Circumnavigating London With Zero Tailpipe Emissions

circumnavigating London with zero tailpipe emissions

PowerTorque’s European Correspondent, Will Shiers, attempts to get into the record books, circumnavigating London with zero tailpipe emissions in a 16-tonne Renault Range D ZE.

A quick Google search on vehicle-related records reveals that Rob Gibney once drove his car in reverse for 807.39km, while Han Tue managed a 46-minute lap of the Nürburgring on two wheels.

While these are clearly both amazing feats, and something the record holders should be immensely proud of, they aren’t nearly as exciting as the record I’m attempting to set. If all goes well I’m about to become the first person in the world to complete a lap of the M25, London’s infamous orbital motorway, in an electric truck on a single charge.

My truck of choice for this electrifying feat is a battery-powered 16-tonne Renault Range D16 ZE. The truck has a claimed range of just over 200km, and seeing as a lap of the M25 is 190km, it’s definitely doable. However, throw in some congestion and adverse weather conditions (both of which are forecasted), and it’s definitely going to be a close call.

circumnavigating London with zero tailpipe emissions
PIC Credit – Tom Cunningham

My journey starts at Cobham Services, south west of London, and about 15 miles from Heathrow Airport. I’ve had to take it to the car charging area, because as of yet there aren’t any truck charging points anywhere on the UK motorway network.

That’s not a surprise really, considering that the first electric trucks are only just starting to appear on our roads. The charging area is a hive of activity. Several electric car owners are deep in conversation, swapping notes and comparing ranges and charging times.

It’s like some sort of exclusive club, and its members have a definite air of self-importance and superiority about them. I get the distinct impression that the Renault isn’t welcome here. They certainly aren’t happy that it’s taking up three charging bays anyway. If I could be bothered to talk to them I’d point out that the battery-powered truck they’re looking down their noses at costs several times more than their cars.

It takes two hours to charge the truck’s four 66kWh batteries using a 150kW DC fast charger like this (or overnight with a 22kW AC charger), but fortunately the Renault is almost fully charged now, and I’m soon sitting in the cab and ready to go.

Anyone expecting a Tesla-esque interior is going to be sorely disappointed with the Range D ZE, as it’s just a bit … normal. There’s no central seating position, fancy tablet screens or pulsating lights to thrill and excite. Instead, what you get is a series of analogue dials and a small digital display, which gives you all the need-to-know information at a glance. Personally I think it’s great. I immediately understand what everything does, without needing to call my 11-year-old daughter for a computer lesson.

Of all the information in front of me, the most important for this journey will be the ones that show the battery life and range. They’re currently on 99 per cent and 225km respectively.

circumnavigating London with zero tailpipe emissions

I head out of the services, and am immediately struck by how quiet and smooth the drivetrain is. The truck has 425Nm of torque, and it’s available from a standing start, meaning effortless acceleration.

I drive up the slip road, indicating to join the carriageway. With no diesel engine to drown it out, the indicator seems incredibly loud. In fact, you don’t realise quite how noisy modern diesel trucks are until you experience full-electric. At low speeds you can hear so much more, including the power steering pump, and even the creaking suspension components. The traffic is flowing freely at the moment, and I set the adaptive cruise control to the maximum 90km/h.

Although plated at 16 tonnes, thanks to UK alternative fuel weight dispensation rules, it is able to run at 16.7 tonnes. That said, on this occasion I’ve chosen just to put 3 tonnes in the back of the box body. It is fairly representative of what the truck would be doing in the real world. After all, I’ll be carrying the weight the entire way around.

After 5km, the battery life is still on 98 per cent. A quick calculation in my head tells me I might be OK, and my range anxiety begins to wane. However, my relief is short-lived, as I embark on a particularly long climb. While my speed doesn’t fall, the battery life does. I’m fixated by the dashboard display, and watch in dismay as the battery’s capacity drops, one percentage point at a time.

There’s another gauge that informs me of my continual consumption, which is in kW per 100km. It’s a totally new metric to me, and might as well be measuring moon dust. I’m told that a vehicle of this size should be consuming roughly 1kWh per km, but it’s considerably less on this hill.

But what goes up, must come down, and it’s a massive relief when we start to descend the other side. As the truck’s speed begins to creep up, so I ease off the ‘gas’ pedal, which is met with gentle regenerative braking. 

To find out how Will gets on in his record-breaking attempt, see PowerTorque’s next episode in a week’s time.

circumnavigating London with zero tailpipe emissions