My Urban Car

Myth busting EV Day trips – London to Scotland and back in a day

There are some very common but really inaccurate misconceptions about driving electric cars that are still widely believed. One is that you can’t do high mileages or long trips in an electric car and that is takes hours to charge an EV.

So we’re doing some #EVDayTrips to bust some these myths and show what electric cars trips are really like. These extremely long trips in the UK to show you can do it in an EV. Our first trip was Putney to Padstow and back in a day.
The second was Putney to Tenby return. Including this trip to Scotland the 3 EV day trips to date add up to 1,678 miles or around 2,700km which is just a little under the distance from London to Moscow one way.

There really is no reason and no excuse to buy another premium brand oversized diesel SUV or saloon for £35,000 or more just because you do a long trips to Cornwall, Wales, Scotland Norfolk, Gloucestershire etc. or do high mileage driving for work. The days of needing a piston diesel or petrol car burning fossil fuels and poisoning the air we all breathe in order to do a long trip are simply over. Even smaller cheaper EVs with faster charging can manage long journeys too.

London to Gretna Green in Scotland.. and back again in a day

In this third super extreme “EV daytrip” I drove my trusty 2019 Tesla Model 3 on 671 mile round trip from Putney (in SW London) to Gretna Green in Scotland and back again. Gretna was chosen for the same reason it was the favourite for eloping couples wanting to marry.. it’s the quickest place in Scotland to get to from London being level with Newcastle on the East coast. On the way back we went via the centre of the lake district through Keswick and Windermere before returning via the M6 / M6 toll so we could use the ground breaking new chargers at Rugby services before heading back to London on the M1.

Look at the places that just weren’t far enough on this trip, like Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester or Leeds

Choosing an EV for longer trips – battery size and charging speed

People do long trips in all sorts of EV’s but 2 factors make it much much easier. An official range of between 200 and 350 miles helps a lot but the ability to charge to 80% in half an hour or less on DC rapid charging is crucial. To achieve this look for electric cars whose charging in kW at least double the size of their battery in kW/h.

A kilowatt-hour (kWh) is a measure of the amount of energy stored in your battery and the charging speed in kW is the amount that would be added in one hour. So if a car charged a 50kWh battery at a steady 50kW then 0-100% would take an hour while a slow AC charger at 10kW speed would take 5 hours. In reality charging speed slows from around 50% battery charge and becomes very slow beyond 80%. Luckily most owners will have at least 10% battery left when they start a charge and will unplug before 80% which keeps the times roughly in line.

When less well informed journalists or others refer to charging times in hours they are referring only to slow AC charging (or even 3 pin plugs!) that you would use for top ups or overnight charging at home usually at a maximum speed of 7kW to 11kW. Most EVs (except Renault Zoe’s that depend on 25kW AC) can switch to fast DC CCS charging when on a trip to charge at between a pedestrian 50kW and a super fast 350kW. It’s DC charging speed that matters if you want to charge in 30 mins or under on a trip.

The trip

The stats

  • The Tesla Model 3 left Putney at 0730am with an indicated range of 225 miles (around a 77% charge on the battery)
  • The whole trip was 671.4 miles and used 174kWh of electricity which works out at 259Wh/mile
  • It was back in Putney at 22:17pm with 183 miles range remaining on arrival

The charging stops

The best way to charge EV’s on a long trip is usually more short charge stops of 15 to 25 mins rather than a long single charge stop. Charging from 10% to around 60% is much much faster than charging all the way to 100% and let you stretch your legs and have a tea and toilet stop.

Oxford Tesla Supercharger

Stop 1 At 49.9 miles
Some really bad traffic in Southwest London meant that after nearly 1 1/2 hours I hadn’t covered much ground but needed a toilet and coffee stop. While stopped anyway, the Tesla was going to refresh itself on a Tesla Supercharger at Oxford Services on the M40. The car did not need the charge and for some reason the charge did not start. I tried it again just to test it . Time charging was 2 mins which added +6 miles departing with 167 miles range. Cost £0.38!

