In a previous post, I described the less-than-epic journey around Ireland with our new electric car — the Kia eNiro. That turned out to be reasonably straightforward so, ever up for a challenge, we thought about doing something more interesting. This time, we would take the car to France, and then beyond to visit relatives in Germany.
The (relatively) easier way to get from Ireland to France with an electric car would be to get the ferry to Cherbourg and go from there. However, when we went to look at options, the outward journey had no cabins available on the boat, and we didn’t really fancy sleeping on a recliner for the whole 16-hour journey. That meant looking at the “land-bridge” option via the UK — with the added charging requirements of that trip. Our place in Wexford is 10 minutes from Rosslare Port, so the Rosslare — Fishguard route was the chosen option.
So, a simple plan. First from Fishguard to Folkestone. Then taking the Eurotunnel train to Calais. We would overnight there and then drive from Calais to Mannheim in western Germany. After a few days with our relatives, the return would be Mannheim to Vernon in Normandy, France (a nice place to stop over) and then on to Cherbourg for the ferry back to Rosslare.
Relatively straightforward in an internal combustion car, but complicated when you consider having to stop and charge the electric car at several places.
Planning — choosing the best route
In my experience, the best tool for anyone to use when planning a long-distance trip in an electric car is A Better Route Planner (ABRP). As well as having one of the most complete databases of available chargers, it also includes the mapping and route element to get you from charger to charger with battery to spare. It is not perfect though, so bear that in mind.
Before employing ABRP, I did also use Google Maps to work out what it felt was the best overall route. I also consulted with our relatives in Germany about route options, as they had the local knowledge. This turned out to be important later as there was a difference between what ABRP suggested as a route and what Google Maps had suggested — it turned out that Google was taking into consideration the extensive roadworks that were happening in Germany following last summer’s flooding, and ABRP had a preference for more chargers. It wouldn’t have been terrible to go that way, but always good to consult multiple sources.
I first used ABRP without any particular filters and got a feel for some of the chargers that were available on the route. I found myself starting to catalog multiple locations of potential charger stops, and got to know the options very well. But then I stopped myself and thought about using different filter options to give me better results.
I don’t really have “range anxiety” in the car. I had more of an “availability anxiety” about chargers. I really didn’t want to pull up at a single charger and find it to be in use. We did have a particular time to get to the Eurostar, but they are flexible if you are late — but I didn’t want to be up all night either! On one of the electric car groups on Facebook, someone recommended a filter option in ABRP to make sure that the stop had multiple chargers. I set this to 4, to be extra sure. I was also not 100% sure at to what level of charge I would have gotten off the boat, so used 80% as my reference point.
This moved my first suggested stop from the MOTO on the M4 just west of Cardiff to an earlier point in the trip of the MOTO services at Swansea. Cardiff only had one unit, and Swansea had 4 fast chargers.
The second stop was to be the Ionity at Chippenham (4 units) then the Cobham services on the M25, which had both Ionity and GridServe units. Finally, if we needed it, there was an Ionity stop at Channel Gateway, very close to the Eurotunnel exit on the M20.
For the leg from Calais to Germany, I didn’t know exactly how much charge I would be starting off with. There was an option of a single charger at a supermarket in Calais, and I knew that there was also an Ionity station not far over the Belgian border. When checking the options for stops, I was also checking on services nearby — which led me to exclude some!
The only charger that I included which had a single unit was the first one we hit as we came out of the Ardennes into Germany, near a town called Wittlich. I did have a backup plan of yet another Ionity station, but it would have been an extra 40 minute round-trip!
For the return legs, I made some preliminary plans (again hitting several Ionity stations!) but chose not to finalise them until before we set off and I would have a good idea on how much charge I would have available and know more about the roads we would be using.
Pre-Prep — cards and cables
A few weeks before we set off, I was doing some research around the RFID cards that I might need and settled on 2 — ChargePoint and Shell Recharge. The ChargePoint card I already had as they have a couple of charging points in Ireland (and it was free to get!) The Shell card was easy to sign up for and also free. Both cards cover a huge number of stations across Europe — just not the same ones all the time! The ChargePoint card also has the advantage of having a lower cost at Ionity stations in the UK.
Quite last minute I thought about what I would do if I had to use my trickle charger from a domestic plug anywhere in Europe. I didn’t think that a standard converter from our 3-pin to the European 2-pin would be correct to use, so I looked for a different option. I found the right adapter on https://toughleads.co.uk/ and ordered it. I then made contact with them and Adrian there helped me out with getting the cable shipped by courier and pre-paying the Irish import tax. I really recommend them for service.
