My Urban Car

Postcards from London to Italy by Electric car

Driving to a holiday in Italy in an electric car? Well it depends which electric car you choose but in something like a Tesla Model 3 it’s really very easy and almost all Tesla Superchargers in France, Switzerland and Italy are open to non Tesla’s. So a car like an MG4 could do the same trip easily too as could many others with at least 200 miles real world range and a 10-80% charge time of half an hour or less.

Trip Stats & CO2 saving compared to flying

London to Italy trips
Distance (miles) 2,789 2,632
Electricity consumed742 kWh694 kWh
Efficiency Wh/mile266264
Miles per kW/h3.753.78
CO2 (200g/kWh)148.4138.8

By comparison a return economy flight to Rome for one person emits 440kg according to sustainable Calculators do show numbers between 250 KG and 500 kg for this flight. The difference appears to be either showing just the CO2 from the fuel burns versus also showing the additional global warming effect of aircraft because of the altitude at which it is burnt.

Essentially then there is a 66% reduction in CO2 driving out compared to flying. All CO2 from transport like taxis or hire cars would then need to be added taking it to nearer an 80% reduction by electric car. That is with just one person in the car.
For our family of 3 our CO2 per person was 49.3kg per passenger (a 89% reduction in CO2) against 1,320kg for the 3 of us fly and even more of a reduction if you added additional CO2 for transport in Italy and to and from the airport in UK.
The efficiency figures were remarkably consistent between the trip in 2022 and 2023. This year’s drive was a complete mix of driving from 81mph/130km/h where allowed on French and Italian motorways down to 20 mph zones and steep windy mountain passes including this year the Passwang, the Grimsel, the Furka and Gotthard in one day. A fair number of French, Italian and Swiss dual carriageways are at a fairly efficient 50-60mph which helps. Unfortunately on the way back on the Great St Bernard we accidently took the tunnel so the missing the views of the pass itself. Next time!

Our tips from our trip last year are here

Charging at hotels

Info at July 2023

Charging at Hotels when travelling to and from Italy is not vital as there are plenty of fast chargers. Sometimes though, when you are staying a few days in an area without fast charging close by, hotel chargers make life a whole lot easier. In fact they can make an electric car more convenient than combustion and hybrid cars that periodically have to go and fill up with more fossils to burn.

Hotel D’Angleterre, Chalons en Champagne – 2 Tesla destination chargers but the small private parking area is a Eur 10 per night supplement and if you are EV charging that’s 30 Eur including parking. Around 7kW

Hotel Riviera, Melide on Lake Lugano
Public car park passes only but a 10 x 125kW stall Tesla Supercharger hub open to non Tesla’s and some public chargers are next to them all within a 5 minute drive

Hotel Locanda Rossa nr Capalbio
First time at this excellent relaxing hotel just 125km north of Rome. 2 Tesla destination chargers. No additional charge. Speed not noted but overnight charges worked a treat.

Villa Aquaviva Wine Resort nr Montemerano
single charger under a canopy.. just need a type 2 cable. Speed not noted. No additional charge.

Borgo Scopeto near Siena
charging under a solar canopy is.. a single 2 pin plug! Not ideal and very slow 1-2kW but it works if you connect a UK 3 pin granny cable via a continental adapter

Castello di Spaltenna nr Siena
Type 2 charger but slow..around 2kW.

Best driving day

Four Swiss passes in one day made for a stunning drive. Starting in the Jura with the Passwang on the border of the Cantons of Basel Land and Solothurn, we took the motorway towards Lucerne and our only charge stop at Kriens (in a car park building, ground floor – 1 Swiss Franc parking fee).
After that we switched away from the direct route over or under the Gotthard pass and drove to Meiringen where we took some time out to see the impressive Aareschluchte river gorge. After that it was over the Grimsel pass, followed by the Furka made famous in the Bond film Goldfinger, then the Gotthard and down to Melide near Lugano.
The Grimsel and Furka have beautiful scenery and almost all the traffic was composed of fast bikes, Maclarens, Lotus’s and of course Porsche 911s. While those drivers spent their drive listening to their own engines and exhausts the Model 3 was rather different. Windows down with Bond Themes playing I could hear the piston beasts coming before I saw them but also the birdsong, the waterfalls and even the cowbells.

