IF YOU were to read some of the press around electric vehicles (EVs), you might think that taking an EV on a European road trip across Belgium and Holland was just not achievable – a complete non-starter in fact.
Typically you will find comments such as:
- ‘Not enough charging infrastructure’
- ‘EVs are only good for short trips?’
- ‘Europe uses 2 pin plugs for electricity so my car would be incompatible to charge abroad’
These are all genuine comments and concerns I have come across when I discuss the adoption of EVs with my clients.
So as I was going with my wife on a European road trip in our Kia EV6, I thought I would share my experiences for those who may be unsure what long distance foreign travel in an EV actually entails.
The purpose of this blog is not to demonstrate how a road trip can be made even in an EV – that would suggest it needs a degree in EVs or physics to even contemplate it, or that the intricate meticulous planning you would need to even get over the channel would take away from the enjoyment of life on the open road in the continent.
Rather, this story demonstrates that EVs should be ‘normalised’ and used for the same purpose as any other vehicle – with a few niche exceptions.
The reality is that an EV is just a car – fuelled by electricity rather than petrol. That said, there are a few tips and techniques that an EV driver would use to make the trip seamless and issue-free. Essentially, it just requires a slightly different mindset to drive and ‘refuel’ an EV – and with this mindset shift, almost all journeys can be made, regardless of the fuel type of the vehicle.
My wife, Jacqui, and I are huge fans of travelling around Europe, visiting some of the wonderful towns and cities that would not ordinarily be covered in a typical city break. It would be quite usual to spend a weekend in Paris, or Brussels or Amsterdam, but we like to explore the wider reaches of these beautiful European countries.
Our real reason to make the trip was to explore Holland and Belgium, and sample their wonderful beers – not to put the car through its paces!
Our journey took in Antwerp, Utrecht, Arnhem, Munster, Maastricht and Leuven in a week. Staying one night in each (as these lovely places are probably too small to spend the whole weekend there – but they are beautiful, nonetheless). Effectively, it’s six city breaks in a week.
The fact we did it in an EV is not really the key focus of the blog – but I will cover our charging experiences along the way. For the EV aficionados out there, I will give all the stats around charge times, miles per kWh and overall pence-per-mile charging costs.
For those of you that just like travel, a few interesting facts about each of the places we visited – and a beer of the day!
Day 1 – Home (Stafford) to Folkestone – 223 miles
Left home with a full charge and a range of 296 miles. We arrived in Folkestone to stay the night before our Eurotunnel crossing. It made sense to get a quick charge ahead of the longer journey into Europe tomorrow. Stopped at an Ionity charger in Folkestone. Only us and an EV newbie in his three-day old Kona. The poor guy had no idea what he was doing – no one at his dealership had told him anything about public charging, charge speeds, connector types, costs.
In fact, they had apparently misled him – saying his car could charge up in 18 minutes and would cost £7.50. With a max charge rate of 77KW that is never going to happen, and he would never get the benefit of the super-fast Ionity chargers.
I directed him to the Gridserve chargers on the other side of the services (pictured above) – cheaper for him, and levels of power more appropriate for the car he was in.
He went away enlightened, with a little more knowledge and very grateful. Interestingly, he was still positive about his new life in an EV.
It did cement my belief that dealers really do have a responsibility to provide some basic knowledge to their customers before handing over an EV. This guy was left to fend for himself and really was struggling. Not the greatest start to his life with an EV.
My charge? Spot on. Up to 80% in 20 minutes.
Beer of the Day – London Pride (looking forward to the Belgian ones!)
Day 2 – Folkestone – Calais (Eurotunnel) – Antwerp – 127 miles
As always, a great experience on the Eurotunnel – so much more relaxing than the airport experience. We couldn’t help wondering how long it may be before some form of EV charging becomes available during the 20-minute crossing.
A perfect opportunity while the car is just sitting there.
EV chargepoints are located at both the Folkestone and Calais terminals if we needed them – no charge required today though and they were busy (start of Easter holidays).
Antwerp is a beautiful city – so many stunning buildings and medieval cobbled streets and squares.
Antwerp – who knew?
- The railway station has been voted the prettiest train station in the world. Presumably Euston was not in the running!
- 80% of the world’s diamonds pass through Antwerp.
- Only Belgian city to host the Olympics (1920)
Beer of the Day – Tongerlo
Day 3 – All day exploring Antwerp – no driving, no charging.
Belgians really do take their beers seriously. Most are deceptively strong and every one comes with its own specially designed glass – very collectable!
Beer of the day – Cuvee des Trolls – quite possibly the most gorgeous glass to ever accompany a beer.
Day 4 – Antwerp to Utrecht (Holland) – 80 miles
A quick charge on the way while we stopped for breakfast – you’ll see a theme to our charging on the trip. Apart from the top up in Folkestone, we only ever charged when we stopped to do something else – that’s a key shift from stopping specifically to charge up and adding time into our journey. Charge when you stop, don’t stop to charge.
No queue at the charger – in fact we were the only ones there.
Actually, the address we were aiming for in Utrecht took longer to type into the sat nav than it took to charge the car!
It has struck me that EV charging locations are plentiful in Belgium, but I only know that from checking out my app of choice (Kia Charge). You wouldn’t know from just driving long – they are not advertised on service station totem poles as they are in France (and as Gridserve do on the UK motorway network).
That said, take a bow, Fastned. Their yellow roofs to their charging stations (pictured above) are visible from the main roads and serve as an example to chargepoint operators. Let the driving public know you are there!
Utrecht – another beautiful city. Described as being quintessentially Dutch – far more so than Amsterdam. It’s also built on a canal network and has a wonderfully relaxed vibe.
