Preparations for the A-to-Z EV Rally are in full swing

Feature

The countdown to the EV Rally has begun, and in anticipation, we catch up with teams to find out how they are planning to navigate the challenge of driving 1,400 miles in an electric vehicle.

The EV Rally, sponsored by Lex Autolease, will follow an A-to-Z theme this year, with teams in over 50 electric vehicles driving 1,400 miles while visiting checkpoints in alphabetical order.

Taking place 1-5 July, the event is designed to put electric vehicles through their paces and “stress test” the public charging network, with the aim of showing that electric vehicles are viable and that the charging network is up to the job. It will also highlight areas for improvement and uncover any challenges in the way of mass EV adoption.

Now in its fourth year, the Rally follows the success of the EV Rally Of Scotland (EVROS) in 2021 and the Great British EV Rally in 2022, which covered the length of John O’Groats to Land’s End. In 2023, the rally visited all capital cities of the UK and Ireland.

The 1,400 mile route

Taking on the retro theme of using A to Z atlases for navigation, the rally will visit towns, cities, clean energy projects, and check points in alphabetical order.

Day one will start at the AA’s Oldbury Innovation Centre and will cover just under 270 miles until the overnight stop at Carlisle.

On day two, participants will venture north to Gretna, before they then head east to Gateshead, then south towards Sheffield. Checkpoints include the Sports and Social Club, in the shadow of Drax’s Power Station in Selby, a charging top-up at a Compleo UK site, a PoGo charge at M Core-owned M Galleries Shopping Centre in Washington - with the final destination being Mercedes-Benz Trucks’ Tankersley offices.

The third day heads towards Cambridge, via Norwich. Check points include a charge at myenergi’s premises and GRIDSERVE’s Electric Forecourt in Norwich.

Teams will leave Cambridge on day four and head east to a brand new EV charging facility, featuring a wind turbine, battery storage, eBus/eHGV capability and ultra-rapid chargers from Arnold White Group. The route then takes the Rally southbound, past West London, before heading south-west, visiting Virta Charging at BMW UK & MINI’s premises.

The final leg of the Rally on day five will cover more than 300 miles as teams head towards towards e(X)eter, Yatton and Zouch, before visiting Chester and finishing at the impressive Cawley House facility, a hub from headline partner, Lex Autolease.

How team preparations are going

Lead sponsor Lex Autolease is entering two cars and two light commercial vehicles and are delighted to have Quentin Willson of FairCharge on their team, with the aim of busting EV myths.

In terms of strategy, Nick Williams, managing director at Lloyds Transport, said: “We want the rally EV experience to be similar to people’s everyday driving, so we will not be studying “A to Z maps” for planning routes or pre-planning charging strategies.

“Instead we will be using the in-vehicle sat navs and routing technology, along with apps, to do all our routing and charging on the go. This makes our rally experience more relatable to everyday driving so we can identify potential issues and challenges of transitioning to EVs that everyday drivers may encounter.”

Maxus UK, as the event logistics partner, will provide the Rally’s logistics crews with electric vans, and will also be participating as their own team using an eDELIVER5 and MIFA9. Drivers include James Hooker, the company’s leasing, public sector & blue light manager, and Paul Kirby, otherwise known as “Electric Van Man”. They will also be joined by members of the Maxus dealership network along the way.

James Hooker explains what strategy the team has in place: “Having completed the rally before, we understand the importance of meticulous planning, strategic navigation, and teamwork. Regular charging stops along the route ensure that our vehicles remain in peak condition throughout the journey. Of course, no matter how much you plan your charging route, things can always go wrong – charging stops might be congested or unavailable, so a backup plan is essential.”

Europcar is the Rally’s vehicle provider and will host the EV Rally’s senior management and official media crews in electric vehicles.

In terms of their own team, Europcar will be taking vehicles from its own electric fleet, including a Jeep Avenger, Skoda Enyaq, Mercedes EQV SUV and Renault Kangoo eTech. Tom Middleditch, head of electric mobility will be leading the team, which comprises colleagues from across the business. Europcar will also be joined by EV champion and record breaker, Kevin Booker who will be sharing the tips and tricks to get the best out of electric motoring.

Europcar’s Tom Middleditch said: “Our strategy this year is to really think about the experience of driving electric in a holistic way. We know that planning ahead is key to eliminating the FUD – fear, uncertainty and doubt. And we will definitely be adopting the ‘charge when you E F stop rather than stop to charge’ ethos. It worked really well last year.

