The motorway is not an electric car’s best friend. The opportunity to (re)discover nationally and departmentally?
In an age of inflation, skyrocketing fuel prices and climate change, the very idea of a “road trip” may no longer be really relevant, especially if we hear in this term “burning fuel for the pleasure of driving”.
Unless you drive electric, of course (I know it’s also energy consumption, but without polluting emissions, in short, you got my point).
But if there are two universes that seem incompatible, they are voyage of discovery (the best translation I could find for trip) and motorway. In fact, everything is against them. Most of the time the highway is boring, with rare exceptions built through uninteresting landscapes, and the coffee-pee breaks are anything but part of the fun, which is more so during times of big summer hikes. Except, of course, if you love standing in line for 20 minutes in front of the coffee machine or questionable toilets in a service area taken over by a population equal to half of Switzerland.
Alongside this, and not very far at all, there is the discreet and sometimes a little old-fashioned charm of modern man’s crossroads, I have named the national and departmental. No need to travel thousands of kilometers to rediscover the pleasure of tumbling at legal speeds and (re)discovering sometimes unexpected landscapes, in France, in Europe or in any country with an almost acceptable road network.
Getting off the highway, a limitation that has become a choice
As we have already seen, the electric car evokes a new approach to travel, more peaceful and more contemplative. The gossip will say that it is not a matter of choice, but of a limitation imposed by the anxiety of the autonomy that commands you to drive slowly between two charges and therefore avoid the motorway. Maybe. Still, what was originally a limitation has become a choice for many electric motorists, and this need to conserve battery power has led them to discover another way of traveling. In fact, they no longer use the highway unless absolutely necessary. It is all the more a choice, as many electric cars can easily travel 300 to 350 kilometers at 130 km/h, and as motorway stretches of more than 250 kilometers without high-speed charging stations are now rare. .
Electric car journeys must be seen in a different way. Shorter range and longer recharge times than a full tank of gas should be an excuse to stop and sightsee, rather than an obstacle to getting to your destination. The opportunity to update this old maxim: “In travel, what matters is not the destination, it’s the journey”.
A trend that may increase with the threats from some elected officials and environmental activists about highway speed limits, as some call for a passage to 120 km/h, or even 110 for the most radical. At this price, the interest in having to part with a kidney every time you travel on the highway would become very questionable in terms of the time saved, not to mention of course the excess consumption, whether of fossil fuel or electricity.
The electric car to revitalize secondary networks
So many reasons that speak for a revitalization of the secondary network. Wishful thinking? Maybe. But we could also imagine public (and private) policies that promote the development of incentive infrastructures that promote electromobility on national and departmental roads. How ? You see me coming: by installing charging networks on secondary networks in addition to (or instead of) those that are starting to populate the highways. And then also by encouraging hotels, restaurants and transit points (supermarkets) to install charging stations at their destination.
So of course local and regional authorities have already taken the plunge and made an effort in this direction by installing the famous terminals that have become as important as the bakery or the town hall in the village square (and given my recent experience it works and it is rarely saturated ). On the other hand, with few exceptions, the vast majority of Tesla Superchargers are located outside the highways, but all this is still insufficient.
Let’s imagine that there are as many electric charging stations on Nationale 7 as there were gas stations in the 1970s, and this sleeping beauty would surely take color, with the consequent virtuous consequences in terms of economic dynamism. Moreover, if we look elsewhere, we see, for example, that already in 2014, certain American states crossed by the mythical Route 66 (a bit like the obsolete equivalent of the N7 here) have activated a policy of implementing recharging, having understood, toelectric lifestyle was perfectly compatible with the spirit of strolling that prevails on this historic route between Chicago and Santa Monica. A modest effort, of course, but a network that has only grown closer since and is attracting a number of private operators.
Okay, it’s all very romantic, but concretely, there are still two obstacles.
On the one hand, as indicated above, most of the effort to install electrical substations is currently carried out on major highways. Thus, Ionity, Fastned and other TotalEnergies multiply the openings on the motorways. But other players like Electra or Power Dot prefer other places along the roads. Ditto for Allego, especially after the deal with major retail giants like Carrefour.
On the other hand, apart from the promise of time saved, another strong argument speaks in favor of the motorway, namely safety. In France, motorways account for “only” 8.4% of traffic fatalities, while the rest of this still too macabre balance is shared between the secondary network and urban areas.
However, improved infrastructure and smoother driving have already convinced many electric motorists to leave the motorways. A trend that will only increase with the development of electric cars (12% of new car registrations in France last May, and above all a 30% increase compared to the same period in 2021).
Enough to revive the secondary networks and an entire ecosystem of shops, places to visit, accommodation and restaurants.
If the electric car allows to see the development of some local alternatives, in other words the small restaurant on the side of the branch road rather than the McDo at the next roundabout, it will always be a winner, right?