First leg — Rosslare to Calais
As it turned out, I was able to have a full charge when leaving home early on the Saturday morning. I had charged to 80% at the local Killinick ESB fast charger and then was able to plug in at home (not always possible — but that is another story!) overnight to get it up to 100%.
By the time we made the short trip to Rosslare Port, checked in and sat with the heating on (in Utility mode) while waiting to board, we disembarked at Fishguard with about 96% at about 11am.
The good charge setting off meant that we didn’t really need to stop for a charge when we got to our first planned stop. However, it was about 12:30 in the day and it had been a while since we left the lounge in the boat, so there were other really good reasons to stop!
We were at 72% when we arrive so I did plug in the car for a short time. There was nobody else here, so we were not blocking a charger for anyone. By the time we had taken a comfort break and had a quick bite (Gregg’s sausage roll!) we were up to 84% and had spent the princely sum of €3.49 on my debit card. Even though we didn’t need the charge, the stop was welcome and one that I would recommend to people coming from Fishguard / Pembroke for a quick pit stop.
We carried on through Wales and England. Aside from some slower speed limit areas, we kept to the 70mph / 113kph speed limit. This is a bit slower than I would travel on an Irish motorway (120kph) and there was a noticeable difference on the car’s economy.
Our next stop was at the Ionity station at the Chippenham Pit Stop, which we arrived at about 2pm. This had four units with two occupied. The first one we tried didn’t work, so we moved to the other spare one and it worked great. It turned out that this was the first and last rapid charger that didn’t work for us on the whole trip!
We were at 43%, so far from worried about range, and topped up to 70% at a cost of €13.34 using the ChargePoint card. In our time there, there was a flow of cars coming and going, and a couple queuing as we left. The Pit Stop itself is quite like an old-fashioned truck stop, but it had a good shop, toilets and a café.
We set off once more to get to the M25 and on to the Cobham Extra Services. We were using Waze to guide us from point to point and, rather than bring us straight to the M25 on the M4, it took us through Bracknell and onto the M3 to the M25. I am familiar with the area, so didn’t question it — generally if you can avoid a stretch of the M25 then do! Even on a Saturday afternoon, the M25 was very heavy.
At Cobham Extra Services, there is a choice between GridServe and Ionity. Just as we were arriving, the last GridServe was taken, but some of the six Ionity units were free so we plugged in there. We charged from 35% to 72% at a cost of €19.13 using the ChargePoint card and then set off for Folkestone.
The rest of the trip around the M25 / M20 was fairly uneventful. The traffic eased significantly the closer we got to Folkestone. We were well in time for our train so, not being 100% sure of what we would encounter on the other side of the Channel, I thought we should take another top-up at the Ionity at Channel Gateway services, very close to the Eurotunnel terminal. This got us from 42% to 72% at a cost of €15.47.
The Tunnel was also quite uneventful. One nice thing about being on the train in an electric car is that, while all the ICE drivers had to switch off their engines, I could just leave our car in Utility mode and have access to all air and entertainment for the 35-minute trip. They also have a Vodafone UK signal all the way across!
We stopped for the night at the Ibis in Coquelles — a spit away from the terminal. We had a nice dinner and a nice glass of wine and a comfortable rest after 535km of driving. Our efficiency for the day was 5.6km/kWh.
Second leg — Calais to Mannheim
In my planning, I had written down that we needed to be at 70% leaving Calais or we would need to stop at the Ionity at Veuvre, just over the Belgian border. Because of the last-minute charge near Folkestone, we were actually at 70% leaving the hotel. Nevertheless, we wanted to buy a few bits for the journey and some wine for our relatives, so we headed for the Intermarché supermarket in Calais that had a single Corri-door fast charger in the car park. While we were doing our shopping (including a very good Boulangerie right beside the charger!), we charged from 69% to 85% at a cost of €6.38. I used the Shell Recharge / NewMotion card here.
We headed off into Belgium and our first driving stop of the day at the Ionity at Wetteren Zuid services, just beyond Ghent. While charging from 40% to 73%, we were able to have a comfort break and then take a coffee and cake at the Starbucks there. It was a very pleasant services location with lovely manicured lawns. It wasn’t very busy, with nobody else there when we arrived and a couple more cars arriving as we charged. The cost of the charge was €12.22.
We drove on into Wallonia and just beyond Liége to our next Ionity stop at Tignée. The Ionity chargers are actually on the other side of the motorway, but there is a bridge across joining both sides. I was a little nervous about our next planned charge — the singleton near Wittlich that I mentioned above — so I charged us from 34% to 80%. It was quite busy while we were there, with a few cars coming and going, but we were never blocking anyone.
