Driving around Australia in an electric vehicle used to be a massive undertaking. Loaded with very long stretches of desert with no EV charging infrastructure, it’s a journey that, even in a combustion engine vehicle, can spell disaster if not done with proper preparation.
A few examples among the early pioneers of the electric road trip, which have been covered by The Driven for several years now, include the late Linda Rohrs in her Tesla Model S. She was the first woman to drive solo in Australia in an EV, completing the “Big Lap”, as it is called, in less than 80 days.
Then there’s Wiebe Wakker, the Dutchman who arrived in Darwin in a converted VW Golf nicknamed the “Blue Bandit” with the aim of driving an electric vehicle around the world to show that zero-emission transport is viable.
And he did it without spending a dime on electricity or housing, thanks to the kindness of strangers who signed up on his “Plug Me In” site.
In total, Wakker traveled over 100,000 km and finally completed his journey at New Zealand’s southernmost point in 2019.
So when we hear about another couple taking the Big Lap in their new Tesla Model 3, it’s not a story that sounds particularly groundbreaking.
But that’s exactly the point: the fact that driving around Australia in an EV isn’t such a pioneering moment anymore highlights just how far things have come in recent years for EVs.
That’s not to say there isn’t a long way to go yet; there are still far fewer than 50,000 electric vehicles in Australia, and there are still large gaps in charging infrastructure in remote areas.
But the gaps are smaller, there are more models available, and there’s less chance of needing ‘hypermile’ as EV owner Phil Smith did in 2021 when he embarked on one of Australia’s longest and most isolated stretches of road, just to make sure he can get to the next charger without running out of battery charge.
Which brings us to today. Jeff and Julie Wicks embarked only a month ago on their own Big Lap odyssey. They don’t do it in something fancy like a Tesla Model S, or rely on the kindness of strangers to do it (at least that’s not the plan.)
In a note to The Driven, Jeff tells us that he and Julie chose the Standard Range Plus Model 3, which currently sells in Australia for $63,900 before on the roads and realistically can offer as little as 330 km of autonomy on the highway.
“I wanted a basic electric vehicle so people couldn’t say, ‘Oh yeah, but you bought a special model. “,” says Jeff.
“We wanted to show that driving around Australia in a common electric vehicle was not a big deal and involved few compromises.”
He says he and Julie also appreciate “the slightly retrograde step Tesla has taken in LFP battery technology for their base models, with less human and environmental harm during manufacturing and no restrictions, actually encouraging, to be charged at 100%”.
Leaving from the Gold Coast in Queensland, the couple is now in Western Australia.
They use a range of chargers, including free charging in hotel rooms, fast chargers, and Tesla superchargers.
Just this weekend they used the waste chip oil powered charger installed by the Tesla Owners Club of Western Australia thanks to a lot of community judgment and especially the ingenuity of the engineer at retired Jon Edwards.
This, says Jeff, “highlights the effort members of the Tesla Owners Club of Australia, particularly TOCWA, have gone to to make trips like this achievable. We wouldn’t be undertaking this trip without the work they have done to date.
The rest of Wick’s story is described in their Q&A below:
What prompted you to undertake the “Big Lap” in an electric vehicle?
“I had been looking for an excuse to try an electric vehicle for a while and had been waiting for the Model Y to come out in Australia. And I had always fancied the idea of driving the Nullarbor and part of the west coast of WA.
“Then last year I asked Julie – would you be interested in doing a Big Lap Circumference of Australia?
“To my surprise, she said yes, almost without hesitation. As we had a 2002 VW Golf and a 1960 MG at the time, I followed with the obvious question – in which car? She replied with the answer I needed – how about a Tesla?
“Model Y for Australia kept slipping into the future horizon and I noticed the Model 3 delivery times to the US were stretching well beyond those to Australia.
“At the start of December 21, I committed to placing an order with a three-month waiting period, then began to make plans for the Grand Tour for an early fall departure. The idea was to surprise Julie while collecting the cars and I lasted until March, but in the end I had to tell the truth.
“We are really enjoying April in Victoria, so are setting a departure date of the first week of April, firming up on Sunday April 3, which gives us several weeks between scheduled collection and departure to get the car ready.
“Delivery of the car slipped a bit and in the end we got it back just over a week before we left.
What route have you planned?
“The route is nothing special, mostly coastal highway – Gold Coast – Sydney – Melbourne – Great Ocean Road – Adelaide – Port Lincoln – Ceduna – Nullarbor – Esperance – Albany – Margaret River – Perth – WA Coast to Broome – Kununurra – Katherine – Darwin – Katherine – Townsville – Cairns – home via coast.
“Not being in an SUV we will miss the Gibb River Road and possibly others but will do our best to compensate with side business visits. Nominally the route is around 15,000 km but, with deviations, we expect 20,000 km.
Have you studied the energy consumption and energy needs in depth?
“Prior to delivery, I was anticipating a usable battery range of around 400km and was assuming that in the worst case scenario we might have to spend an extra day overnight to charge from an outlet. household current of 10 amps.
“All of our overnight bookings in April were calendar locked prior to departure due to Easter and Anzac Day holidays and school holidays in NSW, Vic and SA.
“After that, we hope to play by ear, but still with a rough plan to complete the journey in less than 100 days. Our M3 RWD boasts a range of 440km on a full charge, so our 400km panoramic range is about as far as we’d like to push before recharging.
What charging challenges do you foresee? How do you plan to avoid them?
“The M3 comes with a charging cable and some ‘tails’ to connect to allow charging from household outlets.
“I got an extra tail for the 15 amp plug type in caravan parks etc and another full lead (for unknown reasons) which we haven’t used yet. As mentioned the needs of recharging may mean an extra night or two, but nothing we’ve yet identified east of Perth.
What concessions did you have to make regarding space and desirable objects?
As Jeff notes in his blog, “Interestingly, the Tesla 3 does not come with a spare wheel, nor do they come with flat tires. Instead, Tesla offers an Australia-wide vehicle collection service with tire repair or replacement after towing to the nearest tire outlet.
“Given our planned route, we weren’t comfortable with the possibility of being stranded remotely with a flat tire or having to wait for a replacement tire or wheel to be shipped. Wheels Finer relief is available online but only offers a short-term solution.”
Because the only storage area for this and a jack is in the rear cargo areas, it means the couple can’t use the mattress they packed into the back of the car with the rear seats folded without leave the test outside the car overnight.
Other than that, he says they had to make “absolutely no compromises. Baggage limitation is the amount you wish to carry into a motel/hotel room each night. We have more than enough stuff. Not everything is stowed in the trunk, but the cabin is larger than necessary for just two people.
Anything else to add?
“The PlugShare app (which allows EV owners to find suitable chargers on a route) is MUST-HAVE,” says Jeff.
You can read the rest of Wick’s road trip blog at blev.com.au.
Bridie Schmidt is associate editor of The Driven, sister site to Renew Economy. She has been writing about electric vehicles since 2018 and has a keen interest in the role that zero-emission transport must play in sustainability. She has participated in podcasts such as Download This Show with Marc Fennell and Shirtloads of Science with Karl Kruszelnicki and is a co-organizer of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum. Bridie also owns a Tesla Model 3 and offers it for hire on evee.com.au.