Nissan Leaf Mongol Rally Diary

Hello and welcome to the Nissan Leaf Mongol Rally Diary! This is the one-stop shop for all the latest news on Chris Ramsey, Electric Vehicle Adventurer, presenter and founder of Plug in Adventures. He will be driving the only electric vehicle in the rally, a New Nissan LEAF, from Goodwood in the UK all the way to Siberia in the 2017 Mongol Rally – setting off this Sunday, 16 July with his wife, Julie.

The Mongol Rally races 10,000 miles across the mountains and desert of Europe and Asia each summer. There’s no backup, no support and no set route. The rules are simple – cars must be small, with a 1-litre engine or less and entrants must raise at least £1,000 for charity, at least £500 of which must go to Cool Earth.

The infamous Mongol Rally is gruelling enough at the best of times – but imagine having to stop every 100 miles to recharge your car? Not only that, but adapting your route to find a suitable charging point? Sounds crazy, right? Not to Chris!

We caught up with Chris on the phone just before he set off and he told us that having to stop regularly to charge the vehicle gives him an excuse to get involved with the local communities and soak up the culture of the places he might otherwise simply pass through:

“I’ll be letting people know where we’ll be the day before and reaching out to the general public on Facebook, asking people for a charge. Already the response from the public has been incredible, with people from Kazakhstan saying ‘hey, charge in my garage!’.”

Chris is using the hashtag #ChatAndCharge and documenting the kind strangers he meets en route on Twitter.

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BREAKING NEWS:

Chris has set off from his home in Scotland – but has already suffered a massive setback – watch on YouTube

As well as supporting Cool Earth, Chris is raising money for WWF Scotland.

DAY 1 – THEY’RE OFF!

Chris and Panda made good progress last week driving the Nissan Leaf from Aberdeen to Goodwood, stopping to spread the word about their adventure on the way.

Chris even achieved the official NEDC range figure – what a great way to start the trip!

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We asked Chris how he gets more miles out of each charge. He said:

“I’m very careful with acceleration and use a trick called hyper-mile which conventional cars also use. When you go down a hill engage neutral, coast, gain speed and don’t use the battery. If you’re going above the speed limit or want to go back you change into a gear and it gives a boost into the battery and you get a bit of mileage back.”

Great advice, Chris!

We asked him why he didn’t choose the EV with the highest range for the Mongol Rally. He said: “It adds to the challenge of doing this adventure – I could quite easily use another manufacturer’s product and get 200 miles of range but there’s no challenge in that. It’s not going to prove any point to the general public about how possible it is to travel long distance in EVs.”

He does like a challenge does our Chris!

On the road to Goodwood Chris’s new companion Panda proves to be a mischievous car buddy…

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Suddenly – it was showtime! The Mongol Rally cars all lined up at the starting line at Goodwood Racing Circuit – and look who was right at the front!

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So far Chris and Panda have already come across two charging points that did not work. Ecotricity helped them out big time as did a new friend made along the way called Dave:

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The first stop for Chris and Panda is Ghent in Belgium – fingers crossed they get there in good time – more updates soon!

DAY 2 – THE FIRST WOBBLE…

Welcome back! We have some good news, bad news and then some more good news for you.

Good news: ThePlugInAdventure.com website is now live – you can check out the live tracking map of where Chris and Panda are and have been charging their Nissan LEAF on the Mongol Rally.

Bad news: The EV duo encountered their first wobble in Germany where one charging station didn’t work and another didn’t have the right sized plug for a UK vehicle. This meant that they had 13 miles to go to the next charging point, with very little battery left – hairy times!

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Good news: It was alright in the end – they made it to a working charging station just as their battery hit empty! Luckily there was quite a few downhill roads that Chris took full advantage of.

The Nissan Leaf’s adventure is certainly proving that EVs can go the distance (even if it is by a hair’s breadth). We asked Chris what’s next for electric cars:

“The reliability of charging stations could be improved! There’s several apps showing where they are, but not one that makes it simple, with live updates of which stations are working. This is what we need.”

We also asked Chris about the speed at which the EV industry seems to be taking off:

“If you look at the comments that were made three or four years ago from a number of manufacturers saying ‘we don’t plan to make electric vehicles’, now all of those manufacturers have either released an electric vehicle or have announced, like Volvo, that their cars will be going electric.

“Most EV models and especially the new Nissan Leaf coming out are going into 200-mile range by next year. That is more than adequate for a daily commute or even a weekly commute. So I think we’re really probably looking at three or four years and then the market is really going to take off.“

So, it’s an exciting time to be driving an EV, especially in the most gruelling 10,000mile rally in the world Here’s hoping that Chris and Panda make it through Germany with no more wobbles….stay tuned here…

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DAY 1O – NEW HEIGHTS FOR THE NISSAN LEAF

Blog post 4 –

BREAKING NEWS: We have heard from a trusted source that Panda is not actually a real panda – but is in fact Chris’ wife Julie, IN A PANDA COSTUME! Our minds are blown.

