Now That's What I Call Recharging the Batteries; as Electric Car Power Points Come to Ireland, Peter Curran Does Europe in One with a Range of Just 160km; There's Panic as the Prince Jumps into an Electric Sports Car and Races Away

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), July 25, 2010 | Go to article overview

Now That's What I Call Recharging the Batteries; as Electric Car Power Points Come to Ireland, Peter Curran Does Europe in One with a Range of Just 160km; There's Panic as the Prince Jumps into an Electric Sports Car and Races Away


Byline: Peter Curran

My ferry journey from Harwich to Esbjerg in Denmark boasted a wine-tasting that kicked off at the surprisingly early hour of 10.45am. The four sample bottles remained half full at the tasting's conclusion, despite the attentions of a solicitous waiter. For a moment, I imagined the carnage if the opportunity to sample free alcohol were offered on a more popular ferry route. These musings marked the beginning of my four-week journey around Europe in an electric car.

I was to travel 6,500km and visit Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France. My TH!NK City electric car had a range of just 160km a day, so patience might well prove to be a great virtue, while I would also be relying on the generosity of strangers for the power socket I needed to recharge the car's battery.

The Scandinavian ferry companies seem to have answered the challenge of cheap air fares by raising the standard of their onboard food and entertainment towards that of a cruise ship.

Past experience had conditioned me to think of ferries as a necessary evil but this time it was not the getting there but the journey that was the pleasure.

From Esbjerg, we headed to Hov to take another ferry to Samso, an island of 4,000 people. The attraction is that the island is a net energy exporter. Groups of islanders have formed co-operatives to build power stations, such as the straw-burning Ballen Brundy plant and wind farms.

The islanders are now looking at the next stage of their plan to be both energy-independent and to create new jobs, and have plans to replace their carbon-fuelled vehicles with electric vehicles.

On a misty morning, our local ferry docked in Samso alongside an extraordinary vessel of such Edwardian elegance that you half expected Peter Ustinov's Poirot to emerge on deck in linen suit and fedora. The boat belonged to Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, visiting Samso for the first time in 14 years.

As I trundled into Samso's Energy Academy - www.energiakademiet.dk - I was met by Michael Kristensen, who thatches roofs on the island in his spare time. He was excited. I'd just missed seeing the Queen of Denmark... and the prince.

It turned out that the queen's consort is apt to be rather sporting and unpredictable. Mine host had invited the prince to sit behind the wheel of a US-built Tesla battery-powered sports car which can manage 0-100km/h in under four seconds.

The prince had promptly started the car and shot off down a small road, followed by his anxious security team running some way behind. They found him, eventually, and the day ended with a noisy firework farewell as the royal yacht slipped into the misty sunset. Our departure was less elegant, as the smoky turbo-diesel engine of our car ferry pulled us out of port. And so on to Germany. Without becoming Jeremy Clarksonesque, some of the local drivers played their cliched image up to the hilt - and indeed right up to my rear bumper.

If you limit their ability to roar along at 110km/h in the slow lane (don't even think what they get up to in the speed limit-free fast lane), German autobahn users will insist on driving aggressively close with a garnish of hornblowing and light-flashing.

I admit my slow-go progress might have been a contributory element to their annoyance, but I needed to prolong the life of the battery before the next charging point. The power level ticked down and knuckles whitened - but the warm welcome I received once off the autobahn came as regular relief.

In Bavaria, I stopped for a charge from a solar-panel dealer called Hansjorg. His and his wife's generosity was matched only by his splendid dungarees.

One of the other highlights of Germany was a visit to the VW factory at Wolfsburg. The factory floor is the size of 20 football pitches. It was scheduled for dismantling by the Allies after the Second World War, but saved by Major Ivan Hirst, who placed a substantial order to replace the British Army's depleted fleet of small vehicles. …

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