Contrasting experiences of electric driving in Portugal

The experience of driving electric vehicles is not uniform in European countries with an infrastructure for charging electric vehicles. When traveling to another country, therefore, it is important to know your options and make sure your trip goes as planned. This story is about the daily use of an electric vehicle in Portugal. It includes two scenarios with different vehicles, and therefore becomes a comparison of private and public charging infrastructure in Portugal in the eyes of a visitor.

The first experience began with entering the country using the road network through France and Spain. These trips are easy when you are driving a Tesla. You just need to start the day with a reasonably high state of charge and the car will calculate the rest perfectly. With each Supercharger, the navigation system knows where I will load next and it shows how much charge will be left on arrival if I leave now. Hence, there is no math or guesswork involved, you feel very safe and relaxed on your trip. With the spacing of the chargers and the range of the vehicle, I never felt the need to drive below the speed limit either. Every Supercharger location, even the most remote (places like Guarda or Tordesillas seem quite remote to me) has at least 8 stalls, so I never waited to reload. Charging speeds ranged from 130kW to 150kW, which meant that the shutdowns ranged from 15 to 30 minutes. It is also very nice to book hotels with destination fees. It eliminates a compressor shutdown. During my stay in Lisbon, the owner of the car park very kindly allowed me to use his electricity for an additional charge. The included mobile charger kit allows you to charge anywhere in Western Europe. The Tesla experience is very predictable and is now very familiar, so I’m going to skip over and compare my experience with different infrastructures.

Since COVID-19 closed many borders and made long journeys impossible, this meant that for my next trip, I had to fly to Lisbon and rent a car there. As someone unfamiliar with fossil fuel cars, I searched and found that almost no rental company had electric vehicles. There is a company called Watts on Wheels, but when I tried to book a car for two months the prices were way too high for that type of vehicle. … If you need a car for a few months, it is not financially sound to spend more than 8000 € to rent a Model 3. One of the old rental companies had a Renault Zoe ZE50, which I have taken because it cost ‘only’ € 900 per month to rent and came equipped with the CCS charging system.

Image courtesy of Renault.

The Renault has a decent WLTP range of 395 km, which is actually over 300 km. The rental company provided a universal Prio payment card that seems to work everywhere. It is really very convenient. On the other hand, the Renault was not delivered with a mobile charger. It is brand new and I checked with the office if they forgot to include it but they explained that the car came without a mobile charger. This is somewhat unusual for me, as Volkswagen and Tesla have delivered cars with mobile chargers. Fortunately, there is a 3.6kW public charger a 30 minute walk from my house where I can charge the car using the included Type 2 cable.

In practice, the car never displays more than 320 km of range, which is not a big problem due to the number of CCS chargers along the route I am traveling (the A2 motorway to the South). The biggest problem is that you shouldn’t be in a hurry because the charging is slow. The car can charge at around 40-45kW apparently – sometimes it takes an hour and a half to fully charge. Worse yet, you may decide to walk to a nearby restaurant and return to find that someone has interrupted your charge and started their own charge. (It was an angry Leaf driver in my case who didn’t understand how I could use the charger for 30 minutes. I didn’t understand this person, but I avoided arguing even though I was quite annoyed. .) Note that there is no time limit on these chargers. The only requirement is that you actually charge a car. I really needed to charge more to get to my destination. I also saw that the car had barely gained 3% before he interrupted my charge with the red emergency button. It’s very strange to me, as someone used to overcharging, that there are these huge red buttons on third-party chargers that they can just use to stop your charging and start their own charging session. I understand you need an emergency stop, but maybe it could be installed in a less obvious location. I didn’t notice the ones on the superchargers. Lesson learned: stay in your car while you charge.

All the places I visited only had one booth. Each time, I have encountered the same equipment – a station with an 11kW AC charger, a 50kW CCS, and a 50kW CHAdeMO cable. The problem with these systems, which I recognized 5 years ago when I borrowed an e-Golf, is that the CCS and CHAdeMO don’t work simultaneously. They don’t share power. That’s why the Leaf driver had to cancel my charging session to start his, using the big red emergency button. Besides this sharing problem, there may be others. I noticed there was another fast charger nearby, but when I got there it was wrapped in plastic tape and looked broken. The gas station attendant told me it had been broken for ages. In many places, public 3.6 kW AC chargers are also out of service. Therefore, to be sure you get a charge, it is best to use the mobile charger at home if you have the possibility. In rural areas, homes usually have outlets outside, so recharging is not a problem in my experience. Fast charging is clearly a problem. I don’t see the current infrastructure handling more legacy brands with new electric vehicles. The only charger per slot is a serious limitation, and the speed is too low. The conclusion is pretty clear from my experience: Tesla private charging network is much superior to public networks. This is probably also why there are a lot more Teslas on the road today in Portugal.

As for the car itself, Renault makes acceptable small electric vehicles that are designed to be more urban in use. It shows in the range you get for such a small car. There is no car in this micro hatchback category that has more range. It’s pretty easy to use, but some things could improve. It is a little strange at first that the car does not have a “P” to park on its gear selector. Instead, you need to put it in neutral and use the parking brake, then turn it off. Still, the gear selector is simple to use and you can choose ‘B’ mode, which is what I use anytime. The regenerative power seems rather weak and the friction brakes are used quite often. As far as the handling of the car goes, I like the direct steering it has. The power is good, but the suspension is too soft and the body rolls noticeably in the corners. The interior is small (I could only fit one suitcase in the trunk) and all the interior plastics are hard. I had to remove both wheels from my ATV to be able to transport it with this car. It’s clearly a more urban vehicle, but I had no choice but to spend a lot of money on renting a Porsche Taycan.

Even though the car was brand new when I picked it up, there are some strange noises in the cabin and the suspension. I’m not sure this is normal, but the vehicle is running fine so I’m not too worried. The build quality could be better. Overall, as a rental vehicle, I would always choose this car over its fossil fuel counterparts as it is a clean option compared to fossil fuel rental cars. It would be great to have intermediate options that could have more space and reach.

As a final conclusion, it’s good that you can rent electric vehicles in Portugal. However, you need to be prepared for surprises with public charging, unless you’re driving a Tesla. What I find hard to understand with legacy brands is why don’t they have serious charging infrastructure everywhere like Tesla? It causes a lot of anxiety to have only one charger per slot. Perhaps more than flashy ads and expensive marketing campaigns, they could develop more charging locations with more stalls to help build the confidence of potential EV buyers.

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About Juana Renfrow

Juana Renfrow

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