World tour shows electric vehicles are cool

For five months, thousands of adventure-lovers have followed on the internet in real time the adventure of two French engineers on an around-the-world trip in an electric car to promote electric mobility.

Convinced by the advantages of electric cars, Xavier Degon, 27, and Antonin Guy, 28, began their world tour in February from Strasbourg’s Kleber place, France.

They are driving a standard Citroen C-Zero, which emits neither carbon nor any polluting particle.

The Electric Odyssey become then the first world tour done with a standard electric car.

They travelled through Belgium, the Netherlands, the US, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Laos, Viet Nam and China. They will cross another eight countries to finish the tour.

All their pictures and stories of adventure have been updated at and through social networks such as Twitter and Facebook. The site has accumulated comments and questions of friends and curious internet surfers.

While the existing means of transport are among the main reasons for climatic warming and local pollution, the two adventurers believe that the electric mobility is one of the best answers to those environmental and societal challenges.

They believe that the technologies of the car will further advance and a number of electric vehicles will be released on the market in coming years and the public power (State and collectivities) will support the development of this means of transport.

However, as they’ve noticed, a major condition on which the rapid development of electric car relies is its adoption by users. Most have not been convinced by this technology. They continue to wonder about the modalities of recharge, the autonomy, the price, and the technical reliability.

"The goal of our adventure is to promote the image of electric vehicles and to reassure the public of their reliability and convenience," Xavier said.

"We are convinced that the electric car will be the means of transport of tomorrow. And to prove it and contribute to its rapid development, we decided to realise the first world tour with an electric car," Xavier added.

"If a standard electric car can make a world tour, every single person is able to use it to go shopping," he said.

The idea of the Electric Odyssey was born in 2010 in the minds of the two friends who shared a thirst for adventure and a desire to travel differently.

To secure the technical success of the project, several training sessions were organised on how to manage the car. Xavier and Antonin have been trained in a driving style which minimises the risks of incident and which enables them to foresee possible breakdowns. The functioning of all the electric components was also introduced in detail to the crew.

To make the world tour, they plan to travel 25,000km over the course of eight months across 17 countries and with an electricity consumption of only 250 euros, five times cheaper than the same trip using petrol. Their car must be charged every 110km, which means more than 250 charges at local people’s homes, motels, storekeepers, schools, public halls.

The route was not chosen randomly, it matches a basic need: to find a charging spot every 60 miles (a distance which is inferior to the autonomy and takes into account possible unexpected events) which means staying in relatively densely populated areas.

Every day, the two men meet and convince members of the local population to lend them their outlets for a couple of hours to charge the car. For every charge, the crew offers to pay for the electricity, that is 1 to 2 euros (US$1,5 to 2,5) for a complete charge, depending on the countries.

They have encountered most of the "pluggers" (the people who lend them the outlet for a couple of hours to charge the car) along the way. But the people who own an outlet and who are eager to participate in their adventure can also sign up on the project’s website.

"We were often worried about finding a place to recharge our car," said Antonin.

"Luckily, the people we met were all ready to help us," he said.

However, with the electric car which has been conceived for a urban and suburban usage, the crew faced difficult conditions in certain countries, for example, in the desert in Kazakhstan.

"We found ourselves in the middle of the deserted land and were very anxious seeing no one. Luckily, we finally learned that there was an enterprise situated not too far from where we were. And we contacted this enterprise which was ready to help us," recalled Antonin.

"This voyage is like a true human adventure for us because it gives us the opportunity to be in close contact with people all around the world, through the American Rockies, the heart of Japan, the silk road between China and Kazakhstan and Europe," he said.

"In some countries, the English language is enough to communicate, but in most of them, sign language is mainly used to find outlets."

The two adventurers arrived last week in Viet Nam and spent seven days in the country before continuing their trip to China through the Ha Khau border in Lao Cai Province.

The two men said they had interesting experiences on the Ho Chi Minh road to Ha Noi from Laos.

"We were impressed with the landscapes and hospitality of Vietnamese people. We stopped several times and ate with local people and truck drivers. We invited them to try our electric car and we were excited to drive a truck," Xavier said.

In Ha Noi, the two men enjoyed nem (spring rolls).

Several events involving the car, including presentation, trial runs, and debates have been organised along the way in collaboration with the project’s partners and French representatives abroad for the public at large. Since the arrival of the crew in Ha Noi, a press conference was organised at the French Embassy in the capital.

Marie-Cecile Tardieu-Smith, head of the economics section of the French Embassy, said at a press conference: "Viet Nam is faced with the challenge of environmental issues.

"France has invested in projects to develop public transportation in Viet Nam and French enterprises want to present this experience of an electric car."

Degon has been an engineer in the State – owned French Electricity Provider Company since 2009.

Guy has been consultant for four years at Capgemini Consulting in the public sector. He has been driving several studies about electric mobility in collaboration with ESCP Europe (European Business School) since 2009.

To make the tour, they had to take one-year holiday. The two adventurers expect to finish the tour in two months.

"If everything goes as planned, we will get back to Strasbourg in October," Xavier said.

The crew’s electric car Citroen C-Zero is decorated with the world map and flags of the countries crossed.

It is the first French electric car sold in France since 2011 with 150km autonomy. Like every modern electric car, the complete charge of the Lithium-ion battery is possible in 6 hours using a classic 220V electric outlet. In terms of technical performance, electrical technology is much more efficient than petrol technology for cars of similar size. It possesses a high engine torque and a speed easily fast enough to go on freeways.

Electric mobility favour safe driving. In addition to reducing the risk of accident, this kind of driving will maximise the autonomy of the car, and allow them to travel the longest possible distance each day. In that sense, the crew adopt eco-driving: no accelerations or sudden braking and a moderated speed to avoid the calls for power. Moreover, each stage will not be longer than 150km. The total number of driving hours per day should not exceed 4 to 5 hours of alternate driving, that is 2, 5 hours per day, per driver, with at least one break.

Bach Lien,