I love the strong regenerative braking on my dual motor Performance minus Tesla Model 3 that allows one pedal driving most of the time including all but the steepest mountain pass hairpins as long as you brake before you reach the bend. It seems to recover about 80% of the energy climbing a mountain pass on the descent on the other side so mountains barely affect efficiency on average . All of this energy is wasted in brake dust and heat in fossil fuel cars.

Longest wait for for a charger

During a 5 day stay at Borgo Scopeto there were a couple of days there was stiff competition for this charger with a Fiat 500e and a Tesla Model X beating me to it every time. In the end I resorted to espionage using my Tesla. I parked near the charger bay with a camera view of it when on sentry mode so I could remotely check from my phone as soon as it became available! Worked a treat.

No other charger queues

Public charging in France and Italy

While I mainly used Tesla Superchargers I did use some public chargers in Italy and saw some in France. Key takeout’s

  • All the French and Italian service areas had clearly labelled signs on the motorway indicating which motorway service areas had EV charging.. something we haven’t got in the UK where knowing whether Krispy Kremes are available is deemed more important.
  • All the Italian motorway chargers I saw appeared operational and at least 120-300kW with a minimum of 2 bays even in smaller service areas. Something we still don’t have in UK where many motorway service areas still have 60kW units or no charging at all. The stats for Italy as at December 2022 were that the number of motorway locations with charging in Italy quadrupled from 118 in 2021 to 496 by the end of 2022. 64% of motorway chargers were 150kW or higher.
  • Charging all appeared to be much better value than in UK
  • The French charger pictured was contactless and had a clear price displayed – something you never usually see in UK
  • one minus point however is some higher power chargers still requred apps or RFID cards. Fortunately most could be run via the Shell recharge app I used.
  • using the app required you to compare ID numbers for charger and start the right unit on the correct socket. These were quite long and the writing on the app was small.

Overall it felt like there had been a big step forward especially in Italy, For example last year there was a single useable 50 kW DC charger around the city of Siena that would take around an hour to add 200 miles range and had a continuous queue.

This year, there were an additional four 300 kW chargers in a new location. Each can provide about 200 miles of range in about 20-25 minutes so at least 400 miles per hour per new charger. So in one year they’ve gone from delivering 200 miles of charging range per hour for one electric car to 1800 miles for 9 electric cars per hour.

So there are two metrics here. The number of chargers and how quick they are and both are both improving fast. Both cut queues. By contrast in the UK chargers actually delivering 150kW or more are still much too rare and some that claim it don’t deliver it except to 800v EV’s.

Best and worst charging surprise

It seems a little odd to be reporting here about an epic Tesla double fail and the day being saved by a public charging network, BeCharge and the Shell Recharge app but it happened so here goes. We were heading from Chianti to Verbier, the (622km 385mile) first leg of the journey home through Italy, over the great St Bernard pass into Switzerland. Having aimed for a charge at the Aosta Tesla Supercharger we found the road to it closed and seemingly no way in. Tesla provided no warning of this. We went round and round but the car parks for Carrefour and other businesses didn’t give access to where the Superchargers were. One attempt left us on a motorway till the next exit and that did leave us too far away to reach a nearby Ionity 32km away on our remaining range.
Solution? Well we had to keep calm, pull over and search for any close charger on my Shell recharge app. It showed a 110 kW unit only a couple of minutes Aosta town. It turned out that the charger was wrongly described in the app. Instead of delivering 110kW it actually provided a 145kW which was a welcome surprise, especially compared to some UK charging networks that claim 125kW and deliver about 60kW. In a second fail the Tesla charger search did not know about this charger despite listing other BeCharge units further away. So, credit where it’s due to BeCharge and Shell Recharge app – both worked perfectly together.

