Vanarama is taking part in the inaugural Electric Vehicle Rally of Scotland (EVROS), a 5-day event which is supporting the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow. Starting from the Scottish city on Monday, November 8, the 5-day route takes around 20 electric vehicles (EVs) of all shapes and sizes all around Scotland, on some of the country’s most brilliant roads and through its most epic scenery.
The aim of the event is to show people that electric cars can be usable all-year round, even in more remote areas – thereby encouraging car owners to make the switch to an EV sooner than the Government’s proposed 2030 cut-off date for the sale of any new vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.
Vanarama has entered 2 teams into the event – Team 1 is made up of video reviews star Mark Nichol and Daryl West, Vanarama’s Head of Sponsorship & Social Media, while in Team 2 it’s Matt Robinson, Web Editor Car, and Senior Videographer Toby Sullivan. Here’s a day-by-day account of how they got on.
We asked for a bit of drama on the EVROS event… and boy, did Day 3, affectionately known as ‘The Beast’ by those who had organised the rally, serve it up. In spades.
To reiterate what we’ve said in our opening intro paragraphs each day, the whole point of the EVROS is to ‘stress-test’ EVs. It isn’t designed to show usage of electric vehicles in the most favourable conditions – most of Scotland is remote and not blessed with hundreds of charging points, while the colder weather this far north in November will also sap life out of batteries. This means you wouldn’t normally put an EV through this sort of punishment in ordinary, everyday usage.
So The Beast was always going to be a challenging day, on the simple basis of its mileage alone – to cover the 320 miles from Fort William to Thurso, via the Isle of Skye, Ullapool, Durness and then Tongue, there are very few EVs which even have the claimed WLTP range to do it. None of which were present on this EVROS event.
For everyone involved, problems with chargers in Fort William on the previous evening had left various cars in states of lower battery levels, including Vanarama Team 1’s Polestar 2. Mark and Daryl took the Swedish machine to a charging station in a quiet residential street of Fort William, but as it was an AC charger running 22kW they didn’t manage to get much charge in.
This meant that, after both our teams had ticked off Checkpoint 12 at the Commando Memorial just outside Spean Bridge, the Polestar was getting desperate for a charge; but Team 2’s latest Stellantis vehicle, a DS 3 Crossback E-Tense, had kicked off with the full 100% in Fort William so was doing great.
Other competitors on EVROS had gone on ahead, reporting issues with chargers both on the Isle of Skye and also the remote town of Ullapool, 2 destinations that were scheduled for later on in the day. So, once the Vanarama teams reached Invergarry, where the A87 spears off westwards towards Skye, we instead ploughed on north-east on the A82 to Fort Augustus.
Team 2 managed to get to the DC charger in the town at the foot of Loch Ness first and squeezed in less than 5 minutes (and not even 2kWh) on the DC connection, before the Polestar arrived and took over the faster charging due to its more pressing requirements. As a result, the DS 3 switched over to the AC connection and stayed on that, while all of our Vanarama team members went into The Lovat Hotel for some hot drinks and a break.
The DS stayed connected for nearly 40 minutes and took another 6.35kWh onboard, returning the battery to 91%, but all this shilly-shallying meant both cars were far behind the EVROS pack and nowhere near even a third of the mileage required for the entire day. Team 2 therefore set off for the next checkpoints at Skye, reasoning the DS 3’s smaller battery would need more charges on the island to do the rest of the trip – so they made progress while Team 1 waited patiently in Fort Augustus for the Polestar to get up to a more reasonable percentage level.
After this, much of the middle of the day passed in a blur of majestic scenery, great driving roads, largely decent weather and some superb filming opportunities, which you will soon see in Mark’s overview video of the EVROS event. Team 2 bagged 2 separate 50kW DC chargers, at both Checkpoints 13 and 14 (just before and on Skye), so by early afternoon the 2 Vanarama cars were ready to head back off Skye and then swing north towards Ullapool.
Everything was going swimmingly. Before, with the daylight fading and more than 100 miles still to go to our overnight stay in Thurso, the wheels somewhat came off the day in quite sudden fashion.
The problem was that 1 of the 2 fast chargers in Ullapool, about the only notable town of any size between Fort William and Thurso, was still broken as our 2 cars arrived. So there were lengthy queues of other EVROS competitors ahead of us waiting to charge. At this point, a pivotal decision had to be made. The next official checkpoints on the route were all on the NC500 roads which loop up and over the very top of the British mainland. But, such is the wild remoteness of the northernmost reaches of Scotland, that if teams decided to press on north from Ullapool then they were committed to going all the way round the top – there were no further ‘shortcuts’ cross-country to Thurso from this point onwards. Those not feeling brave enough in terms of charge could instead head directly east from Ullapool and pick up the east-coast route to Thurso (on the A9), which had far more opportunities for charging along the way.
The Polestar 2 could go no further in either direction without a charge, however, as it was down to 25 miles of range. Whatever Mark and Daryl decided to do, they faced a long wait in UIlapool while other EVs in front of them charged up. So they waited – and enjoyed some delicious fish and chips while they did. It meant an end to their checkpoint ambitions for Day 3, but sometimes needs must as the devil drives.
For Team 2, though, the gamble was made. With its battery showing 43 miles to empty in Ullapool, the next charging station was at Scourie… 43 miles to the north. So we decided to go for it. Other teams on the event had said Scourie’s sole 50kW charger was working and we felt we had to press on, to allow the EVROS charging ‘bottleneck’ in Ullapool to ease more quickly.
