Man on a mission
What possesses a man to put aside his work as an events planner to set off on a three year worldwide crusade to encourage people to embrace electric car technology?
That's an interesting question, so when Wiebe Wakker passed through Orange last weekend, I invited him to meet up with me for an interview so that I could ask him that and share his story with our readers. He was only too happy to oblige.
Before we met up, I thought about what I would ask him, and during that process I wondered how many previous media people might have already asked him the same questions. To help break the ice I joked that he should tell me if I asked a question that he hadn't already been asked 50 times before. Turns out I didn't. Wiebe quipped that he should have put together a Frequently Asked Questions printout that he could give to people like me and save himself from repeating the same thing over and over again. If he does this again, I'm certain he will.
His story is truly fascinating and what I'd like to do is to try and engage those reading this in such a way that you don't just get what he's doing and why he's doing it, but you also get a feel for what he's gone through to get to where he's now at. Let's see how we go.
Wiebe was doing a course and when it came time to do his final assignment, he decided he wanted to do something very different. Somewhere in there he decided to drive an electric car from The Netherlands across the world to Sydney Australia, all to dispel some myths about electric cars and draw attention to the benefits of creating a sustainable world and the environmental advantages that go with it. It started that simply around late 2014.
One and a half years later, after getting things organised including sponsors etc., he set off in his modified 2009 VW with not much more than what some would describe as a wing and a prayer. Since then he has driven 85,000 kilometres and passed through 33 countries. He will finish his epic journey in April this year in Sydney, but not before he heads further out west to Broken Hill, and down through South Australia on the way.
At this point, you're probably wondering how in the name of goodness did he do it? Where did he sleep, how did he eat, what about loneliness, what did he do to keep busy, how did an old 2009 VW handle such a trip, what dangers did he encounter and so on and so on? Fair questions indeed.
Many of the answers can be found on Wiebe's website www.plugmeinproject.com which contains a whole lot of information including some 200 videos he's produced and uploaded along his journey. Those who are more than casually interested in what Wiebe is doing will find hours of fascinating information and entertainment on his website, as he shares his many discoveries and experiences along his journey.
For those fascinated by what he's doing but not the finer details, I hope the following questions I put to Wiebe will give you a genuine feel for what he's been through. I'll let you use your imagination to fill in the blanks but when you do, give thought to what it must have been like to travel though strange countries, sometimes through very remote areas, relying on an old car with a limited distance range to get you to where you're going, facing a variety weather conditions, the issues of loneliness, relying on people along the way to do what they said they would, battling any fatigue and emotional issues, contending with unforeseen car problems, and so it goes on. Clearly, this adventure would not have been a walk in the park.
Tell us about the car?
It was a diesel VW and we converted it to an electric car. Fully charged, it has a range of 200 kilometres.
How does the charging work?
Obviously I have to keep charging it and be mindful of the 200 kilometre range but people all along my journey have been most obliging, generous and helpful with this. There have been times when I have had to be towed after running flat and of course the car has been transported when we've crossed seas etc. like coming to islands like Australia.
What equipment did you set off with?
Minimal clothes, basic essentials, camera gear, adaptors, cables etc. and of course the car (the Blue Bandit).
Why the Blue Bandit?
It was a name a fan gave it and it's stuck.
What was your plan for places to stay and eat etc.?
Basically I've relied on people all along the way to hear about my journey and offer to host me. People have been very supportive and generous of me and the project, incredibly so. It's a case of making it up as you go.
What did you have in place to cover maintenance or breakdowns along the way?
No plan, just to wing it!
How's that gone?
I encountered a number of issues but got through them. The scariest incident happened in India. I had car problems which required the car to be transported on a truck, but the truck didn't have ramps to load the car or get it off. It got a bit hairy the way they handled it and I thought they'd irreparably damage it. Other than that, replacing tyres, a couple of battery issues and other minor problems, that's about it.
What has been the friendliest country you've been through?
Iran and the Middle Eastern Countries. Lovely hospitable people.
Can you share a funny experience?
I spent some time with a guy in Malaysia who was set to marry a Princess the next day. We met in his home and it was quite an unusual experience.
Anything else stand out as memorable?
I saw some beautiful scenery along my travels. The Kimberleys were spectacular and just last week I came through the Bylong Valley near here, very pretty indeed. I really did enjoy much of the scenery I encountered.
What kept you busy along the way?
Keeping my website up to date provided me with plenty to do. Filming, editing, uploading around 200 videos has been a big part of it. Before you came today, I was in my bedroom in my host's house editing photos.
Your videos include drone shots, how did you do that?
I didn't start with a drone camera but by way of a crowd-funding initiative I was able to get one along the way. In remote areas like along the Nullarbor, I could drive with one hand and operate the drone with the other. It's added something to my videos.
Do you have any viewer numbers for your website?
I get about 10,000 views a month.
Do you have any plans for your next adventure?
I plan to write a book and continue on from this, trying to make a difference in our world.
last year in Norway
50% of cars sales were electric
Your project is all to do with electric cars, would you like to enlighten our readers a bit more about them?
Electric cars are the future. They require about 70% less maintenance than fuel driven cars. If I used fuel instead of electricity over my 85,000 kilometre journey, the cost would have been about 4 times greater. In Australia, less than 1% of cars would be electric, last year in Norway 50% of cars sales were electric. This growth can be attributed to the Norwegian Government offering incentives for people to buy electric cars, even by offering toll free driving. In Australia the cost of electric cars is still quite high and providing the overall infrastructure for electric car owners still has a way to go. Tesla Electric cars also attract luxury car tax. It is expected however, that an electric car will soon cost around $40,000 in Australia and as awareness and popularity grow, the snowball effect will kick in. Electric cars offer numerous advantages including not only the obvious pollution ones, but fewer accidents, more advanced battery technology, fewer maintenance costs, driving autonomy and job creation will all result from the growing electric car industry.
I hope you have enjoyed reading about Wiebe Wakker and the Blue Bandit.
He is an extra-ordinary man, and I have no doubt that the benefits of what he has done through this remarkable adventure will impact on future automotive history. We may never know to what extent, but I for one believe it could be quite significant. Best wishes for a happy and safe arrival in Sydney in April Wiebe!
Follow Wiebe Wakker's journey on www.plugmeinproject.com