Tesla Model 3 – best and worst things for this trip

While I never drove as far as Italy in combustion cars from England, I did drive well into Switzerland and down the Loire and Provence in France in cars like a BMW 330d touring and Range Rover Evoque. The Model 3 holds it’s own its ability to cover distance and makes a relaxing travel companion thanks to its refinement, power, quiet running and autopilot that takes over for most of the motorway driving. Navigation and charge planning is all handled with aplomb. It also has ample room for luggage and effortlessly handles sharp ascents and descents.

Another remarkable thing is the Supercharger network that is both effective, reliable, easy to use and very good value. This combines with excellent efficiency from the car to make Tesla’s much cheaper to run on a trip like this.

There is still some areas for improvement though. Some chargers are in large retail areas where the google maps navigation is clueless which is the correct entrance and route to the chargers within a retail park. Knowing where the chargers are isn’t always helpful you don’t know how to reach them. This exacerbates an issue with the google navigation that doesn’t zoom in enough to provide enough detail in complex junctions. The fact that some farm or dirt tracks are labelled like roads adds to the confusion at times.

The UK and European Full Self Driving software ( FSD) are due to be improved soon but are currently years behind the US offering that can now do most driving without driver input but still requires supervision. While it is a very useful aid one aspect is infuriating. The software requires the driver to regularly confirm they are paying attention by putting some pressure on the steering wheel. When on motorways using the indicators gets the car to do a lane change.. after some delay. That is fine but often it starts a lane change and then in the middle of the lane manoeuvre, it aborts because it’s driver attention timer runs out causing it to swing back to the original lane it came from. It should either complete the manoeuvre anyway or require the driver to tug the steering wheel before the manoeuvre starts and then complete it. Aborting mid manoeuvre could even be dangerous in some situations because other drivers don’t expect such a dumb manoeuvre for no reason they can anticipate. I am always prepared to override autopilot in that situation but it’s super annoying and new drivers would not know to expect the fault.

One Italian road quirk to watch is sometimes Italian motorways with a 110km/h have sharp bends. If you see outside barriers and or arrows coming up.. slow for the bends and take over as required esp from any cruise or autopilot. Otherwise you will either not make the bend or lose a lot of rubber clinging on! The motorway from Milan to Genoa is a good example!

Amazing wildlife

I wouldn’t normally pick a spider as best of anything but I was in awe of these little Italian spiders that live around car ports at several hotels we visited. Why? Well it seemed that you’d barely got out of the car before these spiders had landed on the windscreen near the pillar just out of the wiper area. In seconds they were looking for the remains of any insects on the glass and setting to work to eat them up. Essentially they are window cleaning spiders but they seem rightly weary of the area where the wipers go or perhaps don’t like the smell of taste of washer fluid with their meal!

Best gadget

The Bip and Go that you stick to the windscreen handles all the French and Italian motorway tolls automatically using the lanes marked T. Easy, stress free and avoids toll queues. Brilliant.

What happens when your payment fails on the Tesla app

During our 3 week holiday someone decided to try and fraudulently use my Revolut debit card so the card had to be cancelled and replaced. Luckily this is almost instant via the app although the physical card took longer. One of many payments the old card was set up for was the Tesla app used for Superchargjng.

So what happened? Well to my surprise it gave me one complete charge on the old card details and then froze my access to charging. I updated my payment details on the website with the new card but I was still blocked. There is a second step. In the app there is an unpaid balance for the charge it gave you when card details were invalid. You need to go into the account section of the app, agree to pay for the outstanding balance and then the account is unblocked. Even after that, there may sometimes be messages saying it is still blocked, but it does in fact work again or did for me..

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 & 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.