Utrecht – who knew?
- Voted the 4th happiest place in the world.
- The birthplace of wi-fi
- Voted the most beautiful city with Canals in Europe – beating Amsterdam and Venice (and Birmingham!)
Beer of the day – VandeStreek Hazy Weekend (just for the name!)
Day 5 – Utrecht to Arnhem – 40 miles.
No charge today. Short hop over to Arnhem.
Couldn’t help noticing that, with so few hills, our ‘fuel’ efficiency was doing very well by not taking on any hills (less opportunity to use regenerative braking, though).
Arnhem is nice enough but, apart from being the site of the Battle of Arnhem in WW2 (If you’ve seen ‘A Bridge too Far’, that’s it), very little to keep us interested. I did see a BYD Atto 3 in the wild, and also a Lynk and Co vehicle. I really must get out more!
Arnhem – who knew?
- Biggest railway station in the Netherlands
Beer of the day – Bavaria (accompanied by a very good curry!)
Day 6 – Arnhem to Munster (Germany) – 85 miles
A short hop into our fourth country of the week. A quick 20-minute charge while we stopped for breakfast. Not needed today, but to stock up for the longer drive tomorrow. Again – taking the opportunity to charge while we stopped – not when the car needed a charge.
Munster is, again, a beautiful city with stunning gothic architecture – plenty to keep us occupied for an afternoon and an evening. Managed to seek out a traditional German ‘brauhaus’ for dinner. Wonderfully authentic.
Munster – who knew?
- Twice as many bikes as people – the biking capital of Germany
- Holland was founded here – bizarre!
Beer of the day – Pinkus (local brew to accompany the German meal)
Day 6 – Munster to Maastricht – 138 miles
Back to Holland for a day. We had a 20-minute breakfast stop so we took the opportunity to charge. We aimed at Ionity chargers throughout the week (and there are plenty) as our Kia charge card offers significant price reductions on them and they are the quickest chargers – more on how much the whole trip cost at the end.
We came across our one and only charging issue at this stop. Ionity was having software issues and couldn’t accept RFID cards. One call to the number on the side of the unit and they were able to start the charge manually. And for the inconvenience Ionity gave us the charge for free. Wonderful customer service in the face of issue resolution. Needless to say, we stayed a little longer for breakfast to take full advantage.
What can I say about Maastricht? Stunningly beautiful city. If you’ve only heard of it because of the agreement that formed the EU (can you believe that was 31 years ago?). It has so much medieval charm.
Maastricht – who knew?
- Holland’s oldest city
- Birthplace of the EU and the Euro
Beer of the day – Orval
Day 7 – Maastricht to Leuven – 54 miles
Another day, another country! Back into Belgium to visit Leuven. Another beautiful city – akin to Oxford and Cambridge in that it has some very old, very pretty university buildings.
Without doubt, the most stunning town hall we had ever seen. Europeans place great stock by their town halls but this was on another scale – beautiful gothic architecture, with plenty of other gorgeous squares and cobbled streets around it.
Leuven – who knew?
- Home of Stella Artois (and don’t you just know it by all the signs in every bar). Stella dominates this town. Our hotel overlooked the factory.
- Apparently, the Beer capital of Belgium. That’s a very strong claim in a country so proud of its beers.
- Home to the longest line of bars in Europe – over 50 of them side by side in the old square. Being a very pretty university city, they are well used…
Beer of the day – Brugse zot (not a big Stella fan)
Day 8 – Leuven – Calais – home (Stafford) – 365 miles
Quick 20-minute charge while we grabbed some breakfast on the way. The combination of Ionity’s 350kW power and the Kia EV6’s ability to take a maximum charge up to 250kW is a very potent combination. No charge has taken more than 20 minutes, and, in many cases, the breakfast took longer than the charge!
However, the toilets at this stop have to be the worst we have ever used (a portaloo with no flush). Chargepoint operators do need to make sure that the facilities that surround their facility are not off-putting. I will never use those chargers again – purely because of the toilets.
Quick charge at Calais terminal while we were waiting to board – may as well, after all!
The Eurotunnel was very quiet as it was Easter Sunday, but we couldn’t help noticing that there were hardly any European cars making the crossing – and we may have found the reason why. Did you know that post-Brexit, Europeans need to pay €118 for a visa to get into the UK? I bet many of them think twice before doing that.
So, there we have it – an eight-day trip taking in six different cities across three countries (plus the UK). How did the car/charging infrastructure cope? It coped with absolutely no problem at all (apart from the Ionity issue that got us a free charge.)
And having done similar trips in a petrol vehicle, I would say there are only two different mindset tweaks required to ensure a seamless trip.
- Plan your journey and know where you can charge each day (with your preferred charging networks). In reality, this is a two-minute check each day. Chargers are widespread.
- Charge when you stop – don’t stop to charge. Our charging stops (with a 20 min exception at Folkestone before leaving) genuinely added zero delay to our trip, as we were having breakfast – a stop we would have made anyway.
Here’s the journey in figures
- Vehicle – Kia EV6 Air
- Battery size – 77kWh
- Max charge rate (DC) – 233KW
- Real world range – 255 (we got nearer 300 with our 3.9 m/kWh)
- 1,112 miles across eight days
- Miles per kWh across the journey – 3.9 m/kWh
- Amount of kWhs consumed at charge sessions – 207.26.
- Price per kWh at Ionity chargers (with Kia subscription) – £0.25/kWh
- Total cost of charging £62.50 (£59 through reduced Kia deal with Ionity, and an off-peak home charge of £3.50 before setting off)
- Cost per mile – 5.6p
- Queuing time at chargers – zero
- Time added to journey for charging – 20 minutes (at Folkestone)