayed on the terminal, which confirms that the four terminals in question have been inoperative for two hours (although they were still described as functional in the Chargemap app). Our car shows only 50 kilometers of autonomy remaining and a slight sense of panic begins to invade us. According to our planning tools, there is no longer the possibility of joining another ultra-fast charging network due to the state of the batteries. We then used two 60 kW terminals indicated in a Lidl car park 10 kilometers away, luckily with a free place on arrival to recharge the car. With that charging power, you have to resign yourself to wasting much more time than expected on the journey. Even more infuriating that, searching the internet afterwards, we found an Ionity station located not far from the location of the faulty terminals in question when they were not referenced in the Chargemap app at the time of the events!
Relative freedom of movement
The rest of the trip will be much better: after the stop at Lidl where we finally decided to wait for the 99% recharge while working on our computer in the car, just one more stop at Maison Dieu no Yonne (350 kW Ionity terminals) to get to Paris after an ultra-fast recharge. The trip took 10 hours, where it should have taken just over eight hours if the first terminal of the trip had worked (versus 7 hours for the same trip by thermal car). Given the density of the network of public terminals currently deployed in France, it would be impossible to end up without any emergency charging solution. But when one of the high power terminals provided on the route proves to be faulty, the time lost can be counted very quickly in hours when it is necessary to consult other less suitable charging points.
Dramatic advances in electric car technology in recent years make long journeys behind the wheel possible. But you always have to deal with that feeling of being in danger because of potential problems encountered on the journey, especially when they are not detected upstream by the planning tools. The very idea of having to prepare your entire trip or running the risk of finding yourself in difficulties fits very poorly with this wonderful concept of the car capable of taking you anywhere in the world with a simple turn of the ignition key. Electric car enthusiasts will remember that it was not so easy to travel in France with a thermal car in recent weeks because of strikes at refineries. But will it be possible one day to start your electric car and drive for 800 kilometers without having to worry about a thing? On a day-to-day basis, electric cars unquestionably outperform thermal cars in terms of comfort of use and practicality, with the simple condition of having easy access to an outlet. But for improvised road movie adventures – which we will never dissociate from the car world that makes us dream – we will have to wait for other technological advances.