Powering across the outback...

Powering across the outback…

Right off the bat, I want to acknowledge how lucky we’ve been. I never take these opportunities for granted.

On the last day of the recent Everything Electric show in Sydney, I showed my wife Judy around the stands before the show opened. The fine folks from MG Motors who had a very popular stand and ran hundreds of test drives at the event asked me if I wanted to use one of their MG4 press cars while we were in Australia.

We lease one in the UK, we know the car well and it’s great. Okay, apart from the lane assist safety function, but I’ve learned to switch that off every time I start the car.

Two days later I received an email from the same people. It was an apology, saying they didn’t have any spare MG4 77kWh long range models. My heart sank, we had a little road trip planned and that put a serious kibosh on the notion. I also really wanted to check out the difference. The car we have in the UK is the Trophy model, with a 64 kWh battery, which has proved itself to be more than adequate for every journey we do with cars. Would that extra 13 kWh really make a difference. I would never know.

But I read on, they asked, would I mind driving an MG4 Xpower, the insanely fast hot hatch version of the sensible, small, economic MG4 as that was all they had available.

As you can maybe imagine, it was hard to say “Oh no, no, I really couldn’t have such a high performance machine. I drive like a retired vicar, it would be entirely inappropriate.’

Maybe I should have said that, but this is what I actually said.

‘Seriously! Expletive yeah.’

So I picked up the car from a vast warehouse full of cars in the area of Sydney where the planes come in to land at Sydney airport appear to skim the rooftops.

The following morning we set off from Sydney first thing, we were simply driving to Melbourne, but then again it is a journey of 879 kilometres or 546 miles. To put that in context for people who haven’t visited this rather large country, London to Edinburgh is 537 kilometres or 334 miles. So Australia really is quite big.

I set the driving style to eco, switched off the annoying lane assist (ask anyone who’s driven an MG4) and off we went. It was very warm, high 30’s centigrade, but the air conditioning in the car is really good. I could see that it reduced the range by maybe 5 kilometres, if that. But with 380 km (240 miles) of real world range in the Xpower, it’s really not a consideration. Obviously if we’d been loaned the 77kWh long range MG4, we would have had even less of a hassle with
500+ km or 300+miles range.

So, comfortable, cool calm and travelling at exactly the speed limit, (110 kph or 68 mph) using the very competent adaptive cruise control, we drove through the gently rolling hills of the Australian bush without incident. We were on a 4 lane highway, not a dirt road, I don’t want to give the wrong impression, this is cosy middle class bush, not full on, red dirt butch bush.

After a couple of hours driving, I realised I shouldn’t have had that coffee before we left so we had to stop for a ‘comfort break.’ Although the charging network is still in its early development in Australia, there were chargers at this rest stop but we didn’t need them. The MG4 range, even in this souped up hot hatch version, is way, way longer than my bladder range.

After another 150 kilometres we stopped in a small town called Yass. We chose this for our little lunch break because it has a Tesla Supercharger station with 12 stalls, all of which can charge any car, all of which work and all of which can deliver 250 kW.

I state this with such confidence because after many years experience Tesla superchargers are way out in the lead. Even with years of development and improvement by other charging networks, resulting in much better charger reliability in the UK, they are still in the lead, I’m sorry but it’s true. Tesla is not the cheapest by a long shot here in Australia but they always, always work and they are really easy to use.

The rest of the journey to Albury was uneventful, which is kind of what you want on a long road trip. A few weeks earlier I had driven from Brisbane to Sydney in a rented Tesla Model 3. About half way through my journey I saw a lot of flashing lights on the road ahead. The traffic slowed and as I passed the scene I could see that a large fuel truck had veered off the road and buried itself quite dramatically into dense woodland. The most likely reason behind this chaotic scenario would be that the driver fell asleep, which is the cause of an enormous amount of road deaths in Australia.

A pause for thought here, because I’ve heard about this anecdotally but I’d never looked it up. According to the AAA (Australian Automobile Association) Foundation in Australia, 328,000 drowsy driving crashes occur annually of which around 6,400 were fatal.

For goodness sake, that is terrible. I’ve never considered this argument before but it is incredibly relevant in Australia and the USA where very long drives between towns and cities are more commonplace.

This is why range doesn’t matter as much as many fear. As long as there’s adequate charging on highways, and I know there isn’t adequate charging everywhere now, you don’t need to tell me, but clearly there will be.

Anywhere around 300 kilometres range in an electric car means you can go literally anywhere. You NEED to stop and have a break every 2 to 3 hours, for yours and other road users safety.

You need to stop, get out of a vehicle, no matter what fuel it uses, you need to stretch, walk around, have a snooze in the shade, have a coffee. Have a comfort break. That, quite simply, is how you stay alive.

Anyway, enough ranting. Back on the road we go. After a couple of hours we stopped again, not to charge, but to look at a little statue.

We were 5 miles from Gundagai because at this little road stop there’s a dog sitting on a tucker box. You can see the statue behind the car.

Just to explain, the statue was inspired by a poem written by Jack Moses, the out back poet in the late 19th century. One verse goes like this.

I’ve done my share of shearing sheep,
Of droving and all that,
And bogged a bullock team as well,
On a Murrumbidgee flat.
I’ve seen the bullock stretch and strain,
And blink his bleary eye,
And the dog sit on the tucker box
Nine miles from Gundagai.

