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They drove from the Arctic to the South Pole — in an electric car


Scottish adventurers Chris and Julie Ramsey wanted to prove their electric SUV was as rugged and reliable as a conventional car. To do it, they decided to take it on a drive.

That drive started in March on the frozen waters of the Arctic Circle near the North Pole. It ended in December, about nine months and approximately 20,000 miles later, at the south pole in Antarctica.

The Ramseys say the globe-trotting expedition is the first of its kind done in an electric vehicle, or a car of any kind. It took them through a carefully plotted route down North and South America that wound through frozen snowscapes, mountain roads and dense cities, where they hunted for charging stations along the way. The couple, who in January returned home to Aberdeen, Scotland, told The Washington Post they hoped their feat could inspire other adventurers and any consumers considering electric vehicles.

“We could have failed at any moment, for whatever reason, and you just don’t know if you’re going to make it,” Julie Ramsey said. “… It just proves that EVs can go the distance.”

The Ramseys have undertaken ambitious electrified expeditions before. In 2017, the couple completed the Mongol Rally, a grueling 10,000 mile drive from the United Kingdom to Siberia, in a Nissan Leaf. The next year, Chris Ramsey became a Guinness World Records holder for the longest distance covered on an electric bike in 12 hours after cruising for about 177 miles.

There weren’t many frontiers left for the couple to tackle — none that seemed feasible, anyway. Then Chris pitched the idea of a pole-to-pole traversal bookended by stretches of driving in the Arctic and Antarctica. The route would be longer and cover more hostile terrain than even the Mongol Rally’s marathon course.

“I had my doubts,” Julie said.

The Ramseys partnered with Arctic Trucks, a company that organizes Antarctic expeditions, to plan the polar expedition and modify a Nissan Ariya electric SUV for the journey. Engineers strengthened the SUV’s body and installed mammoth 39-inch tires that could handle the ice and snow of the Arctic. Chris, a coffee lover, also had an espresso machine installed inside. But the Ramseys left the SUV’s battery and powertrain untouched, they said, in hopes of proving their point about the electric vehicle’s capabilities.

The Ramseys chose to start their drive in March from the 1823 location of the magnetic North Pole, a position that has shifted farther north over the years — the current magnetic North Pole was deemed too far into the Arctic Ocean to safely drive to.

The course was already treacherous enough.

Temperatures plunged to under minus-50 degrees, and the terrain varied between slippery ice and hidden banks of snow. In between driving days, the Ramseys either slept inside their car or in a tent pitched on the ice. The remote location meant the Ramseys couldn’t eschew fossil fuels entirely — they recharged the vehicle using a gas-powered generator — but the vehicle’s battery and electronics held up.

“Pretty much every spare [part] we brought up for the car to take on the expedition in the polar regions, they’ve all come back,” Chris said.

Once the Ramseys reached the Canadian mainland, they only used recharging stations and outlets in homes volunteered by passersby. At times, they admitted, “range anxiety” crept in — Chris noted the modifications to the vehicle halved the Nissan’s roughly 300-mile advertised range. As they continued south through Calgary, Alberta, and Vancouver, B.C., before entering Washington state, the couple said they faced another challenge: unreliable charging stations. The Ramseys praised the size and coverage of the electric-vehicle charging network in the United States but said they often encountered stations across the country that weren’t working.

“It’s just one of those ironic things,” Chris said. “The network in the U.S. is good — it’s there, which is brilliant — it’s just the companies operating it need to get a lot better.”

The Ramseys crossed into Mexico from Texas and drove down the Pan-American Highway to Panama, where they took a ferry into Colombia to bypass the forested Darién Gap at the Panama-Colombia border. As the charging network for electric vehicles grew sparse in some regions, the driving once again became tense, Julie said. The Ramseys stopped to sightsee but spent much of their time on the road, nervously watching their speed and battery levels to avoid getting stuck.

“You couldn’t just put your foot down and just relax,” Julie said. “It consumed a lot of brain energy.”

The Ramseys also took it upon themselves to improve the reach of the charging network on the continent. Before the trip, the couple partnered with an energy company, Enel X, to arrange the installation of more than 20 new electric-vehicle charging stations in countries including Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia, where they spotted gaps in the coverage of existing stations, Chris said.

In November, the Ramseys reached the city of Punta Arenas, Chile, near the southernmost tip of the continent, and began preparations for the expedition’s final, riskiest leg. Entering Antarctica would require a flight, but after that, the Ramseys would have to make a roughly 700-mile drive from their base camp to the South Pole.

An Arctic Trucks support team rejoined the Ramseys for the drive in Antarctica to provide backup in case of an emergency. Sune Tamm, director of operations for the company, said he was impressed — and a little surprised — by the couple’s grit as they neared the frigid finish line.

“It’s, I think, exceptional to find a client that was so committed to the project,” Tamm said. “Chris would be sleeping in the car while it was charging. He was using every bit of his being to get this project across the line.”

In December, with snow crusted around the SUV and icicles dangling off its rear bumper, the Ramseys reached the South Pole, completing their globe-spanning journey.

“It was just a huge sense of relief,” Julie said.

The Ramseys returned to Scotland in January to celebrate and promote their expedition, which Arctic Trucks reported as the first in history to take a wheeled vehicle from the magnetic North Pole to the South Pole.

“They did something that no one ever dreamed you would do, even in a fossil fuel-powered vehicle,” Tamm said. “To have that first happen in an electric vehicle, my heart sang when I saw that come through.”

The Ramseys said they hoped their trip would serve as inspiration, but not a model, for prospective electric-vehicle buyers.

“We’ve had all the stress, and people can relax,” Chris said, laughing.



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