I was left flat by my electric car charging experience

·5-min read
Ed Cumming charging Skoda Enyaq - Clara Molden
Ed Cumming charging Skoda Enyaq - Clara Molden

I am not the first man to have cried in an Ikea car park and I won’t be the last. But at that moment I might have been the only one weeping tears of pure frustration.

At the wheel of my battery-powered Skoda Enyaq, I pulled into the car park, where my satnav had indicated several electric charging points. Seeing them, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. A delivery van was parked at an angle, splayed across three spaces so it didn’t stick out into the road. Another car was in the final slot, charging patiently. There was no room at the power inn.

I banged my head against the steering wheel and wondered what to do. After driving around at various speeds, idling in traffic and looping back on myself, I didn’t have the required range remaining in the battery to reach another charging point. Ikea was my last charge saloon.

Arial view of Ikea - Alamy
Arial view of Ikea - Alamy

It wasn’t the only setback I’d had that morning. I was due to drive from my home in north London to my in-laws outside Petersfield, Hampshire. On a good day, the  journey takes about an hour and 45 minutes, but I had allowed three hours to give me plenty of time for a top-up charge before leaving the capital.

When I set out, the sun shone in the sky, the birds sang in the trees and all was rosy with the world. Although I was down to my last 35 miles or so of current, I had plenty of mileage to reach a charging station.

Or so I thought. Using the car’s in-built charger finder, I plotted a course to a juicy looking one in north London. When I got there, I found the machines completely inert. No problem, I thought, popping in another charger to the navigation system, I still had plenty of margin for error.

It was also out of service. The attendant shrugged apologetically, but I didn’t get the impression he minded much. So by the time I reached Ikea the game was up. I had no choice but to wait. When I finally got to plug in and saw how long it would take to charge to a level to complete my journey – much longer than the best-case scenarios I had planned in my head – I texted the family to say I would be late.

I had wanted to see what it was like being an EV person, and was grateful to Skoda for offering me one. At the start of the week I had never driven one before. My wife and I were never big car people, which is to say I only learned to drive in my mid-20s and do so sparingly. After its catalytic converter was stolen last year, we were forced to write off our trusty old Honda Jazz. With two young children, we reasoned we would probably need a car at some point, but we didn’t want to go crazy. Like all self-righteous millennials, we vaguely thought our next vehicle would be an EV, but we weren’t quite sure when to pull the trigger or which to get.

Ed Cumming charges Skoda Enyaq - Clara Molden
Ed Cumming charges Skoda Enyaq - Clara Molden

We don’t have off-street parking, so charging would be more problematic than it would if we had a driveway and a home charger. And used EVs were even more expensive than other second-hand cars, the prices of which had been sent through the roof by Covid-related shortages of factory-fresh models.

The pitiful state of charging in the UK is hardly the car’s fault. The Enyaq was satisfying to drive: fast, responsive, comfortable, spacious and quiet. The driver aids alone were a revelation, especially the computer game-style head-up display in the windscreen, invisible except to the driver, telling you where to turn.

Sadly my Ikea experience was not the only charger issue. Later in the week, having driven the family here and there around the countryside, I decided to stock up on charge for the way home. A five-minute petrol stop with a baby and a toddler can be disruptive enough; I didn’t want to experience a half-hour – or longer – recharging stop.

Instead I headed to Petersfield Waitrose, where apparently there was a fast charger in the car park.On arrival I was greeted by a man on his way out of the car park. “It’s not working,” he told me. Like any man, I refused to believe this good faith advice until I had tested the machine for myself. He was right, it wasn’t working.

Electric cars charging - Alamy
Electric cars charging - Alamy

It started to rain, great sheets of it. I followed the map to another fast-looking charger, 10 miles away. There I found the same man, charging his car. He grinned at me.

I had always thought the whole point of a car is its predictability. Living in London, there is always a choice. Tube lines can be closed, railways replaced by buses, buses on diversion. Even walking you might get rained on.

There’s less choice in rural areas. Sometimes none. The advantage of a car is that apart from traffic, there aren’t as many surprises waiting in store. Yes, it’s expensive and polluting, but it does the job. Without our own charging point, an EV introduces new things to think about. That was the real lesson I learned from Ikea Wembley.

Flat pack can be irritating, but it’s nothing on a flat battery.

Have you endured a similar experience to our writer? Do you think more electric charging infrastructure is needed? Please join the conversation in the comments below