So Chris, Panda – sorry, Julie, and the Nissan Leaf are making good progress and are now in Bulgaria. They have been caught up with some non-EV Mongol Rally comrades and are enjoying the 32-degree sunshine.

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Not only is the Nissan Leaf keeping pace with fossil-fuelled cars, it is also handling some serious slopes, climbing 2,000 metres up the Transfargarasan mountains with ease and is running just fine. Chris is taking full advantage of the downhill ride to regenerate the battery:

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We caught up with Chris, who has been a bit electric vehicle (EV) evangelist for several years and asked him why he chose a Nissan Leaf to get him through the Mongol Rally when there are a range of EVs to choose from. He said:

“I’ve been driving the Nissan Leaf since 2011 and I know just how reliable it is. I know what kind of ranges I can expect and how it performs in different climates and in different terrain so it’s an ideal choice for me.

The range adds to the challenge of doing this adventure – I could quite easily use another manufacturer’s product and get 200 miles of range but there’s no challenge in that. It’s not going to prove any point to the general public about how possible it is to travel long distance in EVs.”

Good point, Chris!

Chris shared a top tip for EV drivers in Romania – get a free Renovatio RFID card and get access to the charging network which is free across the country at the moment.

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Chris and Julie found a fast charger in Tirnovo, Bulgaria just as they had completely run out of charge. Chris said the charge infrastructure is starting to thin out and Bulgaria is “breaking us in gently for what lies ahead in Turkey and Kazakhstan”.

Back in Budapest, Chris and Julie charged from a normal plug socket with an EVconnector. Not as quick as the rapid chargers, but perfect for charging overnight.

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10 days down the road and the Nissan Leaf is still looking good – we’ll be back soon with more updates – keep living the electric dream Chris and Julie!

DAY 16 – TURKEY GIVES THE NISSAN LEAF A WARM WELCOME

From the minute Chris and Julie zoomed into Turkey in their Nissan Leaf (after only two hours at the border which according to others on the Mongol Rally is not too bad) the people of Turkey welcomed them with open arms.

Chris said: “Met this incredible guy last night, he is called Murat and he went out of his way to help us. We arrived at his petrol station to buy the road toll card, but were also low on charge. He hunted high and low for a plug socket, and even tried the hotel next door and then opened up an old store room and allowed us to plug in for an hour. To top it off, he then gave us a couple of cups of coffee and would not accept any money from us.”

What a guy! Here’s Murat:

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Chris was sure to pack all the charger adapters and cables he would need on his journey from Goodwood to Siberia, meaning he hardly ever has to charge from a standard plug socket – which works but takes quite a while!

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That’s not to say that Chris is not grateful for a standard plug socket charge – here’s an example of one of his most interesting offers of a charge on his journey – a Turkish barbers shop!

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Chris said: “The barber gave up his electricity for the evening so we could charge our car. A big thank you to the owner and staff of Andinata Otel Sekerler Termal for helping us out. Again the kindness of the Turkish people shines through. Thank you. This just emphasises our point that you can charge from anywhere which has electricity.”

The kindness of Turkish strangers continued to overwhelm Chris and Julie, when the manager of a Renault garage they were overnight charging at offered to put them up for the night at his family home. They spent a fun evening swapping stories and left after a hearty breakfast the next day.

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One of the main reasons Chris and Julie took on this adventure was to raise awareness of electric cars and their capabilities. Mostly they have succeeded – but it looks like these guys still don’t quite get how EVs work…

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Chris and Julie met loads of great people in Turkey including the GB swim team in the 23rd Deaf Olympics which were taking place in Samsun and hotel owners who let them plug into their walls. Panda also found time to talk to the guys at Ahmet’s tractor shop about WWF Scotland – the charity Chris and Julie are raising money for on this trip.

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They have covered over 2,500 miles so far and are going strong. Chris covered 28 miles of mountain using only 6% battery – which is impressive! Tune in for more updates soon.

DAY 21

Before heading to Georgia, Chris and Julie stopped off at the Turkish city of Rize. They popped in to the local Renault dealership, Atilgan Otomotiv Renault who welcomed them in for a charge and a chat – they were all really interested in the Nissan Leaf and it’s adventure.

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The team gave them gifts and provisions for the road, and manager Ismail took Chris and Julie for some traditional Turkish food at a mountaintop restaurant. Chris said: “This just emphasises the incredible kindness we have been talking about in Turkey. Thank you everyone at Atilgan Otomotiv, you are such lovely people.”

Looks delicious!

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Then they were off to the Turkey / Georgia border. Chris said: “It took over four hours and was pretty chaotic. However in the grand scheme of things it’s not that bad and we expect worse to come.”

