1600km in an Electric Vehicle
Cars. Great aren't they? Such a useful invention. Just a shame that most of them run on melted dinosaurs, vomit all kinds of nastiness into the atmosphere and are wildly inefficient. At least we don't have to walk around like peasants anymore though, right?
If you didn't already catch on to my bias, you'll be surprised to find out I was thrilled to be offered the chance to drive Hyundai's Kona Electric for a couple of weeks while working on a video project based around their electric vehicles this year (this project is still in progress and will be available in Recent Work over the next few months). Being a car fan and an EV supporter already, I jumped at the opportunity to borrow the Kona, and before I knew it I had driven over a thousand kilometres in the thing.
So I went and picked it up - and what happened in the following weeks only solidified what I already believed. These cars are the future. Anyway, let's start by judging the book by its cover.
I've always thought certain EVs and other eco vehicles try too hard to look different - sometimes to a point where a lot of people wouldn't consider owning one. Let's not get into the reasons for that - I was pleasantly surprised by how 'normal' the Kona looked and felt inside and out.
This particular Kona was loaded with all the lovely bits and pieces - everything from heated and ventilated leather seats to a heads up display, Smart Cruise Control, Apple CarPlay and even a heated steering wheel. Needless to say I felt right at home.
I live in Auckland, and I had a trip booked to Wellington to see some friends. Since I was driving around in what felt like a spaceship, I decided that rather than flying there I should drive the 650-ish km to the capital, so I could get a feel for the Kona and learn more about NZ's public charging network in the process. Without pause, I paused for several days until it was time to leave, then I charged up to 100% and set off.
The thing about driving from Auckland to Wellington is that much of the drive is pretty simple. By that I mean it's filled with long, straight roads that don't require a whole lot of thinking or input from the driver. I've done the drive before in much lesser cars so I was excited to see how Kona would compare in terms of comfort, range and cost.
I decided confidently that I'd be able to do the 700km trip south in one day, but I had a few delays at home that morning which meant I didn't leave till around 11am. Upon hitting the state highway, I was greeted by Smart Cruise Control, a feature that regulates speed while keeping an eye on the vehicle in front of you, meaning it will slow down if that vehicle does and speed up to the set speed again once they do.
I was very surprised by what came next though - a green symbol of a steering wheel appeared on the HUD in front of me, and then the Kona effectively started steering itself down the motorway. I had no idea that the newer Hyundai models provide steering assistance as part of Smart Cruise, but it does just that if you're on a straight road that has clear line markings the vehicle's camera can see. Awesome.
It won't let you take your hands off the steering wheel for more than a few seconds (yes, I tried) for safety reasons no doubt, but it felt weightless in my arms as the Kona steered itself round the subtle curves of the motorway. Like I said, spaceship.
The Kona Electric 64kWh (the longer-range model that is sold in NZ) has a range of ~450km, so I decided I would do the trip to Wellington in 2 legs, stopping once in Taupo to charge up.
Leg 1: Auckland to Taupo - 300km
Leg 2: Taupo to Wellingon - 380km
Since it was the middle of winter, the sun was setting when I arrived at the fast charger in Taupo for 'lunch' and it was getting colder outside. The Kona took around 1hr 30min to charge up to 100% from around 25%, which was more than enough time to eat a meal, stretch my legs, visit the bathroom, check up on social media and socialise with some EV owners. I don't mind driving in the dark, so I was in no rush really, but I was confined to the inside of the car for about the last 30mins due to it getting a bit chilly.
It's worth mentioning that you can run the interior heating while the vehicle is charging, but charging times will be a bit slower if you do this, so I just put on an extra layer.
The charger was activated through a mobile app called ChargeNet, where you create an account, enter payment info, look up the charger you want to use, tap go, and charging activates for you. I found the app very reliable, and charging was cheaper than petrol by a long shot. More on costs later.
Once charging was complete, it was dark out. I unplugged the vehicle, fired up Apple CarPlay on the infotainment screen, set a fast charger in Wellington as my destination and set off for the Desert Road. From here, things didn't quite go according to plan.
While driving on the Desert Road, a warning came up on the dashboard saying that icy conditions were possible. Luckily there wasn't any ice on the roads, but it did get down to -3°C on that part of the drive, which ultimately affected the vehicle's range.
In an EV, everything on board that uses energy has an effect on range. So, when driving in a sub-zero environment, the heat pump is having to work harder to keep your buns toasty, and the battery's chemical reaction is less efficient due to the lower temperature. Of course you can turn off the interior heating if you want to - but I was wearing shorts, so that was not going to happen.
