Special feature: Driving an EV on highways, and busting myths along the way

  • Electric cars are taking over global roads so why shouldn't they also invade and race through Indian highways?
A high per-charge drive range looks great on the resume of an EV but having charging points which are easily accessible provides the starry highlight.
A high per-charge drive range looks great on the resume of an EV but having charging points which are easily accessible provides the starry highlight.

Electric vehicles are not meant for all. Electric vehicles are a fad. Electric cars on highways? No chance. For all the negative perceptions around EVs in India from many quarters, the reality is that the charge of the electric brigade has begun and is taking over our roads, one mile at a time. But while the thrust is mostly restricted to big metropolitan cities of the country at present, driving an EV out on the vast expanse of Indian highways is deceptively challenging - more in perception than in reality.

With an ideal range of anywhere between 250 kms to 450 kms offered by mass-market electric cars, regular highway journeys are now not the exclusive domain of petrol, diesel or CNG-powered vehicles alone. Sure, for an EV to munch hundreds of miles does require a fair bit of planning. But with support infrastructure being established and upgraded constantly, the symbiotic relationship between man, machine and support network can bring out multiple advantages to the fore.

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We recently took the Nexon EV Max from Tata Motors from Delhi to Rishikesh to experience highway driving in an electric car. A distance of 290 kilometres may not seem much considering many have started munching far longer miles. But the idea was not to set records but test the basics - basics of the car, the battery, the highway and the infrastructure along the way.

Watch: Tata Nexon EV Max Highway Drive Review

Morning musings

We set out from South Delhi with the Nexon EV Max at 100 per cent charge - powered to full at home using a simple cable to wall socket set up - towards Noida Extension and were onto the Meerut Expressway by 0700 hrs. The relative calm before the rush-hour traffic was shadowed by the silence of the EV running in 'Normal' drive mode. That's the thing about EVs, eerily silent!

Nexon EV Max
Nexon EV Max provides a high drive position which ensures a commanding view of the road ahead.
Nexon EV Max
Nexon EV Max provides a high drive position which ensures a commanding view of the road ahead.

Once onto the wide and well-laid Meerut Expressway, we climbed to the triple-digit speed mark and turned on Cruise Control. Sure there were cars racing past at higher speeds but with a constant eye on the driver display screen for range left, we kept the steady pace of 100 kmph. And since the hot sun had not yet made its presence felt, the air-conditioning was kept off.

Coffee, conversations and charge

Our first stop came at Devrana on the Khatauli Bypass. Till here, we had already covered around 115 kilometres with the EV down to 70 per cent charge. The options for cuisines were plenty and thankfully, so were charging stations here. There were two Tata Power charging points here and another two at Fun and Food Carnival where there are two more points from third-party providers.

As we took sips of our hot coffee, a Tata Tiago EV parked itself next to our Nexon EV. A young couple got out and asked us if we could help set up the charging for them. They recently brought their EV and explained they wanted to test it out between their home in Dehradun and Delhi. We chatted about all things EV over the next 45 minutes - yes, these cars are a conversation starter, before I realised that my vehicle was back to 100 per cent charge. Time to drive out.

Nexon EV Max
All in the family: A customer's Tiago EV gets a charge next to elder sibling Nexon EV Max. Multiple charge points at most locations ensures minimal wait times.
Nexon EV Max
All in the family: A customer's Tiago EV gets a charge next to elder sibling Nexon EV Max. Multiple charge points at most locations ensures minimal wait times.

Vast open expanse of real India

By 0930 hrs, it was hot enough to bring on the air-conditioning and we set it to Level 2 cooling. Remember, the intensity of cooling impacts the range. Being the solitary driver meant Level 2 was more than adequate.

The highway meanders through the outskirts of Muzaffarnagar before making its way towards Roorkee and mostly well-paved roads meant that Cruise Control can be activated again. But this time, we decided to switch to the Eco drive mode which didn't allow Cruise Control activation. Nonetheless, the Nexon EV Max has enough in it to pull forward and we maintained our 100 kmph speed threshold. What adds generous bursts of confidence is that there were at least five fast-charging stations located right on the highway till all the way to just before Haridwar which means even more spirited driving or a tightly-packed vehicle - detrimental for an EV - ought not to give birth to range anxieties.

Get set. Climb

Now when planning to drive to a distant destination, do check the charging infrastructure at the intended location as well. Remember, you have to drive back as well.

Nexon EV Max
The canal road is one approach option that can be taken when making way towards Rishikesh from Hardiwar.
Nexon EV Max
The canal road is one approach option that can be taken when making way towards Rishikesh from Hardiwar.

Rishikesh, for instance, does not have public-charging points. This meant just reaching our hotel was not going to be enough, we had to have enough juice to return to the nearest charge point - Haridwar, in our case. And while most EVs connect to a regular wall socket, including our Nexon EV, we didn't want to take any chances.

So in the first-leg of our road trip, we powered the Nexon EV back to full for good measure in Rampur on the outskirts of Muzaffarnagar - a quick 20-minute plug to go from 85 per cent to full. From here, it was all about a straight sprint to our hotel in Rishikesh. There was a brief climb of about 15 kilometres but by the time we found our halt for the night, we still had a generous 50 per cent charge left. That's roughly 150 kilometres on our test unit.

Lessons learnt, myths busted

Electric vehicles are not for the impatient. It is not for the unorganised. And are still not for those who like to push pedal to the metal on open highways. But anyone who feels EVs aren't meant for highways is far removed from reality.

Nexon EV Max
You may not notice but there is a fast-charging point right behind the Nexon EV Max at this location right next to the Haridwar railway station.
Nexon EV Max
You may not notice but there is a fast-charging point right behind the Nexon EV Max at this location right next to the Haridwar railway station.

Much depends on the battery size and corresponding range but a lot more still depends on planning a trip well. We knew exactly where the charging points on our short highway trip were at and it helped that these were not just available but in active condition as well. Plus, we only plugged into fast-charging points.

Of course you ought not to drive an EV exactly as you would a performance car. Which means slamming the throttle at every given chance, engaging Sport drive mode if available and turning the air-conditioning to frigid will all adversely impact range. Steeper ascents and descents will also have to be considered, apart from laden weight of the vehicle.

But transitioning from landlines to mobile phones took some getting used to as well, not that internal combustion engine vehicles are landlines in any way. But EVs do warrant charging and don't come with portable power banks - not yet anyway. Therefore, a bit of planning and minor drive-pattern changes are warranted. And once both of these are taken care of on a highway with enough charging support, no destination may be too far. Plus do not forget the economics of it all.

First Published Date: 22 Jun 2023, 16:49 PM IST
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