Working on a longer-distance trip by Nissan Leaf for Friday and Saturday to let me take part in the Future Car Challenge. 

The frustration? While it's going to be easy for us to get from Bristol to Brighton via rapid chargers at Nissan dealers in Wincanton, Southampton, and Worthing. 

But getting from London to Bristol on Saturday? That's going to be... ahem fun. 

That's for three reasons:

First, there are very few rapid chargers--or any charging stations--on the route between London and Bristol.   While there are a couple of level 2 stations nearby to the M4, the only rapid chargers (a grand total of 3) are in the Oxford/Abingdon area.  That requires me to make a dog-leg adjustment to my journey of 50 miles, increasing the total range required.

Second, those rapid chargers--and regular Level 2 chargers--along the route are notoriously unreliable.  One of the rapid chargers is at a dealership, is only available when the dealership is open, and therefore becomes unusable after 5pm.  I know for a fact that one of the other rapid chargers is out of line.

Third, many of the rapid charging and regular charging stations listed on sites like the one I've linked to don't even exist. They're fictional.

So every time we do a trip, we have to dutifully ring around to find out if the charging stations listed are real, or make-believe.

Before I go any further, I'm going to acknowledge that electric cars aren't the best vehicles to make long-distance trips in. 

And by attempting a long-distance trip well beyond the range of my car, I have to take some of the consequences that come with it. At the moment, that means a diabolical public charging network.

While I have to accept the limitations of plug-in car travel at the moment, however, I don't believe I can be blamed entirely for thinking that Leaf ownership would lead to long-distance, rapid-charging nirvana. 

You see, when Nissan Launched the Leaf for the U.K. market, it promoted the fact that every Leaf dealer would get a rapid charging station. 

Although many of the initial wave of 25 Leaf dealers got their charging stations, many are constantly broken, thanks to poor hardware design. 

Many more don't even have the charging stations installed. 

Case in point: I talked to a fair number of Leaf dealers yesterday, asking them if they had a rapid charger yet. (The attached map says they do). 

In some cases, the dealerships have had the ground work done, and even had the required 3-phase electrical work carried out to provide the charger with power. 

But no charger. 

Then, Nissan ran a campaign towards the end of 2011 and start of 2012 promising a large number of FREE, rapid charging stations would be given to companies and charging providers across Europe, increasing the practicality of owning a Leaf. 

Some of these rapid chargers were due to go to Leaf dealers. Some to motorway rest stops. 

It was all due to happen during the spring of 2012, essentially remedying the  lack of reliable rapid charging stations dealers--and customers--had been promised when the Leaf launched.

But here we are, in late October 2012, with only a handful of those charging stations installed.  

To date, a couple of rapid chargers have been installed on London's M25 circular motorway. Two have been installed near oxford. 

I'm sure there are a few more too, but almost daily, web forums like www.leaftalk.co.uk are full of people reporting broken rapid charging stations. 

Worse still, none of the operators who have the rapid charging stations installed can tell if the rapid chargers are working or not remotely. 

In a nutshell, Nissan hasn't delivered on what it promised. It promised a substantial number of publicly available rapid chargers. 

In some cases, people even purchased Leafs with the acceptance that the 70-80 miles the car can easily drive on a single charge was enough for 90 percent of their daily trips, but that a rapid charger network would be there to fall back on for longer trips. 

The failure of the rapid charging stations to materialise has meant that some have even sold their car, going for a Vauxhall Ampera (Chevy Volt) instead.

They purchased their car on a promise, which has yet to happen.

When the 2013 Leaf launches later this year, it will come with a 32-Amp on-board charger. Pumping around 6 kilowatts of electricity into a battery pack, it will charge the Leaf from empty to full in around 4 hours. 

Then, rapid charging stations become less important.

As charging equipment goes too, a 32-amp, Level 2 charging station is a lot cheaper than a Chademo, rapid charging station. 

So what I'm going to propose is a little weird, a little whacky. 

Give EVERY major service station on every major trunk road in the UK a simple, easy-to-use, level 2 charging station capable of providing 30 Amps. 

In most central and southern parts of the U.K., that would mean anyone travelling on the motorway network would be no more than 30 miles from a level 2 charging station. 

It would then be possible, for those who REALLY wanted to, to make the trip from London to Bristol, for example, by stopping every 50 miles or so, to top off their car's battery pack, and get a coffee.

It would be cheaper, and easier to maintain, since Level 2 charging stations don't require a specially-trained service engineer to troubleshoot if designed simply enough. 

And finally, give Leaf owners who supported the Leaf in its early days some way to make use of that 32A charging capability. Offer an upgrade package, or some other way to get 32A charging on the earlier cars in lieu of the lack of rapid charging. 

Yes, I, and many like me, chose betamax instead of VHS. 

But it'd all make sense, wouldn't it? 

As for my trip on Saturday?

I'm prepared: I have my whole family with me, and we'll go from London up to the M40 Services, where there is apparently a rapid charger that's working. 

We'll then wing down to Abingdon, then Membury West. We'll get home, but it'll take a while. 

That's okay. I'm happy to do it for the love of plug-in cars, and a very unique opportunity to talk about everyday plug-in living with people as part of the Regent St Motor Show. 

But let's not pretend there isn't a problem for everyday families considering the switch to plug-in. Because there is. 
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