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They finally made it to Batumi in Georgia and their hostel let them charge from their socket. Chris said: “Batumi has quite a mixed vibe about it. On one hand it’s full of amazing buildings and has a very European feel to it, but on the other it also has a growing casino and nightclub scene so you also feel like you are in a mini Vegas. It’s a great city though.”

Chris and Julie spent time sightseeing in Batumi and bumped into fellow Mongol Rally pals Team Maple Marauders and Team Exploring Morons who they met back in Bulgaria. Then they headed off to Tbilisi, which they loved!

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Chris posted a video update detailing the highs (meeting so many amazing people) and lows (the long and tiring stretches of driving). He’s still absolutely loving the adventure though – and his Nissan Leaf.

Chris made us chuckle when we asked him what the USP of the Nissan Leaf was:

“For me there’s a couple of things – a daft one is the heated steering wheel, for me and the wife that makes a big difference, we love that, especially living in Scotland!

Also, when you look at the other models on the market, the Nissan Leaf’s size and capacity just makes it first class for me. I love having the ability to just throw my bike in the back of the car rather than having roof racks. So I choose the Nissan Leaf for space, and for comfort and for reliability.”

The new version of the Nissan Leaf is coming out in September. We asked Chris what hopes he has for the new model. He said:

“It just needs a facelift, that’s all. And maybe a longer mileage. Other that that it’s great!”

Stay tuned for more updates soon!

DAY 32 – The Nissan Leaf Goes Far East

After staying an extra day in Tbilisi because they loved it so much, Chris and Julie headed onwards to Georgia, which they found “Very clean, extremely modern and very safe with beautiful landscapes and rich in culture”.

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Chris and Julie decided to do a night drive to cross the border from Georgia through to Azerbaijan. They arrived at the border crossing at 3am and it took around 2.5 hours to pass through without a hitch. Chris said: “It wasn’t too bad. I think it helped going through in the early hours of the morning when the queues are a lot quieter”.

The first stop in Azerbaijan was a Nissan dealer, where the staff were super friendly, letting them charge the Nissan Leaf and taking a great interest in their adventure. Chris said: “At the dealership we met Musa who very kindly offered to show us around his city and explain some of the history. It was really nice to see some of the local markets, beautiful buildings and also relax to chat over a few cups of chai. Musa then took us home to meet his family and his mother immediately whipped up a feast. The food was amazing and his family were so kind and welcoming”.

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Chris and Julie were hoping to get to know Baku, the capital, but Azerbaijan has a 72-hour restriction on taking right-hand drive vehicles into the country. If they exceed this time then it could mean paying thousands in import taxes.

They still managed to explore the old town and saw that the F1 paddocks are in the heart of Baku – and look like a permanent feature!

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The pair were impressed by Baku at night – and saw the famous Flame Towers, which are lit up all night with different colours. Chris said: “It’s quite impressive, but I think it’s symbolic that the flames are burning through electricity all night. Really think solar technology could be deployed more in this region to offset the high consumption of Oil & Gas”.

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They took the Nissan Leaf completely off road when they went to visit the mud volcanoes in Alat – and the car did just fine. Chris said: “It has performed amazingly well and each day I grow more confident that it can handle anything we throw at it”.

They had a lucky escape however, when they narrowly avoided this pothole – we think we have it bad with potholes in the UK!

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Chris and Julie then embarked upon a 27 hour ferry crossing of the Caspian Sea (which is actually a lake on this cargo ship…

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It had all the mod cons…not…

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But it got them to where they needed to be, which was Aktau in Kazakhstan. They met up with fellow Mongol Rally comrades on the ferry who were sadly travelling without their car as it died in Turkey.

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Kazakhstan has never had anyone drive an electric vehicle across it before, and the government were keen to show Chris and Julie everything the region had to offer. They sent representatives from the local tourist office to show them the sights, including local delicacies such as Krag and horse meat, press interviews, camels, geographical wonders and a stay in a local Kazakhstan home called a Yurta.

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Chris is apprehensive and excited about the trip across Kazakhstan – it is a long trek across EV-unchartered territory. Also, he has to race the clock to get to the Astana Expo in time for some speaking opportunities. It seems that the car is doing well and he has the support of the Kazakhstan government – so things are looking good for Chris, Julie and the Nissan Leaf!

More updates here soon…

Day 45 – Punctures, Celebrities and Baursak

Chris and Julie set off on the most challenging leg of their journey across Kazakhstan. Prior to the trip, Chris had been working closely with the Kazakhstan government on the electric vehicle infrastructure to pave the way for future electric vehicle drivers in the country – they were incredibly supportive.

