The Mobilist
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The Mobilist

Fly to Bordeaux, or Drive a Tesla?

How I went on a continental holiday with 94% lower emissions— a comparison of travel time, costs & carbon, plus tips & tricks!

Photo by Juan Di Nella on Unsplash

After a year-and-a-half of lockdowns, we were excited to take a trip abroad — we’ve been to Bordeaux before with friends (flying on a budget airline), but that comes with significant carbon emissions, even for a short haul flight from London Luton.

The question was then: Could we travel in a way that minimised carbon emissions & saved money, but still offered us flexibility, comfort and peace of mind in a world learning to live with Covid?

(P.S. the answer is an unequivocal yes, as long as you have a few extra hours to spare. Read on to the end for useful tips & tricks)

The Trip — Luton to Bordeaux, Return

The brief: round trip from London Luton to Bordeaux, lasting 7 days.

We would usually fly from the nearest (and usually cheapest) airport — London Luton. All subsequent analysis based on starting from home (c.25 miles away) from LTN.

Instead, we took the Tesla Model 3 Long Range (mid-2019 model) via the Channel Tunnel, hugging the northern French coast on the Autoroutes (with tolls) and stopping at Abbeville & Rouen for their Superchargers, before turning south towards Le Mans, Niort & Bordeaux, again on Autoroutes.

Photo by Bram Van Oost on Unsplash

In all respects, the Supercharger experience was faultless —each location had ample availability and charged at eye-watering speeds (V3 stations do reach 250kW as advertised!), helping us get underway quickly after each charging session. Prices broadly similar across the network (c.£0.33–0.35/kWh, as at Oct 2021). Autopilot functionality works particularly well on smooth, un-congested French roads!

Travel Time — 14 hours vs. 6.5 hours — Winner: Flying

There’s no getting around it — driving takes longer than flying! Our trips took roughly 14 hours door-to-door , covering 710 miles — theoretically, it can be as little as 11.5 hours, but in practice a few things will slow you down:

  • Delays on boarding Channel Tunnel trains
  • Rest/Food stops
  • Traffic in Bordeaux, particularly on the Ring Road — a combination of rush hour and roadworks added a good 45 mins to our journey here!
LTN — BOD — taking in the Superchargers @ Abbeville, Rouen, Le Mans, Niort https://goo.gl/maps/SWfMNANSRbELSDn78

In comparison, flying would have taken 6.25 hours:

  • 45 mins drive to Airport + 1.5 hours waiting at airport
  • 1.5 hours flight time+ 45 mins to collect luggage at BOD
  • 1 hour to sort car rental (incl. shuttle)
  • 45 mins drive to accommodation

Travel Costs — £543 vs. £633— Winner: EV by a Small Margin

Driving works out to be slightly cheaper (by c.£90, or 14%) than flying — the biggest cost was the Channel Tunnel crossing (£247) — if there’s good discounts on that, there’s even more savings on the table!

Tolls are a reality on French auto-routes, and there’s no real savings possible on the c.£130 we paid.

Supercharging cost £68 one-way on average — on the outbound leg, we fully charged at home with our Octopus Go tariff (referral link here if you’re thinking of joining — we’ll share £100 credit: https://share.octopus.energy/airy-sage-118).

A hidden bonus was we could bring back a decent amount of wine for friends and family — without worrying about baggage costs/breakages!

All-in-all, driving cost £543, incurring 49kg of CO2 emissions.

Cost & Emissions Breakdown — Driving EV (Tesla Model 3 LR) via Eurotunnel & Autoroutes w/Tolls, using Superchargers

For comparison, economy flights for two in a budget airline, (petrol) car hire & ancillary comparison costs correct as at Oct 2021 — totalling £632.50 & 831kg of CO2 emissions.

Cost & Emissions Breakdown — Flights LTN-BOD Return w/Taxi Transfer, Hire Car & 1x Excess Baggage for Wine

Emissions — 49 kg vs. 831 kg — Winner: EV, by miles

Using MyClimate, emissions were calculating for two adults flying economy return, LTN-BOD — working out at a staggering 740kg in total, even for a short 1.5hour flight, making up the majority of the 831kg of CO2 emissions if we chose to fly.

In contrast, driving our EV incurred 49kg of CO2 emissions — the overwhelming majority of that coming from electricity emissions from supercharging (45kg), calculated using the UK and French grid averages (233g/kWh & 57g/kWh, respectively).

The clear winner here is the EV, with 94% lower emissions!

Note: Not getting into the LCA of EVs discussions here, but for those going down that line of reasoning, think about the embedded emission of planes/ICE hire cars/petroleum generation!

Conclusion — Try taking your EV (especially if it’s a Tesla) for your next French adventure!

Thankfully, the trip went off without any technical hitches. A big part of that was down to the Supercharger network being very reliable, and competitively priced too.

In terms of emissions, the case for our trip is extremely strong — we had a just as good, if not better experience, than if we flew (there’s a lot to be said for driving your own car!).

In terms of cost, we made some modest savings (c.£90), but this is traded off against a longer trip (14 hours vs. 6–7 hours if we flew) — but we got to see France along the way.

We would do the trip again, but next time, put in an overnight stop somewhere in the middle (Rouen, Alencon or Tours) — there’s plenty to see and explore!

Tips & Tricks — Things We Wish We Knew

  • Bugs. So Many Bugs. Even in October. Our windscreen looked like a bug cemetery. The French have windscreen washer fluid specifically designed for this, and it works quite well! Available at major supermarkets.
  • Auto-route Tolls — make sure you have a contactless card, and your driver can reach out the window to tap/extract the ticket from the machine.
  • There were few shops/restaurants open on Sunday (especially after 12pm) at many of our rest stops, even supermarkets — so be prepared with a picnic/snacks/plan rest stops accordingly.
  • My French is terrible, and we struggled to communicate in some smaller locations — learn some before you go!
  • There’s now many places offer free charging, especially in car parks — but you need to download new apps/go thru a hard registration process, so have a backup plan just in case.
  • Tesla destination chargers are great (and free of charge)! We used ones at Chateau Soutard & Chateau Guiraud when we visited. Cite du Vin car park in Bordeaux also have some slots on the ground floor, but these are filled up quickly!
  • Superchargers are super reliable — some of them have access codes, you’ll be able to find those out by clicking on the SC icon in your Tesla navigation map (Rouen, Bordeaux both required codes to open barriers)
  • We didn’t try any street-chargers in Bordeaux —whilst ChargeMap was helpful, Type 2 connectors weren’t always available (Type 3c appeared much more common!)
  • Avoid Bordeaux Centre at rush hour — horrific traffic around north Lake
  • Watch some Netflix whilst charging and the time flies by!

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The Mobilist is a blog from Medium about the future of electric vehicles.

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Alvin Chan

Alvin Chan

Analytics leader with a scientific background, passionate about all things climate change & sustainability

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