Interview with Renske and Maarten from 4x4electric

Renske Cox and Maarten van Pel from 4x4electric are planning an absolutely fascinating project. They want to drive from Europe to South Africa and back using a standard electric vehicle. To make it even more sustainable they plan to use solar panels for charging on this trip.

Luckily they agreed to be interviewed by EV-Overlanding. We love their idea and are very curious to get some insights into their project plans.

EV-Overlanding: Please tell me a little bit about yourself. How old are you, where do you live, and what’s your current job? 

Renske: I am 32 years old and have always loved outdoor adventures and sports. For 4 years I have been self-employed, working in the South of the Netherlands. I help entrepreneurs in realizing innovations, becoming more sustainable, and making their employees sustainably employed. This I do in triple helix collaborations, helping entrepreneurs, schools, and the government working together.  

Maarten: I am 33 years old and just like Renske I love the outdoors. We often make a campfire in our garden. When it is a holiday, we always go to nature, as far away from villages as we can. Sleeping in a tent and enjoying the beauty of nature. As we wanted to live more sustainably, we decided to no longer fly. Therefore, we made journeys with our electric car. But now we want to travel the world long-distance and all-electric. So exciting. To organize this, I am focusing on this project almost full-time. My background is as a technical project manager in different companies in the Netherlands. 

Renske: For one year we have lived in a small home just outside a village near ‘s-Hertogenbosch in the Netherlands. Here we have a wonderful view with only nature. 

EV-Overlanding: What is your past experience in overland travel and also what experience do you have in long-distance trips with electric vehicles?

Renske: Overlanding is quite new to us. I have experienced it a long time ago traveling through the middle of Iceland with a defender. And 2 years ago, we went for the first time together to Botswana and Namibia. This was just amazing. We had a Toyota 4×4 with a rooftop tent. 

Maarten: We loved the freedom it gives you to have a car that can go into the wilderness and being able to sleep there as well. Therefore, we decided to look for another way to travel this way, but then sustainably. My experience overlanding is through Kirgizstan for two weeks. 

EV-Overlanding: What’s your main motivation to do this trip and to do it with an EV?

Renske: We love nature, and want to keep it as beautiful as it is. Therefore, we try to do as much as we can to live sustainably, without giving up too much comfort in life. Some of the things we have already changed in our lives:
We do not need natural gas at home anymore by adding solar panels and a heat pump
Cooking electric and with less meat
We are driving electric for more than two years now
We are going to collect rainwater, and use this to water the plants, flush the toilet and for the dishwasher and washing machine
Buying less packaging with initiatives such as PieterPot
Making our garden into a home for bees, butterflies, and animals
Starting 2020 we chose to no longer travel by airplane
Buying products that are close to the expiration date to prevent them from becoming waste

Maarten: Our next step was finding a sustainable way to travel the world. As we noticed a lot of people did not understand how and why we would do this, we decided to share our story while doing so. This is to inspire more people by showing how cool and adventurous it is, hoping they will implement sustainability in their lives as well. We are looking for partners to make this possible. Partners can help us in reaching more people, providing products and or services we need, and help us financially.

EV-Overlanding: On your website, you write: „By doing this we want to show what you can do as an individual to save our planet, without giving up your comfort.“ If I think about a Trans-Africa „comfort“ is probably the last thing that comes into my mind. What do you mean by this?

Maarten: If you mean that overlanding is giving up comfort, we understand. As it is… you live in your car and tent; you cook, shower, eat and sleep there. What we mean is that doing this electric does not have to cost ‘extra’ comfort. You can go overlanding sustainably, and enjoy the same comfort as doing it with fossil fuels! This we want to show the world.

EV-Overlanding: How much time do you plan for this trip? And do you plan it as one continuous long trip or in several sections with breaks in between?

Renske: At the moment we are preparing our trip. We are gathering partners, preparing visas for all the countries, preparing a route, and organizing that it is possible to charge with the solar panels we take with us. This has not been done before, therefore we have to test new techniques with companies in the Netherlands. 
The plan is to start our trip in October this year and drive the route in less than one year. In total it is about 40.000 km. Maybe we are back sooner, but this gives us the time to react spontaneously to what comes on our route. We will travel the entire route in one long trip.

