An Electric Expedition

by Cpl Marshall.

I was recently approached by MT to conduct a trial with one of their Electric Car fleet, a Peugeot E208. As many will be aware these electric cars are one response to CAS’ ASTRA directive that has challenged people to become more sustainable and environmentally efficient. RAF Leeming, amongst other initiatives have introduced these cars in both Hybrid and fully Electric form. The implementation of charging ports for MT section and also charging ports by the Officers’ Mess allow visiting personnel charge their cars and contribute actively to this directive.

The E208 is, in my opinion, nothing special. It does everything else a non-electric car does except take fuel. The brochure supplied boasts a range of 217 miles yet on average it can only take you 167 miles depending on other function uses, such as windscreen wipers. I was heading from RAF Leeming to RAF Halton a journey of 209 miles, obviously a recharge part way through would be needed. To the credit of MT though, I was supplied with a fuel card and a recommended service station to stop at and even a map so as no confusion could be made. I was asked to call MT control the day before to ensure the vehicle was placed on charge and give me a fighting chance of leaving on time. An electric vehicle familiarisation was booked in for me and before I knew it, I was signed off as an expert on this suspiciously silent tiny car.

D-Day, I collected the car from MT, signed what needed signing, threw the map on the passenger seat and off I went. I was told to drive the car in Eco mode, which I did, sometimes, but I noticed when you selected Eco it meant performance and Climate Comfort was limited. Essentially, it became slow and you couldn’t turn the heating above 16 degrees, not ideal, but since it was a nice day it didn’t bother me. What did bother me was that my Phone could not connect to the media system, meaning I couldn’t have Maps on the screen so ended up balancing my phone in the centre console. A first world problem, granted, yet in this day and age a large inconvenience to someone who hasn’t memorised the entire road system of the UK.

I quickly noticed that the 167 miles was optimistic, and the classic English weather soon meant I needed lights, heating and windscreen wipers. No longer in Eco mode, using many other basic functions, my miles were rapidly depleting, and it was going to be a push to meet the halfway point.

Only 24 miles remained when I finally pulled into the services, proudly pulled up to the electric charging station, especially since a nationwide fuel crisis was in full swing and began plugging in. My relief was to be extremely short lived. I plugged the car in with no issues, however the Ecotricity recharge unit only accepted contactless payments or pre-paid accounts, none of which my MT issued fuel card was. A quick call to MT control yielded the answer of “pay for it yourself and claim it back”. I could have done this, yet, the fuel card is there for a reason and if there is an issue with the cards not working on the charging stations then an easy fix could be made. I then had limited choices, I could drive until I ran out of battery and call recovery or I could service station “hop” until I could find a machine that allowed me to swipe my MT card. Miraculously I found a charging station that allowed you to swipe the card and preceded to perform a quick charge (45 Minutes to 80%) on the vehicle, 5 miles remained on the battery, time for coffee.

Once at my destination, MT control had told me that a Morrisons with the Genie charging points would be the best to charge the car. I questioned why I could not just charge it at RAF Halton and a swift investigation and reply from OC MTF&L explained that RAF Halton simply do not have Electric Vehicle charging points. Don’t worry, I asked myself the same question as to why I had an electric car if RAF Halton did not have a charge point, but MT had reminded me that I was allowed to drive the car to get charged which was a privilege as with other non-electric cars you cannot use them for personal errands, i.e going into Aylesbury for dinner. I digress, the Genie stations accepted the fuel card; however, the fast charging port was not available as another car was there so after 2 hours of walking around Morrisons, I gave up and went back to my block, only 60% charged. The following night meant I had to return to Morrisons and was fortunate enough to get the fast charging station. 45 minutes later I was ready to go and headed back, feeling prepared to get home a little less dramatically than the journey down.

I replanned my return journey to coincide with the Genie charge stations as I knew the fuel card was accepted at these. The almost half way point came and I pulled up to a garage with a Genie Station, the fast charging station was not in use, leaving me with either a 5 hour charge before I had enough battery to get me home or find somewhere else. So, back to service station hopping I went, no such luck this time and eventually a detour to Sheffield Morrisons was the only option for a charge to get me back to Leeming. Where, nearly 7 hours of travelling, finally saw me safe and sound at MT section, where I handed back the vehicle, weary and dreading to think of the repercussions I would face with the charges I racked up on recharging stations and questioning whether I had actually helped the environment at all.

Speaking to MT after the event, many have agreed that with me that the RAF is not ready for such a commitment yet. I also believe in the need for the RAF to have an Ecotricity account or something similar as these Cars become more popular, ensuring no matter where you stop you can charge your vehicle, eliminating this service station hopping or detouring to get a charge. Stopping for a charge is a minor inconvenience if you can use the charging stations, whereas driving around wondering if you are going to make it to a Morrisons is an element of stress I don’t need.

Is there a future in EV in the RAF?

Absolutely, was the point of this trial to highlight those issues? Absolutely, did they highlight positives and negatives? I hope so. My only concern is that nothing is done about them and we get stuck in this fear of change mindset instead of solving problems. MT section have demonstrated on short journeys they are very effective, specifically when transporting Blood to Blood banks on a regular basis, locally. However, the people in charge of these initiatives need to remain realistic and open to both criticism and suggestions. Just because someone claims to be able to drive it 221 miles from High Wycombe to RAF Leeming on a single charge, doesn’t mean that there are no kinks that need to be worked out.