Standing next to the lighthouse on the cliff, I looked down at the crashing waves and the white surf above which albatrosses and cormorants soared with wings stronger than the wind. This is the Cape of Good Hope, from where the likes of Da Gama and Dias steered history eastwards. It is just half an hour away from where our electric journey to Cape Town had started its final leg, the previous day. Da Gama’s armada and the electric convoy had the same mission — to establish a more efficient way to travel.
The biggest challenge
Fear of the unknown is the biggest challenge of any adventure, and for electric cars, it translates to range anxiety. But ‘kitna deti hai?’ is a tricky question when it comes to electric cars. How far the car travels on a single charge depends on factors like driving habits of the driver, the day’s weather, and even wind resistance! So, when Generation.e initiated the first-ever electric vehicle road trip (EVRT) across South Africa, we were looking forward to first-hand lessons in getting better of the range anxiety.
Power: 168 hp / 184 hp
0–100 kmph: 7.3 sec
Range: Up to 246 km and 322 with range extender
Many battery options available
The BMW i3 most resembled a futuristic car. It looked like something between a golf cart and a small SUV. The rear cabin isn’t designed to keep large people happy. The gearshift stalk with a sci-fi styled rotator and other functions look futuristic. The quirky car has its front seat belt linked to the rear door, and the rear door can be opened only if the front door is. As we found out, this could sometimes be a little inconvenient.
Among the three cars, the feedback and power response was best balanced in the i3, keeping with BMW’s image of being a driver’s car. The company assures that the battery, even after its seven-year warranty period, can be charged up to 70 per cent of its original capacity.
Power: 400 PS /696 Nm 0–100 kmph: 4.8 sec Range: Up to 470 km
Jaguar I-Pace stood out with its luxurious interiors, ample space, and impressive driving ability. With almost 700 Nm of torque, the I-Pace rivalled the driving experience of its sibling driven by a 5.0L V8 engine! Driven by two electric motors in front and rear, the all-wheel drive car has been tested in snow and sand, and comes with optional air suspensions. With no engine to occupy the bonnet, the cockpit is further forward-positioned. It features aerodynamics fine-tuned to reduce drag and with careful driving, over 380 km was attained on the cross-country drive.
Power: 150 PS / 320 Nm
0–100 kmph: 7.9 sec
Range: Up to 270 km
In its second generation, one of the world’s most successful electric cars is still in the running for the title of ‘people’s e-mobility solution’. Nissan Leaf looked closest to a regular and familiar hatchback. The only quirky element seemed to be the gear knob in its swirl of blue. On the other hand, the console, with its multimedia controls and air-conditioning deck, can look rather obsolete in the evolving electric car scene. The range of the Leaf was a useful 250 to 270 km, though like most electric cars, the Leaf uses up its power much more quickly on aggressive driving. It comes with an e-pedal for regenerating the battery while braking.
These cross-country journeys are the way to go on the road to an electric future. On the one hand, these expose the growing possibilities of electric cars, and on the other, initiate dialogue among manufacturers, consumers and the government. But here is what is the best part: these are a wonderful way to discover a country, in which the vehicle is also essentially a part of the discovery!
Squeezing the electric juice
Two factors set apart electric cars from the rest. These are also key to managing the range. One is instant acceleration — the phenomenon of unleashing the torque at the very instant you foot the accelerator — like the light that comes on as soon as you turn on a switch. The other is brake energy recuperation. It is the ability of electric cars to convert a part of the kinetic energy lost during braking into usable energy stored in the battery.
Taming these two is key to improving the range. But as we found out amid the mountainous roads, the sweeping curves and the high winds of South Africa, there were more.
- The best way to gain miles from the powerhouse is to stick to a constant and reasonable speed. We used cruise control on highways, which reduces ups and downs, and therefore wastage of energy.
- The downhill run proved to be a good time to get an extra mile or save a minute. This is because going faster needed less energy than usual, or if we tried to slow down while zipping downhill, the regenerative braking would keep adding to our energy account.
- Another interesting phenomenon was the use of ‘slipstreaming’. In places like Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, strong winds could add to the resistance on the road. By simply staying in the cover provided by the vehicle ahead, we could reduce the wind force we had to overcome.
- No tripping down the countryside is one good way to conserve energy. Nothing drains the battery reserve like a good old, crazy, roaring rush of adrenaline. (I added ‘roaring’ just for effect — electric cars are, of course, quiet!)
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