Mission Africa: Venturi Pushes an EV to the Limit

By · June 20, 2012

The Venturi powered Citroen Berlingo in Mission Africa

The Venturi powered Citroen Berlingo in Mission Africa
Picture © Vivien Floris/Venturi Automobiles

EV drivers complain all the time about the lack of charging stations on the road, but it's much worse when there are no roads. Today in 2012, there are still several countries without a national highway system, and where electricity in every home is not a given. You would have to be crazy to drive an electric car for a long distance in such places, but Xavier Chevrin, a French man, did it. It was a huge challenge, and that's precisely the name of the game, as this was the fourth Venturi Global Challenge: Mission Africa. Or driving an electric car from Mount Kilimanjaro to the Okavango delta, and down to Johannesburg, 3600 miles South, with about one eighth on unpaved roads.

Xavier is getting used to the challenge. Two years ago, he drove an EV from Shanghai to Paris. That is adventure with a capital A, a totally unplanned affair. In fact, it's unplannable. Botswana is about the same size as Texas, with the difference that there isn't a single charging station in the whole country. Locals do not worry about it. Entire villages don't have electricity. Who needs air conditioning? Most tourists visiting are making safaris, sleeping in the great outdoors, so they don't mind either. It's a bit more difficult when you need to charge a car.

The Venturi powered Citroen Berlingo in Mission Africa

The Venturi powered Citroen Berlingo in Mission Africa
Picture © Vivien Floris/Venturi Automobiles

One night, there was no other choice but to plug in the ladies' bathroom of a campsite. But that was cool, since a couple days before, Xavier had to climb onto a roof to plug, and he got injured. He broke his left foot, when he fell through that roof. The video below is a good indicator of how things were like during the trip. Xavier Chevrin is at the wheel, his passenger is Vivien Floris, the cameraman. Those guys were just having fun.

In many occasions, you just have to laugh a lot, but also to worry a little bit. The car, a Citroen Berlingo, converted to electric propulsion by Venturi was totally stock (more than a thousand have been sold in Europe) save for its battery. It had three batteries (the stock Zebra battery and two extras), giving it a theoretical 300 miles range. But that is on smooth tarmac, it's significantly less on a dirt road. Weight was also a burden, as they carried tools, spare parts, many cables and all the stuff two guys need on a 45 days trip. They had no assistance of any sort, and the longest distance between two recharges was 190 miles. The car is built to charge on the 230V 16A European standard, but in Africa sometimes, they couldn't get more than 190V and 10A, meaning longer charging times. The whole trip lasted 38 days. That would be awfully slow for two guys in a gas car driving in the United States, but it was fantastically fast for Africa, with incredible sightseeing. Impalas are Chevrolets in America. In Africa, they are live animals.

Animals were probably the biggest surprise of the trip. The electric car being nearly silent, it was possible to get really close to all animals (I hope hunters are not reading this). Then meeting local people was an opportunity to introduce them to electric mobility, which they had never seen.

The Venturi powered Citroen Berlingo in Mission Africa

The Venturi powered Citroen Berlingo in Mission Africa
Picture © Vivien Floris/Venturi Automobiles

Xavier started his trip with a conference in Kenya, and he ended it with another conference in Johannesburg. What's the point of this trip? That there is a lot that can be done with electric transportation, and that obstacles which seem insurmountable can be overcome. We have everything in our hands.

PluginCars.com is directly in touch with Xavier, so if you post your comments or questions below, we will try to get answers for you.

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