Ever since first getting my hands on a Tesla three years ago – a white-knuckle road test through the foothills of the Austrian Alps outside Vienna in a Model S P90D Ludicrous edition – I’ve been an unashamed electric car convert. As I write this, I’m awaiting a pre-ordered Model 3.
Living in Abu Dhabi, the timing was good: the first iteration of the EVRT Middle East landed in the UAE less than six months after my Model S experience, and although I missed that debut event thanks to a pre-arranged trip overseas, when the second helping hit the region in January 2018, I made sure to book myself in.
That first personal taste of the EVRT was, sadly, all too short, with work commitments meaning I was only able to jump on the opening stint from the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi south to the Tilal Liwa Hotel, a desert resort on the fringes of Madinat Zayed.
My ride wasn’t quite as speedy as that Ludicrous-level Tesla, but the 2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV demonstrated that there is plentiful life at the opposite end of the electric-car scale, being treated to a preview of the car before anybody else in the Middle East. Accompanied by a revolving cast of fellow motoring journalists, under the watchful, knowledgeable eye of GM comms and product don Ronald Balit, we eked out the little Bolt’s relatively modest range – and my abiding memory is of the whole car gleefully taking photos of a road sign for Million Street. Said amount of UAE dirhams would buy you more than five Bolt EVs in the Emirates.
As the distance went up, the camaraderie did so incrementally a year later on the EVRT Middle East 2019 – this time around, I was able to commit to the 500 kilometres or so that opened the event between Abu Dhabi and Muscat. That longer leg meant that charging stops would become an important focal point.
The first drive saw me grouped with an eclectic team that spanned enthusiasts to industry and showed off the community-crossing potential of the road trips. American EV devotee Charlotte Omoto was first in the driver’s seat, entertaining and informing the other three occupants: myself, green lifer Ben Hill (former vice president of Tesla Europe, Africa & Middle East) and journalist Kyle Hill (of trailblazing US website CleanTechnica). One breakfast break and a team shuffle later, Charlotte and I were joined by the amiable motoring vlogger known to his 150,000-plus YouTube subscribers as Mr Mawater. The teamwork – and an impromptu pub-grub pit stop – that followed in our attempts to keep our Model S charged all the way to Oman’s capital were in fact so successful that we were the first road trippers to reach the day’s destination.
The beating-the-system feeling of locating a squirrelled-away destination charger in Al Ain for a top-up, just before crossing the border into Oman, was only matched by the team bonding that resulted in Omani city Sohar – it was there that we decamped to the aforementioned pub for satisfyingly greasy food and some rounds of pool while the Tesla’s battery refilled outside. You don’t get that kind of socialising at your local petrol station.
Quite aside from clambering into new EV models in a real-world setting before the general public and, for anybody who hasn’t previously been an owner, first-hand experience of the charging lifestyle, what really stood out on my two EVRT events so far is the people I met. Indeed, the friendships forged meant I’ve kept in touch with several of them. The spectrum of nationalities, ages and professions cannot fail to take you enjoyably out of your own social bubble.
Another continent is about to be conquered. EVRT Africa is set to add multiple new dimensions to the whole road-trip format, with rolling South African landscapes – and probably a few wildlife sights – providing the canvas. It feels like something of a new frontier in electric cars’ seemingly unstoppable spread across the planet. And that pioneering spirit seems entirely in keeping with the EVRT ethos.