Now, the cost of the charge here was €20.86, but an interesting thing happened. Ionity’s process is to take a €1 charge on your card when you start charging. This was fine as I was able to confirm the amount via my phone app to my credit card. However, once we finished charging, Ionity tried to take the next €19.86 from my card, to which my card company decided was a fraud attempt, disallowed the transaction and blocked my card! I was able to use my app to unblock my card and then I emailed Ionity to tell them they should resubmit the amount — they came back to me later in the day to tell me that they had no means of resubmitting and I would not be charged further! So, actually, the charging session only cost €1.
So, on we went into the Ardennes, turning south-east past Spa (location of the Belgian Grand Prix) and into Germany. This was certainly a picturesque part of the journey. The A27 motorway in Belgium turned into a single carriageway A60 in Germany before shortly turning back into two carriages and then to one of the fabled no-speed restriction zones! I will admit that I may have tipped up to 150kph on a couple of passing maneuvers — and I also admit that it does no good for the efficiency of the car! (It is fun though 😊)
We needed to take a short diversion off the main road to our next charging stop, at the Gasthaus Zur Breit near Wittlich. This is a guesthouse and separate restaurant, which included toilet facilities. We plugged into the E.ON 150kW and charged from 38% to 59% at a cost of €8.98. What was funny here was that while I felt we were in the middle-of-nowhere in the German countryside, when I was plugging in I noticed that there was 10 Tesla Superchargers in the next car park! Now, we were lucky that there was nobody here, when we arrived, but I knew that there was some Ionity chargers about 20 minutes away, though that would have been a significant diversion.
On we continued east on the A60 for some time before turning south-east onto the A61. About an hour from our destination, we pulled off the main road to the Rheinhessen Centre near Alzey where there is an Allego charging station. The car was very warm at this stage and, despite it being quite cold outside, we did get a maximum 80kWh charge from this station. It was Sunday so the Centre was closed, so it meant that the chargers were very quiet. There was a McDonald’s nearby, but we didn’t need a break at that stage. We charged from 19% up to 71% at a cost of €25.65.
That was our last charge of the day and it was just about an hour further on to our destination. In total, we did 660km at an efficiency of 5.0 km/kWh (too much fun on the Autobahn!)
Exploring Germany and Strasbourg (and free charging!)
Over the next few days, we did a lot of local exploration and found free chargers in car parks on three occasions! These were generally activated by the Shell card. We did find an E.ON charger in a car park in Heidelberg that wasn’t working, but we didn’t really need the charge at that time.
On our last full day with our relatives, we did a day-trip down to Strasburg. We parked at Rivetoile, one of Strasbourg’s largest shopping centres. It was disappointing to discover that the EV charging option, at a large shopping centre about 3km from the European Parliament building, was two domestic plugs. When we arrived, there was a Tesla and an Audi PHEV plugged in — they were both still there when we left!
On the return trip, we pulled into the A5 Raststätte Renchtal Ost services where there was an EnBW charger. That was reasonably expensive at 32.13kW for €22.56. Later that evening we made use of our Tough Leads connecter and used the trickle (granny) charger at our relative’s home to get us up to 77% charge overnight, ready for our first return-leg the next morning.
Homeward bound — Germany to Vernon, Normandy
The next day dawned cold and foggy. Except for a few places along the route, the fog didn’t lift right across Germany and France.
We headed off towards the A10 and A8 to get to our first charging stop of the day at the Mer Energiepark at the Zweibrücken Fashion Outlets. My original plan had it that we would leave with only 50% so having left with 77% it meant we could just have a quick charge here from 52% just to 65% at a cost of €6.81. We could, of course, have charged more, but actually this is not really the best location for a charging station! It has several 350kW fast chargers, and about 20 slower 22kW chargers, but it is not really near the shops, so it felt a bit remote. We were happy to leave — and actually it turned out to be the right thing to do!
We continued up the A8 to the A6, crossing the seamless border into France, where the road became the A4. We headed for the Ionity charging station near Metz. This required a short diversion off the main road, but not too far.
When we pulled into the car park of the E. LeClerc shopping centre at Hauconcourt, I noted the bank of Tesla Superchargers near the entrance. The Ionity chargers were further in, but easily spotted. There are also some free slower chargers here, but mostly Type-3 plugs and only a couple of the Type-2 that we use.
When we pulled into the Ionity chargers there was nobody else here. It was shortly before lunchtime, so we headed into the supermarket to buy ourselves some bits to have in the car while the charge completed. When we came out, the other 4 units were occupied and there were a number of cars queuing! This is why leaving the previous stop early had been a great idea!
We had arrived at 27% and charged up to 80%. I wanted to get it up that far because the next stretch was quite long, and ABRP had warned to stick to 120kph instead of the normal 130kph on the French Autoroute. This took 45 minutes and cost €35.54. If you haven’t charged in France before, you should note that they charge by the minute and not by the kWh, so that is a slight disadvantage for our Kia eNiro, which was only charging at 54kWh in those cold conditions.
