Chris Ramsey is the first person to enter the formidable 10,000-mile Mongol Rally in an electric vehicle. His Nissan Leaf All Terrain-Electric Vehicle has a maximum range of just 155 miles, meaning at least 65 recharging stops along the way. We’re here to find out what drives the Scotsman’s adventurous spirit.
In 2010 Chris Ramsey was a plant supervisor in the oil & gas industry in Aberdeen and noticed that his company and their competitors were beginning to lean towards investment in renewables such as wind turbines, solar panels and electric vehicle charging points. It was at this time that his eyes were opened to the potential of electric vehicles.
He set up Plug In Adventures as a place to explore this passion. A keen motorcyclist, Ramsey discovered electric motorcycle manufacturers like Zero speed-testing their production models on the Bonneville salt flats. However, the cost of one of these machines proved prohibitive, so he began to look for a more cost-effective vehicle.
“I came across the Nissan Leaf and thought, ‘this is alright’, went and got one from a dealer and took a drive round the UK,” he casually remarks. What Ramsey actually means by this is what he calls ‘pluginadventure1’, a drive of some 1400 miles from Aberdeen to London, across to Cardiff and then back up to Aberdeen between 30 August and 3 September 2013.
Ramsey adds: “You always hear the same things from people: ‘they’re not practical’; ‘you can’t drive any great distance’; ‘they take a day to recharge’. I wanted to challenge people’s preconceptions.”
It was also about highlighting the challenges electric vehicle owners face on a day-to-day basis. Since pluginadventure1 the number of charging points has risen dramatically in the UK. But how will the Leaf fair outside Europe? Since then, Ramsey has left his job to focus on taking part in the Mongol Rally.
“I don’t want to run out of battery and I’ve planned the route not to, but sometimes that’ll be a cool thing, it’s an adventure after all and you’ve got to roll with it if things go wrong,” Ramsey explains. “We’ve got a few contingency ideas; it’s about having an adventure and getting yourself out of a bit of difficulty.”
As for charging the car in countries with virtually no electric vehicle infrastructure, Ramsey will largely be relying on the kindness of strangers, in some cases driving into villages to ask if he can charge the car overnight from the mains. Ramsey expects the drive to last anywhere between six and eight weeks from Goodwood to Ulan Ude, Russia, just north of Mongolia.
Accompanying Ramsey on this epic adventure is his wife, Julie who is going to oversee ‘logistics’. “Julie’s a big traveller, as much as I am. She’s just not as mad as me,” jokes Ramsey. “she’ll keep me sane and on the straight and narrow.”
Keeping on the straight and narrow may also prove to be a big challenge as some of the ‘roads’ in the more rural areas of the Rally are nothing more than pot hole strewn dirt tracks.
To this end the Leaf has had its suspension raised, 6mm aluminium plating bolted to the underside of the chassis for protection, wide, chunky rally tyres fitted, a roof rack added to hold a spare tyre, a 16,400 lumen LED light bar to illuminate the road ahead in places with no streetlights and a medical kit installed in the boot area.
The rear seats and belts have been taken out, reducing the weight of the vehicle by 32kg, but this is more to do with creating space for somewhere to sleep as well as room for provisions as the Rally organisers leave contestants to undertake the gruelling challenge alone. Apart from these cosmetic changes though, nothing else has been changed, it’s a bog-standard 30kWh Acenta model.
“People ask me why a Leaf instead of another vehicle,” Ramsey says. “Well, it’s no fun if I take a car that can do 400 miles per charge, that’s not the point as a lot of people can’t afford those cars. This is my car, I know it so well, I know how reliable it is, I know what the limitations are.”
Ramsey’s competitive nature is clear. He wants to make it to the end of the Rally. But simply being the first person to take part in an all-electric car is an achievement in itself. Additionally, the engagement he’s hoping to make with both the public and governments of the countries he will visit will be more valuable to the image and message of electric vehicle adoption.
“I’ve given up my work to do it, that’s how much I’m passionate about electric vehicles for the future. This is the springboard for me to get out there and get more public. I really want to engage with not just the UK public, but also in Europe and world-wide spreading the message about electric vehicles. What the future holds after this I don’t know, but for me it’s all going to be about spreading the word.”
I was lucky enough to drive the Leaf AT-EV around an off-road course in Surrey and, being the first time I’ve ever driven an electric car, was amazed at the instant power delivered all at once. The acceleration down the ‘back-straight’ was startling, especially as it was a narrow, single-track lane, lined by trees and with a blind 90-degree bend at the end of it. Luckily, I had an experienced rally driver and instructor in the passenger seat to guide me through finding the optimum line and braking points on the loose gravel course.
What also struck me was the sharpness of the brakes, and the stability and smoothness of the ride, even though we were traversing some fairly rugged terrain. Clearly the raised suspension and chunky tyres were doing their job.
Part of me envies the Ramseys and what they will experience on the Mongol Rally, but seeing the limited space they will be occupying for the best part of a month and a half had me thinking again. I wish them all the best on their adventure and hope they make it all the way to the end.