“The other learning from last year was having a better understanding of the vehicle being driven. That’s why this year each of us will stay in the same vehicle for the duration of the rally – rather than trying out different vehicles on different days. That way – and with Kevin Booker’s help – we can learn about the different charging and driving settings to maximise the energy!”

Innovative technology

Returning for a third successive year with their own team and as EV charge card partners, Paua will be providing RFID cards to participants so they can access over 43,000 charge point connectors. They will also develop a dedicated white label EV Rally app so drivers have locations for checkpoints at their fingertips, simplified social check-ins and charging network details.

In terms of their vehicles, Team Paua plans to bring both second hand vehicles and vans, with the aim of showing that there are affordable options for everyone, and that electric vans can do the job!

Paua’s Pam Hanlon commented: “Events like the EV Rally are important for the driving up EV adoption because of the visibility it gives the vehicles on the road. Secondly, it showcases the technology. And thirdly, it is the positivity that the rally represents. It’s also a great way to shut down the chat that the infrastructure isn’t there.”

Technology partner Webfleet returns for their fourth Rally this year. Members from across the business will take part in the latest fully electric VW ID7 equipped with state-of-the-art Webfleet telematics technology.

As the Rally’s Technology Partner, Webfleet will be fitting selected participating vehicles with advanced telematics solutions to provide real-time data on vehicle performance, location tracking and efficient route planning, significantly contributing to the safety and success of the Rally. The technology also offers insights into EV-specific metrics such as battery status and range.

Webfleet’s Richard Parker comments on their strategy for the Rally: “Previous Rallies have taught us the importance of strategic route planning, real-time data analysis and adaptive driving techniques in maximising EV efficiency over long distances.

“This year, we plan to implement our latest EV route planning which takes into consideration our starting trip battery level, the distance we are travelling, charging station availability along the route and the final battery level we want to achieve when we arrive. This takes away any anxiety for our drivers allowing them to focus on driving efficiently and safely.”

Navigating the rally

Team IVECO returns to the Rally this year following their participationin 2023 where they demonstrated some impressive towing capabilities of their eDaily electric van.

This year, the team will be bringing two IVECO eDaily models and demonstrating its Mobile Power Station which can power demanding equipment. Joining the IVECO eDaily van will be a 7.2T 4100mm wheelbase eDaily Minibus which has capacity for 23 passengers.

IVECO’s Mike Cutts shares a snipped of their strategy for navigating the rally. He said: “In addition to having a vehicle you can depend upon; public charger locator apps are excellent for finding little-known chargers in unfamiliar territory. With so many EV Rally competitors on the same route at the same time, it’s a big advantage to confidently stray from the most obvious charge locations.”

First time participants Drax Electric Vehicles will have colleagues from across the business behind the wheel of a VW ID Buzz and a Polestar.

And on day two of the rally, participants will be passing by Drax’s Power Station in Selby, Europe’s largest decarbonisation project, where participants can enjoy some Drax hospitality at the adjacent Sports and Social Club.     

Drax’s Naomi Nye is hoping to bust some EV negativity whilst on the rally. She says: “We’ve all seen the headlines over recent years regarding public EV infrastructure and the frustrations it can bring, so taking part in the EV Rally is showing that it is possible and that we can and will make it.”

Team OVO will be behind the wheel of two Toyota Proace vans and two Volkswagen ID Buzzs. The team plans to swap drivers at the end of every day so even more OVO colleagues get the opportunity to take part.

OVO’s Alex Thwaites, said: “With so much negative media and fodder in the press, it’s really important that we continue to showcase positive stories around EVs. We have to support and educate consumers around all of the wonderful things the industry is doing to make switching to an EV easier than ever. So events like the rally are really important.”

Showcasing electric HGVs

Demonstrating how HGVs are progressing towards net zero, Team Mercedes-Benz Trucks UK is returning this year. Last year, its eActros held strong and was the only vehicle that did not charge on the first day. This year, they will up the difficulty ratings by taking part in a loaded 44-tonne eHGV. E F Colleagues from across the Daimler Truck UK business will be joined by special guests such as well-known truck journalists, along with customers who are pioneering decarbonisation in the industry.

James Venables from Mercedes-Benz Trucks UK shares what difficulties the team may come across. He said: “The main challenge for us is finding truck-friendly charging. While we have seen an incredible uplift in the availability of rapid car charging options over the last couple of years, finding suitable public truck charging on the UK strategic road network can still be a challenge, so we often make use of non-public truck charging or big ultra-rapid car-charging spaces.

