Škoda Sunday Drive

28. srpna 2023

Charging to Taupō

Charging to Taupō in a Škoda Enyaq transforms EV-doubting sceptic

Kevin Norquay is given a Škoda Enyaq, and sets out on an intrepid quest to answer the most-asked question about electric cars. “Will it get to Taupō?” he asks, eyeing the electric SUV Škoda Enyaq, its good looks and sparkling LED grille failing to soothe bubbling-range anxiety. Gazley Škoda marketing boss Aaron Musgrove answered a series of dumb questions from this self-professed electric car rookie, but this one he says he was expecting. “The number one question we get asked - and it’s the same for Auckland dealers - is can I get to Taupō?” he says with a hint of bewilderment. “I have no idea why everybody wants to go to Taupō. When you ask them when was the last time you went to Taupō, it’s ‘aww three or four years ago, I just wanna go’.”

Kevin notes the Enyaq brochure says it boasts a range of up to 532km, he wonders with Wellington just 371km from Taupō, whether that’s a non-stop trip? Not quite he realises. That 532km was achieved in perfect conditions in a wind tunnel, not on a pot-holed State Highway 1, with the steep hills of Transmission Gully, the long climb from Bulls to Waiouru, and the dips and folds of the Desert Rd. Nor does it account for the wind, snow, fog, frost and rain encountered, which brought the lights, wipers and heating into play, including a heated steering wheel and heated seats he never knew you needed. Also energy-sapping are the navigation system, streaming music and podcasts, lugging two adults and their golf bags, and the occasional use of the seat massage function. “It's the same measurement system that they use for litres per 100km on a petrol car, which is on a real good day,” Musgrove says. “On a normal day, when you're passing people, accelerating, with the boot full and you have family on board, you're not hitting that in either a petrol or electric vehicle. It is a standard devised to enable direct comparisons between vehicles.” “All those things use petrol in a petrol car as well. That's not unique to EVs, but because of the mindset change … people in EVs are concerned about making sure that their range is more accurate.”

Kevin and his wife Karen find themselves in Taihape, sipping coffee and eating breakfast while recharging, inspired by a dashboard read-out which indicated the power would run out about 40km short of Taupō. They’d started on an 87% charge, driven 230km, and had 20% left. Their breakfast was halted after 49 minutes by a message from ChargeNet (the app that allows you to find charging stations, and pay) saying they were good to go, it cost $29.31, and advised them to move on, so the station wasn’t blocked for others. If they’d looked like baffled rookies at any point, help was on hand – describing charge stations to be like a community centre. Advice and admiration flowed; there weren’t the impatient queues they’d expected. “Let me help, plug it in, push the button, click on ‘activate’ on the app, there, you’re up and running”; “what’s that car? How long have you had it? I love the grille”; “yeah, I love mine, never going back.”

Four charges totalling $119.55 purchased around 1000km of travel. On the return journey, the car was plugged in as the rain bucketed down, and they didn’t get electrocuted. For the same trip Kevins’ MG ZS, a smaller SUV using 95 octane, would sip up something like $186. He comments “if time is counted as money, the one petrol refill would take around 5 minutes. Four electric charges took a tick under three hours”, which were spent happily sipping coffee in front of fires, in nearby cafes. Kevin believes money and cost is all head-related - at $79,990 driveaway and eligible for a clean car rebate of $7015, to him the Škoda Enyaq is pricey but not ridiculous. He says in matters of the heart it has many charms, a sense of humour, as well as being practical for the “we’re going golfing in Taupō” scenario. “However for a family, 50 minutes with young kids in Taihape or some other crucial stopping point could present tricky management issues.” Raised by a father who always warned “it’s just a car”, he approached the Enyaq with suspicion aroused by the price tag, its motive power, and the hard-to-spell name. His cold heart was steeled against it; “when mobile phones constantly betray you by losing power and dying, who needs a car that does the same?”

Perhaps the Enyaq sensed his hostility, when it flashed its lit-up grille for the first time. He had to suppress an out-loud laugh, but at 6.30am the following day his smile could not be stifled. In the dark, the Enyaq lit up like a dog pleased to see its owner as he approached with a proximity key, casting a Škoda logo in lights onto the driveway. “What?” Five minutes were spent chuckling, and trying to figure out how the magic trick was done. Karen was summoned with a “look at this”. “Apparently, they are called puddle lights. Lighting up the ground so you don’t alight into pesky water, ice or rough pavement, they are a style add-on for luxury cars. Who knew?”  “Small things amuse small minds” Kevin jokes, but says there were so many small yet thoughtful things: “storage space under the gear lever, velcro holders to attach to the boot carpet in order to stop luggage slipping around, the heated steering wheel, demisting wing mirrors, an umbrella hole in the driver’s door, and speed, lanes and GPS navigation in a heads-up front window display.”

He noticed there was even a light showing them where to turn the cabin light on. Initially, he says it was “bah, who needs it, too much already, who’d pay for all this?” But then the Desert Road loomed in front of them, ringed by snow, and the temperature dropped. Swiftly, the heated seats and steering wheel proved to be friends in need. He said that to the uninitiated “driving an Enyaq can be akin to attending a slightly subdued pinball machine, with dings, bings, and warnings flashing, all meant to keep you safe.” “There are alerts about potential risk on both sides, in front and behind, with adaptive cruise control keeping you a safe distance from crunchy doom.” Just when he begins wondering whether it's a bit much, the Enyaq screeches to a halt in mid-flight, as a car barrels out of a Taupō supermarket carpark into its 50kmh path. “Whew”, though the tinted windows didn’t block a clear view of his upset and gesticulating near-victim, who thought using a blinker indicated you wished to attend the supermarket, rather than the roundabout 30 metres beyond. While Kevin admits all he knows about driving can be written on a microdot, to him the Škoda proved swift, surefooted, even on icy bits, quiet, and smooth. 

Oddly to Kevin, the fuel consumption can end up being the opposite of a petrol-powered car. On the long flat, swift run from Levin to Taihape petrol consumption at a steady 100kph tends to be lower, while electric power drops more swiftly. It was the opposite for him on the Desert Rd, with the downhills and corners adding power to the battery via the regenerative brakes, while the same slower stretch ebbs gas away. And so it was safely back to Gazley Motors, where Musgrove said electric cars are now a mass-market product, when for more than a decade they’d been niche. “That early adopter phase, it's all over now. We've just moved into this new, more mainstream buyer, where people are trying to fit it into their lives, it's an option now that that's got to make sense,” Musgrove says.

Much of the time salesmen spend is explaining to prospective buyers how an electric car differs from petrol-powered, and seeing whether it will fit their lifestyle. “We've been through the phase of people that are really interested in saving the planet, and really into the idea of technology,” he says. “It's not just replacing their car like-for-like, it has changed the way you live. Buyers need to ensure they can charge the car, and they have somewhere they can park to do that, whether at work or at home. You need an understanding that your lifestyle will be different.” Many buyers are going electric with their second vehicle, Musgrove adds. “They’re still keeping their old diesel to tow the boat with, and the EV is the car that they drive to and from work, and around on the weekends.” Kevin hands over the keys and leaves, not looking back, lest he catches a glimpse of the Škoda’s sexy grille. “It’s tough” he says. “We seemed well-suited, my wife loved it too, but all good things must come to an end.”