French engineers circle the globe in electric car

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Two friends Xavier Dedon (blue pull) and Antonin Guy has been travelling since February 2011 with the electric car a Citroen C-Zero from in France's Strasbourg. Photo: French Embassy in Hanoi

Over a year ago, Xavier Dedon, a young engineer from Electricity of France, spoke with his friend Antonin Guy, a public sector consultant at a management consulting company, about his thirst for adventure and the desire to travel differently.

The idea of a trip around the world was born in the minds of the two friends, and they chose to travel differently: in an electric car.

The two engineers started their journey on February 2011 in France's Strasbourg with the electric car a Citroen C-Zero. After nearly six months, they had travelled across Belgium, Hollands, the United States, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam.

"Many countries now are interested in the economic slowdown, but forget environmental pollution, which is a big problem for the world in this century," said Antonin Guy, 28. "Each person has a different way to engage in today's environmental issues. We chose an electric vehicle, which helps reduce CO2 emission."

Like many other users, before the journey started, they were concerned about the safety and cost of travelling by car, and how the electric vehicle could be charged.

 But Antonin said they eased their worried minds and just did it: they have already travelled over 15,000 km across 10 countries in the electric vehicle.

"The electric car is an effective vehicle," he said. "If we could use it to make a world tour, it means every single person is able to use it to go to work or to go shopping."

During the 25,000-km trip, which is scheduled to last for eight months, the car will be charged more than 300 times at people's homes across 17 countries in diverse weather conditions, Xavier said.

The total cost of "fuel" is 250-500 euros for electricity, which is 5-7 times cheaper than the same trip using gasoline, he said.

"This demonstrates that electric vehicles are more economical than those running with gasoline, while they can also help protect the environment," Xavier said.

He said they often depart their locations at 9 a.m., and stop to charge up the car every 100km. To charge up the car, they have to convince whoever they encounter to lend them their outlets. Most nights, they have relied on supporters and strangers alike to keep their car charged, plugging it in at motels, gas stations, fast food restaurants, government offices, farms and private homes.

During the trip, the two engineers have also faced some stress.

On their second day in the United States, the car's cooling fan malfunctioned. Mechanics in the US could not help them overcome the problem and it would take at least one month to receive the component they need from France, Xavier said.

"At that time, we were a bit stressed," said Xavier. "We though the trip could not continue. But, we fortunately met a fire truck repairer, who helped us to repair our car. With his help, the car could continue the journey after two days."

 

Xavier said they were also very worried when travelling 150km across the western United States, as they were in the desert with no electricity. Somehow, they made it through by the skin of their teeth.

But the hardest part of the trip is expected to begin once the car arrives in Asia, Antonin said. "The first obstacle may be language as we cannot speak any Asian languages, while we go mainly to small towns, where local residents can probably not speak either English or French."

The two engineers have planned to use sign language to find places to plug in, he said. They're also concerned about difficult conditions in certain countries, as for example, the desert in Kazakhstan, where there's probably nobody to help repair an electric vehicle. Thus, the two men will have to do it themselves.

"A few months before the departure, we had some training to learn more about the car and to improve our driving in extreme conditions," Antonin said. "So we will be able to help mechanics fix a breakdown if necessary."

On July 4, the two engineers arrived to Ho Chi Minh City. They passed center of Vietnam and also visited Hanoi.

After Vietnam, on July 9, the two men will continue their journey to China before the adventure wraps up two months later.

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