Living with an electric car in the canton of Vaud
Back in March, thousands of visitors visited the Geneva car show to gaze upon the new offerings of the motor industry. This year, the “Green Pavillion” at the show created a lot of attention from both the press and the public and in this area it was possible to test electric cars from Citroen, Opel, Nissan and Renault amongst others.
Living in Nyon recently interviewed Christian Frutiger who lives in the canton of Vaud and is a bit of a pioneer of the electric car himself , so we spoke to him to find out what living with, and driving an electric car, is really like.
Photo above – Christian in his Citroen C- Zero
Christian has been commuting to work in an electric car for a year between his home in Borex on the outskirts of Nyon, to his office in Vevey 65 kilometres away. A couple of years ago Christian had already been investigating the choices of electric cars on the market with a view for a future purchase but then a motorway accident in October 2010 resulted in his existing car being written off. This speeded up the hunt for an electric car that would suit his needs for his daily commute. He chose the Citroen C-Zero which in ideal conditions can be driven for 130-140 kilometres on just one charge.
Christian says that the first thing to notice about the car is that it is very quiet – “it has no noise and with no combustion engine and it doesn’t smell either. The acceleration is good, it can go from 0-100 in 9 seconds which is faster than some petrol cars and it’s nice to drive.”
However he goes on to say – “you always have to drive in anticipation – firstly in terms of the range and the need to charge the battery”. Christian has a special charging unit at home and his employer has made a charging point available in the car park at work. But it is possible to get caught out. Thankfully this has happened to Christian only twice, once when the plug was not connected to the socket correctly, (so the battery did not charge fully), and secondly when he purposely let the battery discharge completely to see what would happen. He found here that the car went into “hibernation mode” or “turtle mode” (an orange turtle lights up on the board display), so all non-essential power is switched off such as the radio and heating. “At this stage it is really necessary to drive economically by reading the road and traffic ahead to avoid braking if acceleration is needed shortly afterwards. In this situation speed should also be reduced. Christian also says in general “anticipating other road users, to be able to drive smoothly and conserve battery power in fact becomes second nature with an electric car”. As does watching out for pedestrians – the lack of noise from the car can catch people out!
In winter using the heater also reduces the range – in a car with an internal combustion engine, heat is drawn from the engine, but in an electric car the engine does not produce any heat, so the heater needs to draw from the battery. The same goes for the use of the air conditioning in the summer.
Charging the car
With a regular 220V16A plug , similar to those on camping sites, a full charge takes 6 hours (9 hours with a domestic 220V 10A plug), though a fast charge is possible with a special 400v 125A connection when it is possible to charge up 80% of the charge within 30 minutes.
Photo above – No queues at the petrol station – just fill up at home!
So far as Christian knows, there are few other private owners of electric vehicles in this area, most electric cars are used by organisations for use “about town”, and so there aren’t too many options if you want to make a long trip for example, to the south of France. There is however a charging station at Geneva Airport and another in Lyon. You can find fast charging stations in France, but you’re well advised to map the route first. These don’t exist in Switzerland, but there are camping type charging stations at the La Côte and Villette motorway rest areas and in a couple of car parks in Geneva and Lausanne.
The cost of owning and running the C car
Christian says that the down side to owning an electric car is that initially it was expensive to buy, about CHF 50,000 (including cables and home charging device), but the upside is the cost of “filling up the battery” is minimal, – just a few CHF. A complete battery charge of 16kWh costs about CHF 3.20 (at a tariff of CHF 0.20 per kWh) although you never completely discharge the battery, otherwise the car stops. Thus the average cost of a “fill-up” is about CHF 2.50. Christian also adds “you also want to make sure that you use electricity from a renewable source to charge your electric car”. Christian changed his subscription with the local electricity provider and says, “you should do this anyway, even without an electric car”. The charging station itself was actually offered to Christian by the electricity provider, what he paid for was the adaptation of the electricity system in the carport (which meant laying a new 16A cable from the main outlet in the basement across the garden), this cost as much as the charging station itself.
If the vehicles on show at the Geneva Motor Show are anything to go by it seems certain that electric cars will increase in importance. In 2008 the Department of Transport in the UK carried out a survey that showed that the average car journey was 13.6km and 93% of all car journeys were less than 40km. Christian has shown that over the last 12 months, with a little planning it is perfectly possible to commute longer distances. He has travelled more than 30,000 km with his electric car, since he purchased it. Perhaps it’s a little early to forecast the demise of the internal combustion engine, but for a second car, or if most journeys are just around the region then it’s perfectly possible to live with an electric car.