EV holidays in NZ offer ‘different freedoms’, study finds

Electric vehicles are not inferior to petrol cars, just different.

Brook Sabin/Stuff

Electric vehicles are not inferior to petrol cars, just different.

Driving an electric vehicle on holiday changes the experience but is entirely viable, according to a new study, as ownership of EVs rise in New Zealand.

“EVs are often described as inadequate for long-distance holiday trips, and yet increasing numbers of owners are travelling on holiday in their EVs,” said Dr Helen Fitt​ and Niamh Espiner​ in a report called Looking Beyond Limitations.

The study, released in December, saw the Lincoln University researchers discussing such vacations with a small number of drivers.

While many participants highlighted the limitations of EVs – low range, difficulty finding chargers, and challenges around accessing the back country or towing a caravan or boat – they were generally positive about their EV holidays.

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“Despite any limitations, most participants were very positive about their vehicles and about their experiences of using them,” the researchers found. “Most participants did not consider their EVs inferior to petrol cars, just different.”

Electric cars seem to encourage slow travel, for example.

This included driving at less than 100kmh to save battery life. But it also meant less dashing from destination to destination, and more stopping along the way to explore or picnic or visit an attraction while recharging the battery.

One driver got to “see parts of the country I’d otherwise just drive straight through”.

BROOK SABIN

This wasn’t some glamorous electric-powered holiday around New Zealand; it involved roadside diarrhoea, a road that floats and a near-serious accident.

Fitt ​and Espiner compared this to slow food and slow fashion. “The slow movement advocates for a slower pace of life for the benefit of improved mindfulness, deeper experiences, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions.”

Slow travel could have implications for the tourism and accommodation sectors, suggested the Department of Tourism, Sport and Society scholars.

Internal combustion engines were associated with “freedom” and “spontaneity”, the pair noted. EVs challenged those values, but also introduced different freedoms.

“Driving an EV can require more planning, but it can also result in freedom from environmental guilt, freedom from having to visit petrol stations, freedom to drive a smooth, quiet, fast car, and freedom to spend more on accommodation (because travel is cheap).”

Holidaying by EV also gave many drivers a sense of adventure and pioneering. “We are pushing back the frontiers,” said one.

Others talked about “doing something a bit unusual or being an early adopter and at the forefront of change”.

Some wondered if the pioneering spirit was diminishing as more EVs appeared on New Zealand roads.

A few also admitted that notably fast EV acceleration was fun when holidaying. One said he sometimes “[drove] it like I stole it just because I can” and another said “on occasion, the urge to bogan​ overrides better judgement”.

Holidaying in Aotearoa has changed over the decades, especially as motorcar technology has changed. It’s not too surprising that electric vehicle technology is introducing new change. “The way we do holidays isn’t fixed and uniform,” the pair wrote.

The report has some drawbacks. Just 34 drivers took part. All liked electrical vehicles enough to buy one and take it on a holiday. Some reported bad experiences (“I ran our battery flat”), but most favoured electrical vehicles. They will likely follow up with more robust publications.

“If we want to manage faster and more effective transitions to sustainable travel, then it’s a good idea to keep an eye on how EV holidays are developing,” the researchers concluded.