What to do when Renault invites you to the Twingo Z.E. launch event in Paris? Will you travel from the Netherlands by train or by plane, or drive in a Renault electric vehicle? We decided on driving there in a new Renault Zoe. The task seemed like it would be easy enough. In the end, with a 0% battery level, we arrived at our destination in Paris. This is a story of hypermiling, hyperventilation, and the joy of slow travel.
Paris, Here We Come
We left our hometown in the Netherlands at 10:00 am on Wednesday, February 19th. According to our navigation software, Paris was 465 km (290 miles), or 6 hours, away, 5 hours driving and 1 hour charging. The distance was correct, but travel time was 11½ hours. Those extra 5½ hours were for charging and looking for functioning chargers. We did not take breaks for fun, which is not to say we did not have fun. I’ll come back to that later.
The first stop was after 85 km just before the Belgium border at a Fastned charger. Their stations can be spotted from afar thanks to the bright yellow supports for their PV canopies. Fastned is much loved for its many locations, and it even provides adapters for drivers of old Tesla Model S or X vehicles.
My colleague, Maarten Vinkhuyzen (known among CleanTechnica regulars as “grumpy old man”) has a Fastned subscription, which means he does not need a card or app. Just plug in and charge. After 30 minutes of 50 kW DC charging, the battery level had risen by 22%, or ~11 kWh. A well charged battery and two large cups of coffee make the world look bright.
In Belgium all is as it used to be. Roads are in a remarkably bad condition. The Belgian federal government clearly does not prioritize highway maintenance. That is, when there is a government. … We left the highway at Ghent to find an Allego charging station less than a mile into the city. Charging was problem free and we easily paid with our Green Flux card.
The French border came into view 60 km (40 miles) further. (Crossing Belgium from north to south is only 150 km (94 miles), from east to west is twice as far.)
After 1½ hours driving and 180 km (112 miles), we pulled over along the toll road to Paris in Saint-Léger at a Corri-Door charging station. The Green Flux card didn’t work. According to the information on the charging terminal, we needed an Izivia charge pass. Without one there are pre-paid cards for sale at the shop at the gas station. An alternative is using the Corri-Door smartphone app and paying with a credit card. However, the pre-paid cards were sold out, and the app needs to be activated with a charge pass. If you don’t have a charge pass, you can order one through the app for delivery at your home address — not very helpful on a road trip.
Without the correct charge pass, no pre-paid cards, and no way to activate the app, we continued on our way after 1 hour and 13 minutes. It was time to learn how to do hypermiling.
Much later, after returning home again, we discovered that Corri-Door has had hardware problems for months. On its website you can read that “some quickchargers are for safety reasons unavailable for an indefinite period.” In reality that “some” are 189 out of 214 charging stations.
During our journey, there would be two more times we stopped at a Corri-Door charger in vain. Gas station personnel and the Corri-Door telephone service center did not seem aware of any problems, but were friendly and helpful. With patience, broken English, and middle school French, the essence of the message became clear: “une borne” (terminal), “cassée” (broken). (Pro tip: learn those words by heart.)
At 8:00 at night we parked our car — with 9% of charge and sitting 15 km (9 miles) from our destination — in an IKEA parking garage north of Paris. The only charging terminal was taken by a Nissan Leaf. The owner politely moved it after half an hour to make room for us. EV drivers are somewhat like bikers in that they are typically attentive and helpful to each other. They do not wave, though. …
Unfortunately, the AC plug we needed was worn. Second delay: 45 minutes. Our only option was to put the ZOE in ECO mode again and keep hypermiling behind trucks.
The last time we tried to charge our car on that day was near our Airbnb at a single charging terminal provided by the local Lidl supermarket. Unfortunately, it turned out to be “hors service” (out of order). At 9:30 pm, we finally arrived at our Airbnb, where the host was waiting for us to park the ZOE safely behind the gate. The battery was at 3%, and so were we.
Our Stay in the City of Lights
The next day our first order of business was looking for a charging opportunity. The chargemap showed a charge location less than a mile from the Airbnb, on the first floor of a large parking garage. The charging sockets were locked behind little doors. The parking attendant demonstrated how to open and close all the doors. That was the last time the doors were willing to open. After a lot of effort from the attendant, a door finally unlocked. A charger from another era was revealed — it was of no use to us.
Navigating the busy traffic of Paris, we arrived barely in time at the Renault venue, the ZOE’s screen showing 0% of battery charge. We were received with usual French hospitality. Our host, the EV Product Press Officer, immediately took charge of our predicament. He improvised a charging post in front of the entrance, using a special cable that connected the ZOE to a normal wall socket. The trickle feed boosted the battery to 6% state of charge by the end of the day.
After the presentation, the press had the opportunity to ask questions. Maarten threw the cat among the pigeons by asking why Renault produces electric cars when the charging infrastructure is so inadequate. Being a great advocate of electric cars, the French hosts understood his irony and desire to be wrong. Nevertheless, I think he is a bit of a notorious journalist in Paris now.
The Way Back
I’ll mention right away that even though we knew to avoid Corri-Door, the way home still took us 13.5 hours. Hypermiling, slow charging, searching for functional chargers, lots of coffee, and enjoying the journey, knowing it was going to be a long one.
[Editor’s note: This is one important reason Tesla is so popular. With a Tesla, not only do you not have to deal with such challenges except in rare cases, but you only have to put one address in the navigation for your whole trip — the final address. The car will route you to Supercharging stations as needed, which seem to always be working and have numerous stalls available to avoid any serious issues from a broken charger or abundant use. CleanTechnica readers have been telling us for years in annual surveys that Tesla Superchargers are a critical factor in deciding what EV to buy next. Stories like this, whether direct or indirect, are surely what have inspired many of those decisions. —Zach]
We have learned a lot. There are better navigation apps than Renault’s Easy Link in the dashboard.
The Renault ZOE manual says that the Easy Link app “adds the nearest charging stations on request and updates their availability in real time.” Our experience is that the app does not give real-time information about defective chargers like those of Corri-Door.
For our next journey, which was supposed to be the Geneva Motor Show, we intended to use www.abetterrouteplanner.com.
Furthermore, the maps are not up to date. For example, we were directed into a very steep and small cul-de-sac, which was quite difficult to reverse out of (though, not for the locals, judging from an old man working his very sloping garden).
Also, the app often misses speed limit changes, probably relying too much on cameras and not enough on map data? Sometimes the app ignores right of way or the direction of a one-way street.
We have learned that Lidl offers free charging, for 1 hour in Belgium and ½ an hour in France. There are probably a lot of chargers in Paris that do function. Nonetheless, one takeaway was that we are super glad with the charging infrastructure in the Netherlands, which is the best in the world.
Most importantly, we have learned that the Renault ZOE Z.E. 50 First Edition is not suited to drive long distances in a short time. Even a 200 km (125 mile) trip is impossible without having to charge in freezing weather and in a hurry.
So, are these disadvantages a reason to replace the ZOE for a mighty Tesla or a hybrid instead of slow traveling with the ZOE? Johan Cruijff, one of our famous soccer players, put it this way: “Every disadvantage has its advantage.” Some pioneering can be fun and keeps you on your toes. There exist excellent exercises for hyperventilating that you can practice when the battery drops to 3%.
Lastly, while the car was slowly charging at the village square, we had all the time we needed to decipher the headlines in the French paper Le Canard Enchainé in a local Bar-Tabac. We would never have known about the sex scandal around Benjamin Griveaux, president Macron’s favorite candidate to be mayor of Paris, if we did not drive an electric car!