More EV’s being delivered

Stop 2 At 139.2 miles
Tesla Supercharger stop Hilton Park near Birmingham. The charge took 17 minutes adding +119 miles taking range from 53 miles to 172 miles for £9.30

Stop 3 At 220.1 miles
Tesla Supercharger at Charnock in Lancashire. In 15 minutes this charger added +103 miles taking the range from 89 miles to 192 miles . Cost £8.06

That was the final charge needed to get to Gretna green so the outbound charge time for the 329 mile journey was £17.74, total journey time was 6 hours 45 minutes of which 34 mins (under 8% of the journey time was spent charging). While charging I was grabbing coffees.

Gift shop at Gretna

Stop 4 At 329.6 miles
In Scotland at my destination at Gretna Green which also has a Tesla Supercharger. I grabbed some lunch while charging and looked at the souvenir shop while the 32 minute charge took me from a range 65 miles to 257 miles which is +192 miles for a cost of £16.66. That’s a 22% to 87% charge. Part of the reason for charging the battery so much was to ensure I had plenty of range to take me through the lake district and then back to the M6 further south.

Stop 6 at 506.5 miles

Heading home after some stunning scenery in the lake district and not nearly enough time to enjoy it the next charge stop was a Keele Supercharger on the M6. I arrived with 61 miles range and added +98 miles to leave with 163 miles range in a 14 minute stop. The charge cost £8.37

Stop 6 at 578.5 miles

Final a stop at the new Moto Services at Rugby on the M6 close to the M1, This was a charger I diverted from in order to visit. Only a few weeks old these new Ecotricity / Gridserve chargers are fabulous and I hope they are rolled out at service stations across the motorway network to replace the awful old unreliable Ecotricity machines. A vast bank of state of the art 350kW chargers, they really were a doddle to use – literally plug in and wave your bank card over the contactless reader.. that’s it. I arrived with 91 miles range and with a 32% battery got a charging speed of 188kW. A great start for the new generation of UK chargers. I left with 272 miles range which was +181 miles of range in 33 minutes at a cost of £14.23 (at a cost of 30p per kWh)

The future is right behind you
The new 350kW Gridserve Ecotricity chargers at Rugby Moto services


Summary

  • Total journey time was 14 hours and 45 minutes of which 1 hour and 53 minutes was spent charging. I actually arrived back in London with 183 miles so I could have cut the charge time if I hadn’t wanted plenty of charge on arrival.
  • The 671.4 mile (1,080km) round trip cost £56.94 while consumption on a largely motorway trip was 259 Wh/mile equivalent to 3.86 miles per kWh. This included a stretch from Rugby back to London was even better at 224Wh/mile or 4.46 miles per kWh
  • Having long stretches of at different speed limits enabled me to get an idea of power usage at different speeds on my Model 3 Performance minus with aero wheels. Around a constant 50 mph gives aboutr 175Wh/mile while 60 ish gives around 225 and 70 ish mph gives around 255.
    I mainly had aircon off but did use it when needed. It makes less difference on a motorway than in almost stationary traffic in London. These numbers seem solid but any temporary acceleration would increase these averages quite a bit.
  • To go back to the departure state of charge would have been a further £4 or so on my local 24p per kWh Ubitricity lamp post
  • The outbound journey took 6 hrs 45 mins and the return leg via the lake district took 7 hours and 28 minutes after leaving Gretna.

Most people would regard 671 miles London to Scotland return as at the outer reaches of what most drivers would find feasible in a day. To get a perspective 675 miles London to Edinburgh one way is only 407 miles while London to Inverness is 569 miles according to Google maps. By comparison London to Berlin is a little further at 698 miles but London to Geneva is only 630 miles. The fact the Model 3 averaged 96.5% of the standard predicted range ( which on this Model 3 is based on getting 4 miles per kWh is very impressive at motorway speeds helped by roadworks). At no point did I travel below speed limits except when slowed by traffic jams and road works.

This EV day trip was still a long way off the distance record for a Model 3 electric car in 24 hours

Could a non Tesla electric car manage this with the same charging time or less? I hope some other EV owners will put that to the test in future. The Model 3 does benefit from being very efficient and having access to its own very fast reliable charging network. Cars like the Kia e-Niro & Hyundai Kona can match the efficiency but not the charging speed while cars like Audi e-Tron 55 can match the charging speed but not the efficiency.

However the arrival later in 2021 of the roughly £40,000 Kia EV-6 and Ioniq 5 with ability to charge as quick as a Model 3 or quicker will shake things up.

