EV holidays: Ade Thomas on the emobility experience in Corsica

As a committed EV driver and environmentalist, the one time I convert to combustion is on a foreign holiday vacation. A dirty little secret I’m only rather cowardly ‘happy’ to divulge after being able to assuage my guilt at hiring a holiday rental EV for the first time. This, on a family trip to the beautiful Mediterranean island of Corsica.

Rental firm, Sixt, have a strong selection of EVs, including VW ID.3s, Renault Megane E-Tech, Fiat 500e, and, for many, the dream drive for a vacation vehicle, the ID.Buzz. My heart said ID.Buzz to make the kids (fooling myself, me) happy, but my head said ‘go sensible small to medium sized car and choose the EV you’re most familiar with’. In a rare moment of rationality, particularly when rational thinking tends to go out of the window with holiday finances, I opted for the ID.3, the car I drive back home. In the normal rental car lottery of choice, at the airport I was given a Renault Megane E-Tech. No worries, I was happy to try a new EV, and particularly a French one in France.

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A note on the Megane E-Tech. Not being an oversized vehicle (as so many modern cars are), it’s a near perfect vehicle for hiking a family of five around small Corsican roads. Corsica’s narrow roads were built for the cars of the 60s and 70s, before the oversized revolution that ensued. Corsica cars seem to defy the laws of physics, with larger cars constantly encroaching on the other lane but somehow never colliding. 

The E-Tech delivers 290 km of range, which would, if you took it easy on your road trips, last a week. One thing I really like are the soft tones of the collision alert sound design. It’s a lot less dramatic / scary than my ID.3. As ever, the mapping system doesn’t give charge point visibility, which is pretty much my biggest EV gripe. Google, TomTom, all the OEMs, could you have a big pow wow on this at this year’s EV SUMMIT, please.

One of the go to criticisms of EV naysayers is that they are not charged by renewable energy. On Corsica, an island bathed in sunshine and awash with mountain streams, that could be engineered to create water storage batteries, this is, perhaps valid. 44% of the island’s energy is still generated by thermal (defined as coal, oil and gas). Solar only makes up 26% of the power, and there is very little residential.

And so on to charging. Domestic charging at our villa was, sadly, not an option: the car’s parking space was circa 25 metres from the house and there was no domestic charge point installed. So, a three pin / two pin granny charge, my go to plug pal on previous UK holidays, failed me. I was reliant on public charging. Uh, oh. This turned out to be reminiscent of the UK a few years ago before the public charging investment started apace.

The excellent Chargemap app indicates only eight charge charge points with a fast charge facility of 100 kW or above on Corsica. My first trip, when deploying best practice, and charging when I didn’t really need to charge (I was still at 71%), and the two 100 kW chargers, in the beautiful coastal town of Bonifaccio. First fail. These were occupied. All day. This, despite an ill-observed policy of the charger only being allowed for the time you’re actually charging. 

Next destination trip and off to a beach with one rather lonely 22kW charger. This, to me, is the perfect slow charge solution, and something I’d like to see more CPOs focus on. I was rather excited, with an early arrival, to get access the one lonely charger, only to be sorely disappointed by an operational failure. No charge, apart from 3 x 30 Euro for the initial payment of a charging session, which you then have to wait / hope will be refunded.

Next on the Thomas itinerary, a few days later, was a forest walk and a visit to the mountain streams of the Cavu river: a truly beautiful location and one well and truly on the tourist trail with a large destination car park in the woods. A large destination car park with precisely zero charge points. Another half a day when I could be feeling good about a battery top up. 

As well as the mountain streams and a charger that actually worked or wasn’t occupied, I was keen to see the Corsican swallowtail butterfly, which is relatively ubiquitous. I’ve never seen a swallowtail back home in the UK and this one is a real beauty; a larger butterfly that is a delight of yellow colouration. I didn’t see one .So, three destinations, three fails. So much for the top up as you go approach EV drivers aspire to. Much work to be done on Corscia. Particularly if, when, on holiday, you might, like me, want to spend your time heading to tourist sites, where 7kw / 22kW chargers are just right. And on to my next charge, at a less than delightful location. Getting below 50%, I felt forced to take my family to the biggest charge point hub on Corsica: a ‘delightful’ family holiday excursion to an out of town shopping centre with a bank of 10 x 100kW plus chargers.

Fortunately, the kids were, strangely, happy to spend half and hour buying exotic French breakfast cereals in the supermarket. I wanted to stay with the car to make sure all was well with the charging session. Standard issue stuff, in that the 100 kW plus charge was shared between two plugs and, therefore, only offering up a sub-50kW charge. Still, only 25 minutes to get from under 50% to 80%. And it worked. Win. This charge got the Thomas family through the first of a two week stay.This experience gave me time to chat to a first-time EV driver: a German chap who could only get an EV at the airport car hire: there were no ICE vehicles available. Interesting. After watching him crouching down for five minutes, right next to the car charge socket as it charged up, I was compelled to chat to him. Sadly, he wasn’t loving his first experience of driving an EV, which always confuses me, as I expect everyone to absolutely love it. However, his major concern was not an EV concern, but rather one that centred on not getting the right child seat size for his baby daughter. Understandable. He was happy to be driving on zero emissions, though, which was good to hear.On the final day of the first week, at another destination with no chargers, a smaller mini market, I might not have had the best car charging experience, but I had the best nature recharge with a ten minute flyby treat of a Corsican swallowtail. The best treats in life tend to come when you’re not chasing them, I find.

Second week, and a new holiday home experience, as we moved to a new location further south. This new villa was more of a new build and delivered the charging saviour of a 3kW two pin plug on the side of the house. The unsung hero of the EV world, a granny charge over time. This delivered an overnight trickle charge and meant that, for the second of two weeks, I could relax with a 90% plus charge. Win.My overall experience reminded me that, being an EV driver is, to my mind, still the preserve of the pioneer, when it needs to be the easy for everyone. This is certainly the case on Corsica. Still, progress is being made with EVs everywhere on the island. For charge point operators in the French market, there is definitely a commercial opportunity at the 7kW / 22kW slow charge destination end of the spectrum, and a need for more 50kW / 100kW plus chargers, particularly to cope with the additional holiday demand. I look forward to returning, in a few years, to witness the progress, and also to get another sighting of a Corsican swallowtail butterfly.

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