TO ITALY AND BACK WITHOUT EMISSIONS

SWEDEN-ITALY Is a road trip through Europe in an electric car really possible? Here is the account of the Piironen family’s journey.

In a Tesla P85D electric car, even Swedish Stina Kindberg Piironen would consider a driving holiday in Europe. Not that she is a supercar snob, but for environmental reasons.

“I want a car with a minimal environmental footprint, whereas my husband likes to drive a powerful beast of a car. We have had lively discussions about cars through the years, but now we’ve finally found one that suits us both,” she says.

The Tesla P85D with its powerful 772 bhp motor is not the cheapest family car. But in this case, the relatively generous Swedish tax rules for green-rated company cars made it possible for Kindberg Piironen’s husband Peter to get it as his company car.

“The fact that we got the car was a bit of a coup on my part. We did look at hybrid cars, but I asked Peter whether he really could live with one of them, as I know he loves to drive fast, and suggested that he take a look at the Tesla instead. He hadn’t considered a fully electric car, but was soon sold on the idea,” she explains.

Piironen in a Tesla

Good times
In July last year the rainy weather gave the couple a good reason to head south for a week – 6,000 kilometres from Stockholm to Milan and home again together with Kindberg Piironen’s brother Svante. For Kindberg Piironen, who until just recently worked in communications for sustainable energy solutions at Vattenfall, the trip also provided good experience as to what it feels like to drive such a long way in an e-car.

“Before we left, I wondered how things would work out with the charging stops along the way: I feared we would end up stopping every third hour at different industrial sites along the motorways. But most charging points actually proved to be really nice and were often located at attractive spots, so the stops became nice breaks and leg-stretchers,” says Kindberg Piironen.

Tesla has its own network of fast chargers, known as Superchargers. The costs for charging are included in the purchase price of the car, so owners pay no extra for using the stations. In 40 minutes the batteries are 80 per cent charged, which is enough for about 350 kilometres. Charging the car fully takes another 35 minutes.

“At a couple of charging points, we had to wait a while for our turn,” Kindberg Piironen says.

“But Tesla owners are like members of an exclusive club:  we chat to each other and give each other tips about the best routes to take, where to charge and so on. And 90 per cent of them are Norwegians,” she says, pointing out the fact that Norway has the world’s most advantageous rules for owning an electric car.

Tesla owners can use the company’s network of “superchargers” around Europe at no extra cost.
The car’s computer tells the driver where the next charging point is – and suggests routes accordingly, so the car is never left stranded.

Charging anxiety
The car’s computer indicates charging point locations and suggests suitable routes to make sure the vehicle is never stranded. Still, Kindberg Piironen had her share of charging anxiety: “We decided to drive the 380 kilometres from Fréjus in the south of France to Milan despite there being no superchargers along the way. After only a short stretch, the computer began to protest and advised us to turn back, but we really wanted to get to Milan, as the hotel had already been paid for.”

But as the energy level dropped the couple got increasingly nervous, so they decided to stop a short distance into Italy and charge the car at a hotel – in the regular slow way.

“The owner came to help us, but it turned out that he had the wrong kind of electric connector. So we took a chance and drove on. To save battery power we switched off the air conditioning and drove as slowly and economically as we could. We made it to Milan, but it was only by a whisker.”

Tesla is an exclusive car and the travelling party generated widespread interest as it crossed Europe. But while some people wanted to take photos of the car, others disapprovingly shook their heads at it.

“That really surprised me, but for some reason, some people seem to have a problem with electric cars. So there are still many prejudices to deal with,” Kindberg Piironen says.

So far, the Tesla is too expensive for most people to buy, but a cheaper model is expected to come out in a couple of years. After that, Kindberg Piironen hopes to see more e-cars on the streets.

“I really hope that more people will be able to buy an electric car. Just think how many problems would be solved if everyone drove electric cars. And it would be so quiet in town!”

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