After nearly nine months on the road, an all-electric Nissan Ariya has become the first vehicle ever, gas or electric, to drive all the way from North to South pole, piloted by Chris Ramsey of Plug in Adventures and his wife Julie.
The Scottish couple, who previously became the first to complete the Mongol Rally in an EV, set off from the magnetic North Pole in March in a modified Nissan Ariya, built with the help of Arctic Trucks, an Icelandic company that specializes in preparing vehicles for the most difficult conditions on Earth. The idea was to use the Ariya as a proof-of-concept for future EV mods, and potentially to eventually replace the diesel vehicles currently used for Antarctic research and expeditions.
But it’s not actually all that far off from stock – the biggest change is 39-inch tires which required modified wheel arches. Other than that, the powertrain and suspension are mostly stock (just lifted), with no gearbox change as would have been necessary on a gas or diesel vehicle. Several gear solutions were added, along with tow hitches and some frame and underbody reinforcement.
Arctic Trucks called the mod the “AT39,” but over the course of the trip, the couple adopted a new name for their Ariya: “Sonrisa,” the Spanish word for smile.
Now, in December, the couple has finally reached the South Pole after nine months and 17,000 miles of travails along the way. Nine months may seem like a long time but it was actually the original plan, a schedule necessitated by polar weather and the changing seasons – and by climate change as well.
The beginning of the trip was actually a rush job, hurrying to get the car to the North Pole and back along polar ice roads which closed abruptly this year due to melting – something that has been happening earlier and earlier lately with rising global temperatures.
The first part of the trip was constrained by needing ice in the Northern hemisphere winter, in order to even drive on ice roads that are impassable after the ice melts. And the last part of the trip relies on arriving to the South Pole in the Antarctic “warm” season, as polar expeditions are not allowed during winter when the extreme conditions at the pole become even more impossible to handle.
The original plan had been to use a trailer with a small windmill to charge the car while parked while in polar regions, but the trailer didn’t work out on Arctic roads. But for the Antarctic portion, the Ramseys have been using solar panels to help charge the car at “night” (which can be any time of day – the polar region is in constant sunlight at this time of year), in addition to using generators when the weather isn’t in their favor, highlighting the ability of EVs to be fueled by several different energy sources instead of just one.
The trip through North America was relatively simple on big highways with plenty of chargers (and a quick stop to meet up with us, and the OC Tesla Club, in Long Beach), except that the Ariya was significantly less efficient after modifications. Between the huge off-road tires, fenders, and roof rack with rooftop tent, range was cut significantly.
But these range losses are part of the message that the Ramseys want to send, anyway. If they can make it all the way from one end of the globe to the other with a 150-200 mile range (down from the 272-mile rating of the Ariya), this shows that most people don’t “need” the huge range they claim they need.
After a brief trip around the uncrossable Darien Gap, it was on to a new continent. In South America there’s not nearly as much EV charging infrastructure (though Nissan dealers have provided plenty of juice), so the couple encountered several difficult situations, including broken chargers and long stretches of unpaved road. But the trip offered an opportunity to improve the region in that respect, so Pole to Pole cooperated with Enel X to install chargers along the route.
The couple visited a hybrid wind/solar farm in Chile and had plenty of new cultural experiences for a couple of Scots from the opposite side of the world.
Then it was off to Antarctica, saving the most challenging part of the trip for last. The couple met up with their pals from Arctic Trucks, who had provided support for the Arctic portion of the journey, and are also supporting the Antarctic portion. Antarctic expeditions can’t be done solo, and Arctic Trucks wanted to see how their modifications would fare in the tough conditions.
We’ve all heard that cold weather is meant to be challenging for electric vehicles, but Sonrisa has been successful at navigating temperatures down to -30º or below. But it took a little inventiveness, turning the elements in their favor by building small walls of snow to keep arctic winds from freezing the battery overnight.
The couple has also used a collapsible tent specifically for the vehicle to keep it warm while parked, which helps with charging efficiency. They’ve even occasionally parked the car inside their camp tent to share accommodations for the night, if weather conditions made setup too difficult.
Getting closer to the 90º mark, the altitude in Antarctica gets higher and higher. The South Pole itself is at 9,300ft, or 2,835m, which means that in addition to the cold, the expedition has to deal with thinner air and less oxygen. Not only is this hard on the bodies of the humans on the expedition, but fossil-powered vehicles have a hard time starting up in these conditions – a problem that the all-electric Ariya has not had any difficulty with.
And now, they’ve finally reached the pole (after some last minute encouragement from legendary soccer coach and fellow Ariya owner Pep Guardiola). The expedition actually reached the pole on Friday, but had to turn off their satellite communications when they approached the pole, so were only able to update the world about their successful finish today.
If you’d like to look back on their trip, there’s a live tracker where you can look back on some of the expedition’s updates, and the expedition’s Instagram page (@poletopoleev) has a history of all their updates since the beginning, or you can visit their linktree for more links.
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