As soon as we got to 80%, we promptly vacated the space for the next driver and headed off west on the A4 towards Reims in the Champagne region. The Ionity was at the Aire de Gueux, just beyond Reims and we got there on 11% — the lowest we got to on the whole trip. We had been carefully watching the GOM (Guess-o-meter) as we went, but made it with about 50km of range still showing.
The car would have been a little warmer at this stage, so going from 11% to 80% only took 5 minutes longer than the earlier 27% to 80%. This should have cost €39.50, but once again my card company decided that Ionity were looking fraudulent and blocked my card! I have since continued to be in contact with Ionity to try and pay the money, but it may be that it would cost them more to collect it from me!
I had originally been planning to go to the TotalEnergies stations near La Défense in Paris — just to see it, as it was an old petrol station that has been completely changed to electricity only. However, I had noted that there was an Ionity station nearer our destination so targeted to get there instead. As we were approaching Paris, the GOM and the distance remaining were getting uncomfortably close. However, the reduction in speed (between 90 down to 0!) travelling around Paris meant that we actually made the Aire Nord de Rosny-sur-Seine with a very comfortable 21%. We charged here up to 60% (using the Shell RFID card to avoid card issues) at a cost of €16.37. If only I had known though! When we pulled into the car park of our hotel in Vernon, we discovered two available wall boxes putting out 3.6kW and we were back to 100% overnight.
645km with an efficiency — to do with a lot of 130kph and low temperatures — of 4.8km/kWh. Oh, and €42.60 worth of tolls!
Last leg — meandering from Vernon to Cherbourg
The last morning dawned bright and clear and, after a very nice breakfast, we set out the short hop up the road to Monet’s home of Giverny for a pleasant walk around (unfortunately all the museums are shut up for the winter). We then headed for the beautiful fishing town of Honfleur for a very tasty lunch. With the full charge overnight, we didn’t need to worry about charging for a while so we continued our meander down to the Cidres & Calvados Michel Breavoine farm near Pont-l’Évêque to buy some of their wares. Then we continued our meander to some other places we knew in that part of Normandy, finally ending up at the Ionity at Giberville Nord on the A13. We charged here from 42% to 79%, at a cost of €22.30 before heading for Cherbourg on the N13 — which has been upgraded to dual carriageway since I last drove the route, 23 years ago!
Almost the end of the story, however there is a final piece of good news — we headed for the Carrefour in Cherbourg to purchase some supplies of wine, cheese, and other essentials. Towards the back of the first parking level, we found some Tesla destination chargers — yet another free charge!
The last day was only 343km and, because of less Autoroute, an efficiency of 5.1km/kWh. Tolls, on the Autoroute segments that we did use, of €10.40.
So, the final analysis. We did almost 1,200km getting to Germany and just short of 1,000km coming back. In between, driving all around from Strasbourg to Frankfurt, we did another 570km or so. Almost 2,800km in total.
The Kia eNiro is a very easy car to drive. With the adaptive cruise in place, I did the majority of the journey with my right foot resting on the floor. It was tiring, but not exhausting. Would I do it again? Yes, yes I would.
Is it feasible to drive an electric car on long journeys like this? Yeah, it is. Things are not perfect. There is some planning which you need to do. Apps like ABRP make it easier, but I wouldn’t use an app if I had an ICE car as I would expect regular gas stations on the route.
The infrastructure is slowly getting there. Companies like Ionity, E.ON, Allego, GridServe are providing generally reliable units in locations that are generally useful. The real game changer will be the opening of the Tesla Supercharger network to non-Teslas (on trial in the Netherlands right now!).
Owning an electric car is still a little on the “early adopter” side of things, but I can definitely see it moving very mainstream, and quickly.
It should have cost €268.60, but thanks to the card glitches, only cost €210.24. A lot of the cost was at high cost (0.60–0.80 / kWh or min) chargers that are typical in mainland Europe.
Using the same comparison as I used in my previous article, a Hyundai Kona Diesel “real world” efficiency*: 8.7l/100km
At €1.60/l for 2,800km: €389.76
The last time I did the comparison, just a few months ago, I used €1.40/l as that was closer to the price in Ireland then. At that rate, the 2,800km journey would have been €341.04. The price of diesel doesn’t look like it will come down anytime soon!
To be fair, the card glitches helped, and I did find several sources of free electricity — but this is not that unusual! In most countries in Europe you can find car parks, especially of major retailers, that have free or low-cost charging. Many of the Aldi Sud supermarkets in Germany have 150kW fast charging for free!