Anyway, all this means is a drop in effective range in cold weather. Luckily for me, all Hyundai EVs have thermal battery management - meaning the battery is able to compensate for changes in ambient temperature and therefore keep itself as happy as possible, resulting in less range variation based on weather, amongst other benefits including what seems to be lower rates of battery degradation.
On that, a lot of people I met on my Kona journey asked - won't the battery die after a few years?? Let's clear this up. Firstly, the lithium-ion batteries used in EVs nowadays are a much more advanced and hardy technology than the lead acid batteries we're used to seeing run flat and die in our legacy cars, and second, the thermal management of the battery means less stress on the cells, resulting in longer life, as mentioned. In fact, Hyundai is so confident about their EV battery technology that they offer one of the best warranties on the market.
In contrast, an owner of a brand new Leaf I met at the Taupo charger told me she had been experiencing a 1km drop in range every minute on the Desert Road heading north - with the climate controls turned off - and she had arrived in Taupo with ~15km range remaining. Yikes.
So in reality, I didn't notice a huge change in range while on the Desert Road, but there was a little change, and it was enough to make me want to stop in Levin for about half an hour to top up before the final stretch to Wellington, just to be safe. I needed to pee anyway, so no biggy.
I made it to Wellington later that night without putting the Kona on a tow truck, and it was my first time using the public charging network. Nice.
Down in the capital.
The Kona really felt in its element driving around Wellington. With impossibly tight mountain streets, compacted housing and tough parking, this place isn't exactly car-friendly, but the Kona performed admirably. Its tight turning circle, quick take-off and recuperation of energy coming down hills were highlights during city driving. What's more, I was doing day trips every day I was in the capital and with an 80% charge of the battery upon arrival I didn't need to charge up again until it was time to leave. Range anxiety? Never heard of it.
Before long I had to get back to Auckland for work, so I got ready for the journey home. I managed to set off earlier this time, so it was a very comfortable trip. I topped up briefly in Waiouru ~250km from Wellington, and again in Taupo after the Desert Road, before the final leg home. It was warmer this time, so I didn't experience anything out of the ordinary in terms of range, and I probably didn't need that stop in Waiouru.
Let's talk costs. $118.52 was the grand total in public charging costs for this trip, which works out at around 8¢ per kilometre. Not bad if you ask me, considering you couldn't dream of figures like that from your average petrol vehicle. That said, charging is always going to be cheaper at home than it is at public charge stations. For me it worked out at around the same cost as flying, presumably with less emissions (considering NZ's electrical grid is powered predominantly renewably).
The Kona surprised me in a lot of ways - it was a lot more like your usual car than I expected, and there wasn't one moment where I was more worried about 'running out of juice' than I would've been in any fossil-powered vehicle.
What surprised me most though, being someone who had prior knowledge of EVs, is how far New Zealand's public fast charging network has come in the last few years. I remember a time when there were no rapid chargers outside of the main centres, and it felt like there was one in every small town I passed through. They were all very well signposted as well. I was using an app called Plugshare to find charging stations, but sure enough once I hit the town I was planning to charge in I could just look out for the signage and common sense would take care of the rest.
I do think the network will have its work cut out keeping up with growing demand in the coming years, but the groundwork is laid now and it's obvious that there are more than a few companies in NZ who can see the value of investing in the infrastructure.
Upon returning the Kona, I climbed back into my petrol car and was saddened by how heavy, slow, inefficient and dated it felt. I'm used to it again now, but since having the Kona I've made the decision not to buy a new internal combustion engine vehicle in my lifetime, because I'm convinced this is the way forward for cars.
How much do they cost though.
The main road block at the moment is the cost of battery production, which will no doubt come down in the coming years as the market grows. The Kona is therefore quite an investment if you want it today - with a starting price of ~$74,000 NZD compared to the base petrol Kona which starts at ~$32,000 NZD.
The interesting thing is that when you look at the total cost of ownership over a 10+ year period (which factors in costs for petrol and servicing) the price gap doesn't look so massive, because the electric drivetrain is so much simpler and more efficient. But yes, EVs have a way to come before they'll be competing with fossil cars at a mainstream level.
After returning the Kona I considered buying a used Nissan Leaf, a vehicle within my means, but I work out of town relatively often and I can't rely on a vehicle with a ~135km range as my only vehicle, so I'm holding onto my dinosaur for now.
I feel pretty proud to have Hyundai NZ as a client, because their commitment to electric vehicles is unmatched in New Zealand right now, and I'm very excited to see where this road leads for them.
If you have any questions about EVs or anything in this post, I'd love to hear from you. Either comment below or get in touch directly via the Contact page. Thanks for reading, by the way.
Champion is a video production and digital media company based in Auckland, New Zealand. To learn more about this company and its values, take a trip over to the About page, or check out The CM Standard. And have a great day!