France Travel Filter: Is renting an EV for vacation recommended?
January 10, 2022 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm planning a trip for my SO and I sometime later this year to France (no actual dates yet). We'd like to visit some regions of France where public transit is not as prevalent and are planning on renting a car for part of the trip. I've seen on various auto rental sites that you can rent an EV at very low rates but I'm not sure that where we're going has a lot of infrastructure for EV charging. Are we setting ourselves up for a logistical nightmare?

I see two upsides to using an EV: I don't have to request an automatic and we don't have to pay for essence during the trip. However I did some reading about people doing France trips in EVs and it added a significant logistics hurdle due to a variety of different charging schemes, the locations of charging points, etc. I've also heard that parking is free or reduced for EVs so it might be easier to find parking if we rented one?
Any recommendations, advice, general observations about electric vehicle use in France and the ease of finding charging points when needed is appreciated.

Trip details:
We're planning on flying into Paris and then renting a car from somewhere outside the city going near or in the Loire Valley. Maybe Tours, Orleans or Angers, I'm not sure yet. We'll do some castle and vineyard tours then head to Bordeaux for cognac and more vineyards. We want to visit one or more Atlantic beach while there but that's a separate question for another day. My general sense is that for this section, finding charging points won't be that hard but I could be very wrong as covid has done many things.

After that, we're planning on visiting the Dordogne and Lot which is where the travel planning gets interesting. It's a pretty undeveloped part of France, but we're not planning on going anywhere super isolated. Mostly just caves, castles and touristic towns on the Plus Beaux Villages list. Some of the caves don't have online ticketing so getting there first thing to buy a ticket is necessary. For this part I was thinking of staying in a camping and many have charging points available for guests. So finding a place for overnight charging might not be hard but I also know this part of France is pretty hilly and we shouldn't plan on getting a full charge worth of kms out of an EV. Are charging points common at tourist attractions in this part of France?

The last part of the trip will be in Occitanie to see Carcassone, Narbonne and whatever else strikes our fancy. I also have concerns about finding charging points on this part of the trip because I read that one of the charging schemes had closed due to safety(??) and they served the south of France quite a lot. There are a lot of tourists in this part of France so maybe my concern is misplaced?

Rather than drive back to Paris we're planning on dropping the car in Avignon or Lyon (probably Lyon because of the frequent TGV connections) so this would be a one way rental. I don't know if that makes a difference for the purpose of this question but I know there will probably be extra fees because of it.

Other things to note:
We will both be driving. Only I speak French and it's pretty rudimentary although I'm working on that. I understand about 1/3 of what's spoken and about 1/2 of what's written something like 20 Minutes.
We like rail travel but most vineyards and many caves are not ideally suited for public transit as they're out in national parks or the middle of the countryside. So please don't recommend using the train or local buses. Planning where to go at what time to catch which bus is not my idea of fun.
We're not interested in a package tour, most of them don't go where we want although I freely steal from their itineraries when they do. The exception is possibly a cognac distillery tour. I just don't want to do research on 100s of little distillers and their availability/hours in a language I'm not that great in.
This will be over roughly 3 weeks.
posted by fiercekitten to Travel & Transportation around France (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I own an EV - and I like it a lot! - but I would not rent one on a driving vacation in an unfamiliar location. I wouldn’t even do it in my home state.
posted by vunder at 8:31 PM on January 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would only do this if I had a specific itinerary and had mapped out charging points ahead of time. That's now how I personally like to travel, but it does seem possible in France. Based on rental car company info, it seems like you would need to have accounts/apps figured out ahead of time to actually pay for the charge which could be tricky and would probably stress me out
posted by JZig at 10:32 PM on January 10, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: If you were staying in one place, with the possibility of charging at your accommodation, I'd say definitely do it. Your trip is very much not that, and sounds potentially very stressful with an EV. It's probably do-able, but I'd suggest it would involve significantly more planning than your non-preferred plan of finding out bus times.

This is based on my knowledge of the UK charging system, which is quite extensive but fragmented and annoying to navigate. I don't know the specifics of the French system, but it's a bigger country so the network would need to be that much better.
posted by altolinguistic at 11:43 PM on January 10, 2022

Best answer: I own an EV in France. It’s getting better (at least around me) but when we did a similar road trip type vacation 18 months ago we struggled to get it charged all the time. Ours is a plug in hybrid and we were very glad for the backup engine a few times.

A few specifics—
Yes, the systems are fragmented. Usually you can charge on the different systems but will probably need to download many apps and enter your cc info many times. You do speak French fluently?

More often then I like, a non electric car has decided to park in the electric space. So even if a charging station is open you can’t use it. There aren’t strict enough penalties for this yet so it’s pretty common.

Most parking garages are starting to add charging stations, which is great. Those are policed (unlike street parking) so are more available. However they are certainly not universal.

Most Highway rest stops now have charging stations. These work quickly and tend to be open. However they are surprisingly expensive, much more than the ones in the cities and parking garages.

Many Airbnb and campgrounds will let you plug in but definitely ask before you book.