“A vital part of our preparation is forward planning the route and understanding the energy consumption using our range prediction software, just as we do for our customers during our eConsulting process. With this information we can predict the best places to stop for charging en-route.”

GREENFLEET’s HGV Manufacturer of the Year, DAF Trucks, is also returning to take part in the Rally. DAF will be entering two vehicles this year; the first is an LF Electric that took part of the Battery Electric Truck Trial, and the second vehicle, unusually, is a van! DAF doesn’t produce vans, but its dealer network relies on a massive fleet of vans. So members from team DAF will also be driving a TRP Parts delivery electric van.

Commenting on their strategy this year, Phil Moon from DAF Trucks said: “Our strategy is to charge up when the opportunity arises to access a fast charger. Although it’s tempting to drive to the maximum range, that feeds the range anxiety and means a long wait whilst the truck charges. A short charge gives a chance for a quick brew and a toilet stop and then you’re back on the road before you know it.”

EV charging company Compleo are entering the Rally with two vehicles and are looking to invite guests along the journey to experience EV driving and charging. “There is no better way to increase awareness, understanding and acceptance than through first-hand experience,” explains Compleo’s Clare Nicol.

Compleo will be also be showcasing its flagship installation on day two, where they’ll be welcoming rally participants to Tingley Garden Centre, near Leeds, for a charge on one of their 56 EV chargers.

Advocates for electric vehicles

Rally debutant Tusker will have a team made up of individuals from across the business driving an BYD Atto 3 and Volvo EX30.

Explaining why Tusker decided to get involved this year, Kit Wisdom said: “We are, and always have been, real advocates of electric vehicles and are talking to drivers every day about their benefits. With thousands of drivers taking an electric car on the Tusker salary sacrifice scheme every month, and also a lot of myths in the press, it seems like now is the ideal time for us to join the EV rally to continue to highlight how salary sacrifice is a really affordable way to drive electric and also help dispel some of those myths that are out there.”

Thanks to industry collaboration, the all-female team of Women Drive Electric is joining the EV Rally this year, with the aim of making electric vehicles more appealing and attainable for females, as well as promoting gender diversity in the fleet sector.

George Thurman said: “We look forward to meeting members of the public – especially women thinking about making the move to electric. The most important thing for us is to share our message, collaborate and have fun.”

Another Rally debutant is renewable energy company myenergi, and on day three of the Rally, teams will head to one of their state-of-the-art facilities in Stallingborough.

Tom Callow is also hoping to debunk some EV misinformation on the Rally. He explains: “We see that myths about electric vehicles continue to be amplified in the media and in society at large, and believe it is important to dispel these myths, including demonstrating the capability of electric vehicles through a long-distance rally.”

As roadside assistance partner, Team AA will once again offer drivers the reassurance that if something was to go wrong, they would be in safe hands.

AA president Edmund King OBE will driving again this year, and with the election upon us, he will be using the event as an opportunity to promote the AA’s motoring manifesto.

Edmund King OBE, said: “Hopefully we can influence some people along the way about why electric vehicles are good – and why they are important for the planet, for our businesses, and for our people.”

Drivetech meanwhile is the Rally’s driver training partner and will be offering eco and safety-driving tips on the morning of each day.

Involved since the very first all-UK Rally, the National Grid is taking part again this year. Legendary fleet manager Lorna McAtear will be behind the wheel, joined by BBC South’s Transport Correspondent Paul Clifton, and daughter Frankie, who will be in a converted Porsche. The EV Cafe's Sam Clarke is also joining team National Grid and he will be driving an electric motorbike - the first time it's ever been attempted on the EV Rally.

Lorna McAtear said: "For us, it is still important to work collaboratively with everyone and to constantly think about all the others. That is why this year we are using vehicles that are not mainstream or are new to the sector. We want to remind people that there are different vehicles out there and not to forget these niche areas when looking at solutions and infrastructure. We need to include as many people and types of transport as we can."

BMW and Mini are also participating, and will showcase the capabilities of their electric models on the massive 1,400 mile journey.

BMW Group UK’s Matt Collins, said: “We are thrilled to be joining the 2024 EV Rally. We see this as a great opportunity to showcase our latest all-electric products, including the new BMW i5 Touring and BMW iX2. With rewarding driving dynamics and a host of technologies, we look forward to demonstrating the joy and convenience that BMW electric brings to fleets.”

As always, the EV Rally will unfold across social media, with John Curtis and Sara Sloman from the EV Cafe providing interviews and coverage.