EV Begins 3,000-Mile African Odyssey

A French driver has set out from Nairobi, Kenya, on a 3,ooo-mile trip across the African bush to Johannesburg, the first time such a journey has been attempted in an electric vehicle (EV).

Xavier Chevrin is driving a Venturi Berlingo. Equipped with three 23.5-kilowatt-hour, nickel sodium chloride batteries and a 42-kilowatt, three phase asynchronous electric motor, the Berlingo has a range of approximately 310 miles and a top speed of just under 70 mph.


image via UNEP

However, this is not the first such long haul by Chevrin, whose 2010 trip from Shangai to Paris was the longest journey ever made in an EV. Chevrin used the same model for that record-breaking 8,700-mile drive.

The trip is being backed by royalty, with Prince Albert II of Monaco — an avowed fan of EVs — providing the funding.

From Kenya, the Berlingo will travel through nature reserves in Tanzania and Zambia, drive along Lake Victoria, through the Okavango Delta to Botswana, and then end in Johannesburg one-and-half months later.

The driver was waved off from the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in Nairobi. Going under the moniker Mission Africa, the trip is part of the U.N. International Year of Sustainable Energy for All. According to UNEP, it aims to “demonstrate the reliability and energy efficiency of electric vehicles under extreme conditions and also highlight the lack of electricity in many communities in Africa.”

Chevrin said his Shangai-Paris trip had cost less than $200 in electricity, compared to the $4,000 it would have cost had he used diesel.

“We want to prove that electricity is an alternative energy source that can be used for transportation,” the driver said in a statement.

Even so, finding places to charge the vehicle’s batteries may prove somewhat of a challenge since most of the African bush is without electricity. The rough roads and extreme heat will also be a test for the capabilities of the EV.

Paul Willis has been journalist for a decade. Starting out in Northern England, from where he hails, he worked as a reporter on regional papers before graduating to the cut-throat world of London print media. On the way he spent a year as a correspondent in East Africa, writing about election fraud, drought and an Ethiopian version of American Idol. Since moving to America three years ago he has worked as a freelancer, working for CNN.com and major newspapers in Britain, Australia and North America. He writes on subjects as diverse as travel, media ethics and human evolution. He lives in New York where, in spite of the car fumes and the sometimes eccentric driving habits of the yellow cabs, he rides his bike everywhere.

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