Courtesy of Little camper EV travels blog.
By David Gobbett and Conny Froehlich
From March to July 2021 we clocked-up over 10 weeks and 10,000 km of travel with our Kona EV and Little Guy teardrop camper from South Australia to the eastern states. This included a 2500 km trip from Adelaide to the Otways and Great Ocean Road in Victoria, and a 7700 km trip to Canberra, NSW, and southern Queensland. See our trips page for details.
When we first set out towards Victoria, we were excited but slightly anxious about how our long-distance plans would work out, and whether we would enjoy this style of traveling. We have now become far less anxious and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves, and have learned a few things along the way.
We are very pleased with the Kona EV. It is comfortable and powerful enough to easily tow our small trailer. The driver assistance technologies (lane keep assist, distance sensing cruise control, and rain sensing wipers) help to reduce driver fatigue on long trips.
Our teardrop camper is great, and it suits our minimalist approach to travel. However, it is not as aerodynamic as we had expected and reduces our range when driving at highway speeds much more than we had hoped. Without the trailer, we can travel roughly 350km with a full charge, whereas the trailer reduces this to around 200 km. Fortunately, the maximum spacing of the fast chargers along the main routes from Adelaide into Victoria and NSW is around 200 km.
We find that we use fast chargers to get to an area, then slow charging (e.g., caravan park powered sites) meets our needs for driving locally. On our 2500 km Victoria trip, we used only four fast chargers: Tailem Bend EVIE charger ($0.60/kWh), Chargefox chargers ($0.40/kWh) at Keith, Horsham, and Ballarat. Otherwise, all charging was at caravan parks. Whereas on our 7700 km NSW trip, because of the longer distances, we used 25 different NRMA chargers (currently free), one Chargefox charger, and two EVIE chargers.
When covering long distances in a day, needing to charge the car two or three times for about an hour slows us down. This means we take time to visit places we would not normally go to. Fast chargers are reliably well located, and mostly close to cafes, amenities, and other attractions. They are also always in public view, and people quite approached us, interested and curious about electric cars, charging, etc. Our teardrop camper is also a great conversation starter. We even gave a curious Ford V8 driver their first drive in an EV!
Each fast-charger along a long distance trip is crucial — especially with our low range when towing the camper. If a charger is occupied, this might delay us for an hour or so. As EV numbers rise, pressure on the few fast chargers will increase. Hopefully other drivers will not stay longer at a charger than they need to, and will use Plugshare to check in or NeedToCharge, so they are contactable. If a charger is faulty and no substitute is available, we may need over 20 hours of slow charging instead. So we travel with the attitude that we might have to spend a night (or even two) using a powered site at a caravan park to charge enough to get to the next charger. Fortunately, this has not been necessary, but problems with charging have delayed us or caused us to change plans at times.
We make extensive use of A Better Route Planner (ABRP) to plan our long-distance routes between fast chargers and help us decide where to make overnight stops (such as caravan parks where we can do a top-up charge overnight). ABRP does not easily handle the addition of the camper trailer and the effect it has on power consumption. In ABRP, the default Reference Consumption for the Kona is 19.6 kWh/100 km, but we change this to 28.0 kWh/100 km, add a 7 m/s headwind (25 km/h), and set the temperature according to local conditions. These settings are slightly conservative, and we almost always arrive at a charger or destination with more in the battery than predicted by ABRP. However, we like the security of this, as one day we might have to make an unexpected detour, and it is good to have some reserve!
PlugShare is helpful for checking charger status, and checking in while charging. On our recent return trip, we read on PlugShare that the Tanunda fast charger was out of service and were able to change our route between Berri and Adelaide to go via Tailem Bend rather than Tanunda. Had we not checked PlugShare, we may have needed to spend a night at the Tanunda caravan park to charge up.
WikiCamps Australia is also a useful app, as it helps us choose caravan parks along our route. The app allows you to filter caravan parks and camping sites — for example, to see only those with powered sites.
Power consumption when towing
Speed has a large impact on power consumption, especially when towing, but wind, hills, and temperature also affect consumption to different degrees. When driving around 90 km/h with low winds, we have achieved 25 kWh/100km, while at around 105 km/hr, we have sometimes used up 33 kWh/100km.
When driving long distance, and especially a challenging stretch between chargers, we monitor our average trip consumption displayed on the Kona dash. We calculate the allowable consumption for the remaining trip based on: (battery charge % – 10%) x 64 kWh / (number of 100 km)
For example, from Berri to Tailem Bend is 183 km. If we depart Berri with 90% charge, we calculate (90% – 10%) x 64 kWh/1.83 = 28.0 kWh/100 km (the 10% is the safety reserve we like to keep for our arrival). We therefore adjust speed to keep our average consumption at or below 28 kWh/100 km. This simple approach works best where the road conditions along the whole route are consistent.
Poor aerodynamics of the car plus camper are likely the main cause of high power consumption at speed. Some research we have done leads us to think that putting a tapered box on the trailer draw-bar and adding a smooth under-surface to the trailer would improve aerodynamics. But without trying these things, there is no simple way of knowing how much this would really benefit our range.
What have we learned?
- Speed is a key factor affecting power consumption when towing.
- When driving long distances, we keep a close eye on the car’s average consumption.
- It is wise to check the chargers ahead of your trip using PlugShare. Better to know in advance if one is out of order.
- National Park campsites with powered sites are rare but great, and we wish there were more of them.
What is next?
We have looked at whether we could cross the Nullabor to Western Australia towing the camper, and using 3-phase AC charging points along the way. However, the onboard AC charger (OBC) of our Kona is only rated at 7.2 kW, so it would take around 9 hours of charging to do each 200 km. That would mean the 2200 km from Adelaide to Esperance would likely take 11 days (one way!). We look forward to the day when there are fast chargers at 200 km intervals along that route as well. In the meantime, we are planning shorter trips in South Australia and a longer one in Tasmania.
See our trips page for details of our long-distance trips.