He's done it! Intrepid eco-adventurer Xavier Chevrin has completed his cross-country journey through deepest Africa in an electric Citroen Berlingo, taking in six countries and clocking up over 5,800 km (3,603 miles), including 600 km (372 miles) of rough terrain. Not even blown components and a broken leg prevented the Frenchman from completing the Mission Africa challenge.
Some 38 days after setting off from the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, the two-wheel drive electric Berlingo powered by Venturi technology ended its epic adventure through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa in the same way it started: with a press conference. A now bearded Chevrin shared details of his journey and answered questions from journalists, researchers and students at the University of Johannesburg for over three hours on Monday.
"Out of the total 5,800 km, we drove over 600 km of trails," said the 45 year-old English teacher. "We encountered mud (it was the end of the rain season), stony paths, lots of sand and dust. But the car stood up to everything very well. Venturi has just proven that electrical technology can adapt to all terrains in Africa, thus opening up the path to new economic and environmental prospects on this continent."
Even though the trip involved careful route planning to try and ensure that the vehicle didn't get stranded miles away from anywhere, Chevrin still found persuading locals to top up the vehicle's batteries quite a challenge.
"We first had to persuade the people we met that our system was reliable and wasn't going to screw up their installation," he said. "Charging had to be done with a great deal of care because of the different intensities of the currents we came across. Then, the color codes of the various connections were not always the same, so we really had to be careful when plugging in."
Nevertheless, he managed to charge the vehicle's 70.5 kWh nickel sodium chloride "Zebra For Venturi" battery pack around 40 times in six different countries, and on one occasion the task proved quite the painful and incapacitating experience. While trying to disconnect cabling across a shed roof in Kabwe, Zambia, he fell through, breaking his foot. Luckily the damage was to his left foot so it didn't interfere with the operation of the vehicle and like a true eco-trooper, Chevrin continued the journey with a series of makeshift splints, bandages and a second hand orthopedic hull.
He then drove the EV into Livingstone on June 5 to show off the car for World Environment Day and had to call in the police to help control the huge crowd that had gathered. He stopped off at Victoria Falls en route to diamond country (Botswana) and then the trip was almost brought to an abrupt end in the Okavango Delta when two battery chargers blew during an overnight stay. Thankfully a few hasty repairs allowed Chevrin, and co-pilot and photographic/video archiver Vivien Floris, to cut through the Kalahari Desert before crossing the South African border and on into Johannesburg.
Mission 04 of Venturi's Global Challenges was not just about proving electric vehicle technology in extreme conditions. It was also about engaging local people.
"We crossed several large nature parks," said Chevrin. "Their managers thought this technology would be the perfect answer to their problems: the wildlife is not scared away, there's no pollution of any kind. These managers are really keen to develop the use of electric vehicles."
"One must always bear in mind that this is a standard vehicle which has been subjected to conditions for which it was not designed," Gildo Pallanca Pastor, President of Venturi Automobiles, is reported to have said. "Very often, the electric car is presented as the vehicle of the future. With these different challenges, we are demonstrating that it's already happening today."
Source: Mission AfricaView gallery - 8 images