It looks like the new Gridserve/ Ecotricity 350kW chargers could make a big difference here. The first that we tried were very impressive and easy to use at Rugby services and if scaled across the motorway network should enable all EV’s to get that Tesla feeling on long journeys as they should and need to.

What was it like doing a 675 mile day trip in the Model 3?

Well it was remarkably easy and I returned glad to be home but perfectly fresh. It’s much more relaxing in EV’s generally and this one in particular. For example heading down a steep hill on a single track road when you need to reverse for something coming the other way? Well it’s just no bother at all. No noise, no hill starts, no grinding clutch or revving engines? It just does it, silently, effortlessly. This model 3 would probably still accelerate faster up a 20% hill than any normal diesel could manage on the flat.

There was some stunning scenery especially after Carlisle when I diverted onto some tiny lanes where the rush hour consists of farm vehicles and sheep that had discovered a bit of “must have” grass in the middle of the road. Then there was the gentle drive through the centre of lake district past Bassenthwaite, Thirlmere and Windemere already busy with walkers enjoying well deserved drinks in the evening sun.

It’s also worth noting that in the past when visiting family in Switzerland in a BMW 330d and Range Rover Evoque I always broke up the journey with an overnight stop near Reims about 300 miles. The whole journey would be well under the mileage of this 675 mile EV Day trip (although there is a Eurotunnel and an adverse time difference to Switzerland). Having tested these longer trips in this electric car I’m completely satisfied that this EV poses no limitation on travel distance and that, like with my old piston cars, it’s the desire to explore the areas you are passing through that decides how far you want to travel. Like over 90% of EV owners I would never go backwards to another piston vehicle.

Looking towards the lakes on the way from Carlisle

Tesla autopilot as at May 2021

Doing 1,678 miles on this and the Padstow and Tenby runs has given me a good idea of how the current version of Tesla autopilot is working. The UK and EU versions are a world behind what US FSD beta owners are trialling and frankly I think development is pretty much frozen until that is released in Europe too.

The good news

  • On large sections of the motorway trip including roadworks the car was doing the driving really well and a very capable co pilot including handing the lane changes which are now much smoother than they used to be
  • while you have to remain alert, holding the steering wheel and ready to take over at any time it does allow you more opportunity on quiet sections to see more of what is around you
  • If you set the car lengths higher (4 or 5) then tracking the car in front at 30 mph plus is pretty smooth. Below 30 in stop start traffic it’s usually more relaxing to self drive especially if the car or van in front has a jerky “accelerate hard, brake hard” kinda driver – you end up mimicking the same experience!

The bad news

  • There are still some major weak points even just on the motorway. For example phantom breaking still happens. Less often and less harshly but it still happens. A particular trigger seems to be pulling back out of lane 3 after overtaking if there is a lorry in lane one as you return to the middle lane.
  • Lane changes on FSD in busy situations is just way too slow. So slow in fact that sometimes the car aborts the lane change having timed out.
  • After passing another vehicle it also needs an absurd amount of space before in lets you pull out of the overtaking lane even when you are the faster vehicle. My recommendation is do lane changes manually in busy situations
  • There are some motorways where Roland (my Model 3) would drop out autopilot at random moments. It wasn’t related to weather, lane markings or any other visible trigger. Between London Cardiff there were about 5 dropouts with probably around 3-7 miles before autopilot became available again. M1 and M40 had maybe one dropout between them while M6 had a couple but M4 seems to be the motorway it currently dislikes! The car warns you with a sound and red flashing steering wheel signs but the dropout is pretty much instant. I’m sure this will be sorted but it’s worth being aware of

David Nicholson

David Nicholson Is the founder of Rivergecko Ltd & MyUrbanCar which provide consultancy and advice for drivers and fleets to speed the transition from dirty fossil fuel transport to clean vehicles powered by renewable energy on land water and air.

The @MyUrbanCar twitter feed is a source of news & reviews of electric & plugin cars and vans in the UK.
The @rivergecko twitter feed & www.myurbancar.com websites bring news and opinion on cleantech transport including cars, vans, buses, trucks, shipping, rail & aviation as well as autonomous vehicles & renewable energy, air pollution & motor industry news.

David Nicholson has worked as an underwriter at Lloyd's of London since the 1980's. His interest in technology goes back many years including interactive mapping, apps, green tech, boats, solar and cars.