Xavier Chevrin is no stranger to extended EV adventures. In 2008, he rode an electric scooter between Paris, France and Almaty in Kazakhstan, and two years later he set the record for the longest distance traveled in an electric vehicle by taking a Venturi-powered electric Citroën Berlingo van from Shanghai in China to Paris, notching up some 13,400 km (8,326 miles) in the process – but costing less than 200 dollars for the whole trip. Now he's set off on an African adventure that will take him from Nairobi to Johannesburg – a distance of around 4,800 km (just short of 3,000 miles) – in about six weeks, charging the vehicle as he stops to chat with locals along the way.
Mission Africa, as it's being called, is the fourth Venturi Global Challenge. Mission 1 started in 2009, is still ongoing, and aims at setting new benchmarks for speed and performance in partnership with Ohio State University's record-holding Bullet Buckeye team. The second mission was that record-breaking Shanghai to Paris trip mentioned earlier, and Mission 3 involves creating a zero-emission vehicle capable of operating under extreme Antarctic weather conditions.
"This fourth opus is a new challenge for Venturi with a particular feature; that of combining the pioneering spirit with a human adventure, in contact with different populations who will discover an electric vehicle for the very first time, and all the magic that surrounds this silent means of propulsion," explained Venturi's President Gildo Pallanca Pastor. "An adventure which also embodies our desire to demonstrate that the electric vehicle is an alternative to the combustion engine all over the world, from Shanghai to Paris, Nairobi to Johannesburg and, tomorrow, in the Antarctic."
The challenge has the backing of the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and is part of the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Energy for All initiative. It began on May 10 with a press conference held at the Nairobi headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The 45 year-old English teacher and part-time EV adventurer is expected to arrive in Johannesburg around the middle of June, although the driver hasn't been given any speed objectives. The aim of the trip is to demonstrate the reliability and energy efficiency of electric vehicles under extreme conditions, while also drawing attention to the distinct lack of electricity in many communities throughout Africa.
It's said that some 65 percent of Africans do not have access to electricity, so relying heavily on chance encounters with friendly locals to top up the vehicle's batteries as he travels along the roads and trails through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and South Africa may prove a difficult task. For many, it will be their first encounter with an electric vehicle, and the adventurer will be taking every opportunity to show off the zero emission technology.
The bright orange electric vehicle has no back-up generator, so if the power runs out it will be stranded, although Chevrin has planned on making around 20 scheduled stops along the way, and a number of conferences discussing sustainable transport and renewable energy have also been arranged. Distances between stops vary from 130 km (80 miles) to 320 km (198 miles), which should be well within the range of the batteries.
The electric Berlingo being used for the challenge is similar to those currently in the service of the French Postal Service, albeit with some extra battery power to extend its range and raised suspension to cope with various road conditions. It's powered by three 23.5 kWh nickel sodium chloride batteries, which gives the vehicle a range of up to 500 km (310.6 miles).
Full recharge time is said to be seven hours when plugged into a standard 220V/16A socket or five hours for 80 percent capacity. The battery pack feeds a 21kW (nominal) / 42kW (max) asynchronous three-phase electric motor delivering 180 Nm of torque and giving a top speed of 110 km/h (68 mph).
According to the latest updates, Chevrin appears to be making good progress but reports that he's frequently stopped by the police – not because of any wrong-doing, but because the local law enforcers want to take a closer look at the strange electric Berlingo he's driving.