EV-Overlanding: How do you plan to finance this trip?

Renske: For us, this trip is a sabbatical, so we do not want to earn money once we travel. We want to finance the products we need, by working together with companies and universities (they help us by providing knowledge and finance).

EV-Overlanding: What car do you plan to use for this trip and why have you chosen exactly this type? Will you somehow modify the car, especially for this trip?

Renske: We will go with the Skoda Enyaq iV, with a rooftop tent. Some small modifications: the ground clearance of the car needs to be raised, in addition, all kind of equipment needs to be added to the car: a strong roof rack, a winch and all kinds of stickers from our partners.

EV-Overlanding: What is in your opinion more important for a Trans-Africa with an EV and why: range or efficiency?

Maarten: Of course, both are important. But because more range will increase the weight of the car, so efficiency is more important for our trip. We need at least 300km of range, but not much more as it will make the car too heavy.

EV-Overlanding: Do you think that electric vehicles are more or less reliable on overlanding trips?

Maarten: In my opinion, they are more reliable as they have way fewer moving parts. Besides from our plan to go to remote places, you can find electricity everywhere. Even though charging goes slow with a granny charger, it will charge the car during the night.

Renske: The only thing is there is less experience in doing so. This makes it seem less reliable, but that does not make it true.

EV-Overlanding: What’s your plan if you have any breakdown with your car in Africa?

Maarten: This is definitely part of the adventure as we go to remote places. First of all, reducing the risk by not taking the worst roads. Secondly, our experience is that the less people have, the more they are willing to help. So, if the car breaks down, we can always ask locals for help. We cannot rely on this, but it has helped us before. Last but not least, we want to take a known car brand with us, to be sure we have access to new spare parts.

EV-Overlanding: Where do you sleep on this trip? In a tent (rooftop or ground?), in the car, using local accommodations, or a combination of all of them?

Renske: We will sleep in a rooftop tent, the iKamper Skycamper 3.0 mini. CAMPWERK provides this to us as our partner. You can sleep wherever and whenever you want. Choose the best view over beautiful nature. 

EV-Overlanding: Aren’t you afraid that a rooftop tent will significantly impact the aerodynamics and therefore reduce the range?

Renske: The rooftop tent does impact our range, but as it is a thin hard covered pack the impact should not be too high. We will have the car and rooftop tent end of may and will that start testing.

EV-Overlanding: Are you afraid of the safety and corruption in certain African countries and how do you plan to deal with this?

Maarten: We are not afraid, but we are curious. There are some basic rules we will apply: no driving in the dark and do not expect you will get right of way. In addition, we will follow the advice of the Dutch government. 

EV-Overlanding: How do you plan to transport the huge 60 m2 solar arrays? In/on the car? Or in a trailer? Can you say something about the weight of this solar array?

Maarten: We will bring flexible solar panels with us in the car, which weigh about 3.5kg per m2. We try to bring everything with us in or on the car as a trailer will drop the range dramatically. Calculations and drawings are made at the moment.

EV-Overlanding: Any ideas how much load you will carry altogether in your car?

Maarten: At this stage of the project this is unknown.

EV-Overlanding: Do you plan to use solar charging for 100% of the distance or only in certain areas where a charger/electricity is not available?

Renske: We will try to use solar charging as much as possible, but in some areas, it will not be realistic due to the weather. And when a village has its first charging station installed, it would of course be much more fun to charge there.

EV-Overlanding: Are you afraid that COVID could influence your travel plans?

Renske: This is definitely a topic we will follow closely. As it seems the COVID pandemic is slowly coming to a rest, we think our trip will be possible in October 2022.

EV-Overlanding: Thanks a lot for the insight. We wish you all the best for this awesome project and it would be great to hear from you again once the trip has started.

You can follow Renske and Maarten on the following social media channels:
Instagram: @4x4electric

And here you can find their introduction video:

All images in this post are © Renske Cox and Maarten van Pel.

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