The light was properly fading as we inched our way north. The A835, A837 and the A894 are all incredibly hilly, which meant the distance-to-empty reading bobbed up and down relative to the remaining distance to Scourie as we painstakingly climbed and then coasted on regen braking back down the hills. It was the most nerve-wracking 43 miles of our lives, conducted at less than 30mph in the main in an effort to eke out the battery’s remaining life, but somehow – after a lot of nervous tension – we made it to the charger in Scourie with 8% battery and 9 miles of range to spare, a little after 5pm.
Another competitor in a van had overtaken us during this route, knowing we were making for this particular charger, and was in a queue in Scourie ahead of us while the Citroen e-C4 we’d been driving on Day 1 was taking in a 50kW DC charge with another driver. Thankfully, everything was working sweetly and the Citroen driver very generously agreed to only charge to around 50% or thereabouts, so he could get to the next charging unit in Durness, some 25 miles distant in the very north-west corner of the British Isles.
Only, after he had disconnected and driven away, the Evolt charger in Scourie suddenly failed. Red lights came on at the top of the unit and it refused to accept any RFID cards, despite several repeated attempts to reset it with the emergency stop button and various on-screen informative procedures.
This was a disaster for Vanarama Team 2. It was now fully night, cold and blustery, and we were stranded. We could not go forward and we could not go back, either. The van driver who was waiting to charge next called the Glasgow phone number on the unit and spoke to someone to ask for a ‘remote reset’ of the failed charger, but was told it wasn’t communicating with the system so nothing could be done, save for sending out an engineer. Which would take who knew how long.
And that was that. The van driver, it turned out, had just enough charge to get to Durness so headed off into the night, but we were hopelessly trapped unless this Evolt could be coaxed into life. Thankfully, the wonderful support crew for EVROS stayed with us and called another charging specialist, who talked through a different procedure and then contacted someone in head office in Glasgow.
It seemed as if the unit, which needs a connection to a network (rather like a mobile phone does) had dropped off the line, so it could not be remotely restarted. But the engineer on the phone could remove the validation routine, which meant our RFID card finally got the Evolt unit to start charging the DS 3. Result! And a feeling of euphoria unlike any other in modern motoring.
The charging started at about 6.30pm and, to be fair, once the unit was working it positively blasted electricity into the DS 3, so within about 40 minutes we were back to 82% battery and 165 miles of range – enough to put us back in the game.
However, we weren’t done yet. What now lay ahead was the trickiest, most remote section of the NC500 (North Coast 500) route over the top of Britain, with another 90 miles to Thurso still to tick off. In many places a single-track passing place track, despite its A-road classification, the NC500 wends its way through small and isolated communities like Rhiconich, Durness, Polla and Tongue. It’s almost totally unlit from Scourie round to Thurso, and populated by deer – one of which walked right out in front of us round a blind bend. A breath-taking near miss!
Thankfully, the DS made light work of this tricky route and we even managed to grab some (admittedly low-light-levels) pictures of the car at Checkpoints 17 (the Durness War Memorial), 18 (the Kyle of Tongue Causeway) and 19 (the Scrabster Harbour Ferry Terminal) before finally rolling into Thurso at almost 10pm at night… having started at 7.30am in Fort William. Turned out that Team 1, who had had to wait ages for a charger to become vacant in Ullapool, had also not got to Thurso until late, sadly having to sacrifice the run along the NC500 in the process.
After all this, for Team 2 an ensuing hunt for some hot food and also a 50kW charger to replenish the DS 3 one final time in the day (it was down to 16 miles of range again by this point) meant that, eventually, we finally stumbled into our hotel room at 11.30pm. And we didn’t even manage to get a beer from the hotel bar.
All in all, it was a tough, tough day and meant The Beast fully merited its nickname. But it did usefully show 2 things: 1) EVs really can go to the most remote places with a bit of careful planning and research; and 2) the charging infrastructure for EVs in this country still needs plenty of development work in the coming months and years – so that ageing units are not so temperamental and flaky. Having the Evolt break when you’re in an area with lots of other charging points in the nearby vicinity would not have been a drama at all… but when you’re miles from anywhere with next-to-no-range left and you’re utterly dependent upon it for your onward journey, then a ‘downing’ of its connection suddenly becomes a major, major hassle.
Anyway, all was well that ends well, ultimately, and Day 4 promises to be much easier than Day 3. And it’s probably fair to say that EVROS 2021 really came of age with the number of ‘The Beast’.
Day 3 stats (Team 2’s DS 3 Crossback E-Tense):
- Miles covered = 337
- Average speed = 36mph
- Driving time = 9hrs 22mins
- Charging periods = 5 (Fort Augustus, Checkpoint 13, Checkpoint 14, Checkpoint 16 (Scourie), Thurso town centre)
- Total charging time = 2hrs 57mins 11secs
- Total charging energy = 99.21kWh
- DS 3 Crossback E-Tense energy usage = 3.4 miles/kWh
Cumulative stats (Team 2’s EVROS Stellantis carousel):
- Total miles covered = 759
- Overall average speed = 33.5mph
- Total driving time = 22hrs 50mins
- Total charging periods = 10
- otal charging time = 5hrs 34mins 7secs
- Total charging energy = 229.7kWh
- Stellantis EVs’ average energy usage = 3.4 miles/kWh