As ever, they met many kind and hospitable people on their journey through Kazakhstan, including a group of guys who ran a cafe. They hung out with them all evening while their car charged slowly on a two-pin socket and had a great time playing billiards and using Google Translate to swap stories and banter. They also met a young man called Gulmar at their hostel who took them on a tour of Aktobe and helped them get everything they needed for their drive. Chris loved “the amazing hospitality received whilst being here in Kazakhstan we would like to give Gulmar a huge shout out and a big thank you for his help.”

The locals gave Chris and Julie local delicacies in the shape of camel milk, which Chris described as “fizzy natural yoghurt – very nice” and baursack, which is like a mini yorkshire pudding.

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The Kazakstan people were well prepared for Chris and Julie’s arrival. They welcomed them to the town of Mukur with a traditional Kazak song and dromba player, food and girls in traditional Kazak dresses.

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They were on a tight deadline to make it to the Expo 2017 in Astana by 21 August where Chris would be speaking about electric cars when suddenly, the inevitable finally happened – they got a puncture. Chris said: “Incredibly after nearly 1400 miles across Kazakhstan and already covering some of its toughest roads, we got our first puncture. We had been pushing the LEAF hard for the last few days, driving day and night and came across a brand new road with loose stones.”

Well, that would explain it then.

They used their trusty puncture repair kit and were back on the road in no time, off to Burabay National Park to meet Chris’s good friend Aidar Murat (and charge the car from a summerhouse, as you do).

Of Aidar, Chris said:

“Behind every adventure there is always people working hard behind the scenes to make things happen. Let me introduce Aidar Murat who for a number of months before I began my adventure was working hard with #KazPost & #KazMunahGaz to secure them as my charging partners in Kazakhstan. He also created a charging and sightseeing document for the country, all of which has been instrumental in my ability to cross this vast country. Aidar, I cannot thank you enough for the support you have given me over these last few months, without the work you have done Kazakhstan would have been so much harder to cross. It has been incredible working with you and I am sure this is the start of a long friendship.”

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Good news – they made it to the Expo 2017 Astana in time for Chris’ speaking commitments.

The Expo 2017 sees 115 countries gather at a purpose built conference site to showcase their visions for the Future Of Energy. The Kazakhstan Pavilion is eight-floor sphere, which has a channel of solar panels near the top, with two giant wind turbines built into the middle of this channel to capture the wind flow and create electricity for the building. The event runs from 10 June – 10 September and this year’s theme is “Future Energy”. It aims to create a global debate between countries, nongovernmental organisations, companies and the general public on the crucial question: “How do we ensure safe and sustainable access to energy for all while reducing CO2 emissions?”. Around 2-3 million people are expected to attend.

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The special guest at the Dutch press conference was the incredible explorer Bertrand Piccard, the founder and one of the pilots of Solar Impulse, a solar powered plane which flew 40,000km, the first to circumnavigate the earth using nothing but the sun as fuel. The project took 15 years to complete. Check out http://www.solarimpulse.com for more information.

Chris said:

“It was such an incredible moment for me to meet Bertrand let alone share the stage with him.”

Here’s Chris sitting next to Bertrand at the Expo 2017 Astana press conference:

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Chris said: “It was such an amazing experience sharing my story with, and fielding questions from the Kazakhstan media. Also to have the opportunity to be able to listen to two inspirational speakers and learn from them. I am also pleased to announce that during this press conference, Astana also officially signed the papers to become a host city of 80DR. This means I could be driving through Kazakhstan again in less than two years time, a prospect I am very much looking forward to as I love this country. This is one of those moments of the adventure that will live in my memories for many years to come.”

Chris also met up with his good friend Frank Manders from the Netherlands and the founder of the 80 Day Race called #80DR, of which he is a participant. 80DR is a race around the world in 80 days using electric and other zero emission vehicles. There are no fossil fuel vehicles allowed. The race starts in 2019 and will be broadcast worldwide to over 700 million viewers on National Geographic channel. Being a candidate team, Frank invited Chris to display the LEAF AT-EV at the Dutch Pavilion at the Expo and speak at a press conference.

Chris couldn’t leave the Expo without a snap of the Nissan Leaf with the supersonic BloodHound car.

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Then they were off to Russia! For a bit anyway until they hit a bump in the road and damaged their wheel – requiring a helping hand from Kazakhstan local Alexi who helped them out with a tow. Chris said: “It wouldn’t be the Mongol Rally if we didn’t break down now would it?”

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Chris worked with charging partners to get across Kazakhstan. Ironically petrol station chain @kazmunaygas_jsc installed charge points at their petrol stations especially for the Nissan Leaf’s adventure. Chris said: “This is a credit to Kazakhstan’s vision for the future of energy and a step towards electric mobility solutions being installed alongside petrol pumps.”

Finally, they made it to Russia! They have until 9 September to reach the finish line – celebrate with us here when they do!

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