35 years ago Judy and I stopped at the same location when we were driving a rented Australian built 4.2 litre V8 Holden Commodore, so quite a contrast between that thirsty beast and the incredibly efficient Chinese built MG4 Xpower.

As we left the dog behind, I noticed a couple of Chargefox rapid chargers by the organic cafe next door, and behind the cafe, 6 Tesla Superchargers.

We didn’t need to use them but I’m pointing this out because there are an increasing number of places to charge in Australia, it is blindingly obvious the network is constantly expanding. I’d estimate there are more than double the number of chargers on the same routes were drove last year.

A couple of hours later we arrived in Albury, a delightful town on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. We met up with some wonderful old friends of my wife Judy’s that night, had a meal with them and stayed in a small hotel, which, very handily was next to the very latest superchargers Tesla have installed.

16 of them in the shade in a car park. These bad boys are version 4 chargers, any electric car can use them, so from now on all new Tesla chargers installed will work for any car.

The following morning on a quiet side street in Albury, when Judy was still asleep, when there was no other traffic or playing children around, I pulled to a halt. I then engaged sport mode for the first time in the Xpower, and floored it.

Okay, I’m quite old and really, really don’t need to do this to reinforce my masculinity, but my goodness, it is fun.

The Xpower rips off the line with incredible vigour. 3.8 seconds zero to 100 kph. Yes, there are faster electric cars but they all cost from £25,000 to £90,000 more than this little sizzler.

Altogether entirely unnecessary, utterly silly, why does anyone need to do that? No one needs to, it’s some kind of insecure man thing. But my goodness, it is fun.

I did it just once, okay twice. But that’s it. Very very silly. Okay, three times but that’s enough.

I would accept that speedily accelerating from say 30 to 110 kph as you pull onto a highway is actually useful, so you can blend in with the traffic, but other than that, for pities sake, stop wearing out your tyres.

Now back in eco mode, we drove on to Melbourne, 341 kilometres or 211 miles, well within the range of the MG4, but again we did stop because we, the humans, needed to.

We got to Melbourne with about 30% left in the battery, so really not a problem. We didn’t use the car much when we were there, but after a few days I drove 2 km from our house-swap apartment in Fitzroy to the nearby neighbourhood of Collingwood. Near the police station and town hall are a couple of Evie rapid chargers.

I had the app from my previous visit to Australia in 2023, I plugged in and tried to use it. Nothing. The app couldn’t even see where I was and yet I had a really strong 5G signal on my phone. Some bad words were used and I gave up.

I drove 12 kilometres to a Tesla supercharger, plugged in and it worked instantly. More grinding of teeth ensued, why can Tesla do it, okay, makes sense with the cars they build but these chargers work on any electric car. Why can’t they all be this good!!!

I spent 20 minutes charge time trying to understand why the Evie app didn’t work. I discovered it was out of date and had been replaced with a genuinely brilliant app that works really well.

But I had to find that out myself. Why couldn’t the stupid out of date app that I tried to use send me a message to say ‘use the new app you old duffer, here’s the link.’

A few days later, just before we left Melbourne, I went back those Evie chargers near the town hall in Collingwood, used the new app and it was SO easy and worked right away and it made me angry and happy at the same time, an unusual juxtaposition of emotions.

We drove back from Melbourne again via Albury but this time we took a small detour via a town called Yackandandah in Victoria, which, for the past few years has been running a project called Totally Renewable Yackandandah, or TRY.

They haver installed a great deal of solar in and around the town and a very large battery that many of the residents can access. The community are aiming to be 100% renewably powered in the future but they are very close today. This is a brilliant example of what every small community should be doing, it can be done, the technology does work and it is cheaper than burning coal, oil and gas.

Sorry, but I just had to preach a little bit.

We used their charger which a) worked really well and easily and b) was by far the cheapest we used for a 50 kilowatt rapid charger, and it actually delivered 50 kilowatts.

The cost (and if you use public chargers in the UK you might want to sit down as you read this) was 20 cents a kilowatt hour, that’s basically 10p.

And why is this possible?

Because the vast majority of the electricity used in the town is from solar they own, stored in a battery they part own, so the cost is near zero and they are making money charging people 20 cents a kilowatt hour.

I’m hoping to make an episode of Everything Electric about the project in Yackandandah, and if you know of other towns doing similar things please let us know.

We stayed a couple more days in Albury, then drove back to Sydney using much of the same chargers. It’s just a long way, the charging was irrelevant. The car ate up the kilometres without complaint. All in all, even with the occasional frustration of iffy chargers, we did a total of 2,981 kilometres or 1,852 miles with zero hassle.

Except for that one time with the wrong app.

So here’s my take on the car. It is amazing. It works, it does what it’s designed to do and it does it with bells on.

And obviously I’m talking about the MG4 because that’s what we drove, but now a huge range of electric cars from reasonably priced to eye wateringly expensive can do the job very adequately.

The final stumbling block is the public charging. This has to be made utterly frictionless, I want to be able to buy electricity as easily as I buy a coffee. Fines need to be applied to companies who install chargers and don’t maintain them 24/7.

We don’t need government subsidies or grants, car chargers have to be a profitable business, but we do need government regulation.

And regardless of the endless stories about electric car sales dropping and people ‘going back to gas. Please! Utter nonsense. 7 years ago I saw a couple of Teslas in Australia, last year I saw a lot of Teslas everywhere we went and a handful of other brands. This year I just see thousands of electric cars everywhere, when people try them, they love them. I can’t wait to come back next year and see how things are progressing.

Robert Llewellyn