Good luck! Your trip sounds fantastic. I’ve done all that so feel free to memail if you need any specific recommendations.
posted by ohio at 12:27 AM on January 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have made a couple of very long trips through France in a Tesla, last couple of years. Having access to the supercharger network plus a car with pretty good range - would give you the best chance of being able to travel while enjoying the country rather than worry about charging. My experience of non Tesla chargers was not so good: if you go to a random small picturesque town - then there probably is an EV charger available. But I would lay good odds that it is either occupied, broken or compliant with some archaic French only-standard - (or French charge card that requires a French Carte Bleue - and hence a French bank account). The mess is gradually resolving itself - but I would not count on things being without hassle in 2022. Not least because the number of new EV owners is growing faster than the infrastructure can keep up - and they will all be on the road in the summer.

If I were planning a trip in any kind of EV then I would also make a point of staying mostly in places where I could charge it overnight: either places where they provide a type 2 charger or at least somewhere where they will let you charge on a standard socket - in return for some payment. Most hotel booking apps allow you to search for places which provide charging - (often the owners are also EV users who ask for local advice). Being able to leave each day to explore with a fully charged car - makes everything much easier to plan.
posted by rongorongo at 5:35 AM on January 11, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Couple of additional points: cost of electricity was indeed much cheaper than ICE car fuel - but that cost was eclipsed by the auto-route fees, which can be substantial on longer trips. Also - the logistical and linguistic challenges of having an EV where as nothing against those of dealing with the various Covid regulations: don't count of France being totally free of these this year. TeslaOwners group have this article from a couple of years ago - which has some useful considerations. EV rental is for the more adventurous traveller - but not for the crazy - and there are many advantages. If you can find a suitable rental deal then go for it, I'd say.
posted by rongorongo at 6:05 AM on January 11, 2022

Best answer: I have never owned an EV, but live and have traveled extensively in France, including the areas you list--I agree with other posters warning about possible lack of sufficient charging facilities (non-existent, occupied by brand-new EV owners and/or blocked by stubborn ICE users). I'd be especially vigilant about making sure you're fully charged, or else have a backup plan, in the tiny villages that you're likely to visit in the southwest (and that you absolutely should visit, because they are wonderful).

rongorongo's suggestion of making sure ahead of time that your hotel/hostel/Airbnb can and will allow you to charge your vehicle is a good one.

One note however: the carte bleue system has been defunct for some years now; unless the infrastructure is REALLY old (and it could be in some places), a chip-and-pin card should be sufficient.
posted by peakes at 10:29 AM on January 11, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Really depends on the EV. Any Tesla? No problem, but Teslas are a special case because of the supercharger network. ID4 or new Zoe? Probably fine, though the ID4 charges much faster. 10 year old Leaf or Zoe? Nope, don't even think it. Figure out the exact model, and go to A Better Route Planner, or Plugshare, or any of half a dozen similar tools, and plan some routes. The upthread advice to stay at hotels and campsites with charging is also good.

Anything other than a Tesla is going to be significantly more planning than an ICE, and even a Tesla will probably add charging time unless you're lucky with your stops. I'd totally rent electric for this trip, having driven electric for the last three years, but it does seem like quite a lot of driving, charging, and planning for your first EV experience.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 10:57 AM on January 11, 2022

Best answer: but that cost was eclipsed by the auto-route fees, which can be substantial on longer trips.

Unless you have to get somewhere in the shortest possible time, sticking to RNs and other non-motorway roads, and with it avoiding péage, noticeably increases an EV's range. Of course it does so too for ICE vehicles but their 'charging infrastructure' is well-established and plentiful, so hardly a factor when travelling. Our Kangoo ZE (first gen, so limited range anyway) easily gets 20% more distance out of a charge when keeping the max speed at 90..100km/h. It usually doesn't even take that much longer, and feels less stressful.
posted by Stoneshop at 12:20 PM on January 11, 2022

Best answer: Recent blog post from a 2000 mile EV trip in Europe. Ionity chargers and a Chargemap card are apparently the key.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 12:05 PM on January 13, 2022

Best answer: Ionity chargers and a Chargemap card are apparently the key.

ChargeMap - is definitely a good suggestion for France, as that is where it originated. It works a bit like PlugShare in that you get access to a community updated map of chargers with up to date ratings. However it also includes a "multi-network chargecard" - which gives you a reasonable chance that the charger you encounter will work with it. In that sense it is like ChargePlace Scotland that we have locally: one card and app to rule them all. If you really want to feel French - the you will need a Citroen Ami, I think

Something not previously discussed is the availability of EVs for hire in France. The French rental market has historically made it much more attractive to hire a French made vehicle than a foreign one. I would expect it to be easier and cheaper to hire something like a Renault Zoe or a Peugot E-208 than a Tesla. Both those cars have a range north of 300Km.
posted by rongorongo at 1:46 AM on January 14, 2022 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the really great feedback. I was thinking we would probably avoid as many toll highways as possible, since I hate them in the US even though I use them. We drove from SF to Yosemite back when gas was $5+ a gallon, and I mapped out every Safeway and Costco along our route so that we didn't get stuck buying gas at a marked up price along the highway. So planning stops is something I can do if we must. We might just rent an electric while we're in the Loire and take the train to Bordeaux and rent a ICE for that portion.
It's good to know that a Zoe or E-208 would be less than a Hyundai or something else not French. I imagine that's true for ICE cars as well.
posted by fiercekitten at 1:36 PM on January 20, 2022

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