Can you use an electric vehicle for your holidays?
21 NOVEMBER 2019 DENIS DROPPA
[images / DENIS DROPPA
The Jaguar I-Pace made it from Joburg to Durban and back on electric power
It took between 90 minutes and two hours to charge the vehicle to full at
the Harrismith DC charging station
You tend to spend a lot of time glancing at the digital readout on a long
We undertake a range-anxiety test by driving from Johannesburg to Durban in
a Jaguar I-Pace, using not a drop of fuel
A few days before the SA Fuel Economy Tour took place last week to find the
country’s most fuel-efficient cars, we undertook an economy tour of a
different kind by driving an electric car from Joburg to Durban and back,
without using a drop of fuel.
The fact that Electric Vehicles (EVs) are the future is being bombarded at
us from almost every automotive quarter, and while many people might see
this as some far-off eventuality for our grandchildren, for early adopters
that future has already arrived.
The Jaguar I-Pace luxury SUV recently became the third fully-electric
vehicle to go on sale in SA after the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3. The handful of
early adopters who bought the Leaf and i3 were content to use them as
short-hop city commuters but Jaguar changed the game, first by the I-Pace
having a much longer range than those cars, and second by installing a
nationwide charging network.
Jaguar Land Rover SA, in conjunction with a company called Grid Cars, has
set up the Powerway, a series of charging stations along the N3 between
Gauteng and Durban and the N1 between Gauteng and Cape Town. The majority
are 60kWh DC fast chargers, which take about 20 minutes to charge an EV with
100km of range.
I-Pace owners use an RFID card to activate the charging station and manage
electricity billing to the cars. Cards can be credited with EFT payments,
much like cellphone airtime top-ups.
From its 400km-plus urban range it’s clear that the Jaguar I-Pace can be
comfortably used as a daily commuter. People with a daily round trip of less
than 80km can drive it all week without recharging it. When it does need
Eskom, it takes about 12 hours to fully charge at a R25,000 wall box that
you can optionally have installed at your home, or about 48 hours at a
regular wall socket.
For urban driving and longer weekend jaunts, range anxiety is truly a
non-issue for those who choose this R1.7m electric Jaguar as their daily
We undertook the Jozi-Durban journey to test whether the I-Pace also makes
the grade as a long-distance holiday car, and to test the newly installed
Along the Johannesburg-Durban N3 route there are just two charging stations,
and our mission was to try to make the trip by only using the Harrismith one
without having to make an additional stop at the Pietermaritzburg station.
And we wanted to drive at a realistic pace, sticking to the speed limit.
It was with some trepidation that we left Gauteng’s urban confines and
headed south, keeping an eagle eye on the range meter. Though the 270km trip
was a lot shorter than the Jaguar’s quoted range, open-road driving drains
an EV’s battery a lot quicker than stop-start town driving. This is because
energy is regenerated to charge the batteries as soon as you touch the brake
or lift off the throttle, which happens a lot more in urban commuting than
on the freeway.
We needn’t have worried. Driving in Economy mode (which gives a longer range
than the Comfort and Dynamic settings) and mostly at the 120km/h speed limit
(though I chickened out a few times and slowed down to about 100km/h), the
Jaguar reached Harrismith’s Bergview One Stop with a comfortable 79km of
We found the Jaguar charging box in the parking lot, plugged in the car and
tapped the RFID card on the box to get it started. The car’s display showed
it would take just under 90 minutes to charge to full. We had a leisurely
breakfast and, as promised, the car was fully charged in an hour and a half.
It cost R400 to top up the car at the fast charger, which is about the same
amount it would cost to fill a diesel SUV for a similar range, and slightly
cheaper than filling a petrol SUV. Charging the vehicle at home is where
you’ll save money on running costs, as normal Eskom rates apply at an
electricity price of about R40 per 100km. That’s about a quarter of the
price of a petrol-powered SUV.
Next came the more challenging part of the journey, as the leg from
Harrismith to Umdloti just north of Durban was 320km. We wanted to make it
in one go as we felt that many people won’t mind a single 90-minute stop on
their Jozi-Durban trip, but a second stop in Pietermaritzburg would be more
of a deal-breaker in terms of using the I-Pace as a holiday car.
Gravity was our friend on this leg, as the long descents of Van Reenen’s
Pass and the steep downhills just before Pietermaritzburg allowed a lot of
off-throttle driving that regenerated the battery. We arrived in Umdloti
with 80km of range remaining, easy peasy.
We plugged the car into the wall socket at the guest house we stayed in, and
it was fully charged “for free” when we left two days later. There was a
fast charger at Umhlanga’s Gateway shopping centre close by had we needed
The uphill trip back to Jozi was more of a battery-draining affair than the
drive down. Early into the journey it was obvious that we needed to stop in
Pietermaritzburg for a quick charge or we wouldn’t make it to Harrismith —
only to find that the charging station at the Pietermaritzburg Jaguar dealer
We tried the charging point at the nearby BMW dealer — guided there by the
Grid Cars website which shows where all the country’s charging stations are
— but to no avail. Though the cable sockets at the BMW charger were
compatible with the Jaguar, you need a BMW card to activate it.
With no other charging stations along the way (Grid Cars subsequently told
us the Pietermaritzburg charger would be back online soon, with additional
stations to be set up in Villiers and Mooi River before the festive season),
our only option was to try to make it to Harrismith by driving slowly.
Here followed the most nerve-racking part of the journey as we climbed the
seemingly endless hills out of KwaZulu-Natal, our spirits draining in step
with the batteries as the dreaded digital display showed the car’s range
dropping below that of the remaining distance to Harrismith.
I dropped the speed to 70km/h at times in a bid to swing the equation back
in our favour. After a nervous few hours of light-footed driving, sweating,
and a bit of praying, we limped into Harrismith with 6km of remaining range.
This time it took two hours to fully charge the car, by which time our
nerves were calmed with the help of a long lunch, and the last 270km leg to
Jozi was a breeze as it was mostly flat roads.
Conclusion: You can use the Jaguar I-Pace as a holiday car, but you wouldn’t
necessarily want to. I enjoyed the trip down because of the more relaxed,
stop-and-smell-the-flowers frame of mind the mandatory 90 minute stop put me
into — instead of the usual just-get-there-asap mindset.
But the return journey with its uphills is a downer, if you excuse the
Even if the Pietermaritzburg charger had been working, a two-stop trip from
Durban to Joburg might test anyone’s patience, and you really don’t want to
try the slow-driving, will-we-make-it-or-not nail-biter. [% =reporter's
... the I-Pace is a terrific daily driver with heaps of silent power and
low running costs. But for now, until they squeeze a bit more range out of
EVs, [% EV-ignorant reporters %] using them as holiday vehicles remains a
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