News article

Around the world in an electric car

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

Charlotte VowdenThe lure of the open road is universal. It’s a place that captivates the curious; unanchored free spirits, the youthful, as well as the mature. People go there to explore.

Six months ago, adventurer Lexie Alford aka ‘Lexie Limitless’ answered its stirring call. Her expedition was designed to take her to some of the remotest locations in the world, and she did it in a pre-production version of the Ford Explorer, with a battery range of 374 miles.

The naysayers said it would be impossible. The practicality of a battery-powered vehicle in areas where charge points were few and far between were a primary, and legitimate, concern. But Lexie was determined to succeed.

Five years ago, at the age of 21, she became the youngest person to visit all 196 countries on earth. Making history is her USP. “I’m passionate about pushing my limits,” she said at the time. “It’s going to be a wild ride.”

Ford Explorer

More than 200 days, 18,000 miles and 27 countries later, Lexie accomplished her pioneering feat in Ford’s soon-to-be-launched electric SUV. Arriving in Nice, on the French Riviera, where her record-setting round-the-world journey began, she had the steel of a triumphant yet weary traveller.

From suffering debilitating illness in India, “making the decision not to drive was difficult, it taught me never to take my health for granted,” to being stranded near the border of Chile and Argentina, “I ended up staying in the middle of nowhere for two nights to charge the car domestically,” Lexie faced, and conquered many obstacles.

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

“I’m not sure about range anxiety,” she said. “I honestly feel like I’m going to have separation anxiety. I’ve been living inside this car day in, and day out, for so long now. It’s been my companion through it all. We’ve come a long way.” Six continents to be exact.

Supported by a team, which included a medic and a Ford mechanic, Lexie drove a different Arctic Blue prototype in each region. Each one had approximately 500 miles of running in, but Lexie “had never actually driven an EV before this trip.” It was, she confessed, a learning curve. “You do have to plan ahead.” Problems included border delays, flat tyres and a lack of network coverage or WiFi, which is essential to download apps that were compatible to local charging stations.

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

The logistics of this global relay, which covered North and South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia, were never going to be straightforward. To map the network of public charging stations along Lexie’s route, Ford carried out a series of reconnaissance trips. It was patchy in places, and non-existent in some.

“I had to get a little bit creative,” Lexie said, “but even in the toughest places, there are solutions. I tried out solar panels and even used a portable battery pack, which is similar to how you charge your phone, but it takes a lot of time, so you gotta have some patience.” The battery pack supplied just 2-3% charge after 40 minutes.

In Bhutan, “chargers every 30 or 40kms on the main highways made travelling through the Himalayas a breeze,” recalled Lexie. Utilising the Explorer’s regenerative braking system, particularly in mountainous areas, helped to extend the vehicle’s range.

“Never underestimate how much your car can recharge when you’re going downhill, that was an absolute lifesaver for me at times.” Aero design details, such as around the wheel arches and wheel alignment, for example, reduces enough drag to save up to ten miles. “I definitely ignored a few range warnings. I think the lowest I ever got to was six per cent; a little bit risky!”

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

Equipped with a Type 2 charging cable, which can be used at any AC public charge points, as well as a domestic pin plug, Lexie, in theory, had multiple ways to give the Explorer an energy boost. “The car didn’t always communicate with the local chargers, so we ended up having to find different adaptors. I experimented a lot.” Although a sluggish source of electrons, power outlets in sheds, lampposts, garages and even a basement came in useful.

Making headway in South Africa was hindered by sporadic power outages as well as load-shedding, which is the deliberate shutdown of electric power to prevent failure when demand strains the capacity of the system. “I ended up having to charge where a washing machine was usually plugged in,” recalled Lexie. “I think it took about 45 hours.”

To make the most of the wait, she went on safari. “With EVs you end up charging at a lot of places that you may have otherwise never stopped so it’s a good opportunity to walk around and see what’s happening.”

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

On an ultra-rapid DC charger – which are available at all GRIDSERVE Electric Forecourts® and Super Hubs – the dual motor all-wheel drive Explorer’s battery can be rejuvenated from 10 to 80 percent in approximately 26 minutes. “Europe is leading the charge when it comes to its network of chargers, and fast charges made my trip so much easier,” said Lexie. “When travelling with an EV, one of the best things you can find is a GRIDSERVE Electric Forecourt®.”

Inspired by the explorer Aloha Wanderwell, the first woman to drive around the world, Lexie’s endeavour was a homage to Ford’s heritage; Aloha travelled 75,000 miles, across 43 countries in a Model T. It was also a demonstration of what’s possible in today’s fully-electric Explorer.

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

From chaotic traffic jams in sweltering cities to bitterly cold mountain passes and unmade roads with potholes the size of craters, the 4.5 metre SUV, which has a kerb weight of almost 2200kg, tackled treacherous driving conditions. “I was actually really impressed by its off-road ability,” said Lexie, as she recalled traversing tough terrain to reach a remote monastery in the Himalayas.

“I was trying to be as careful as possible but it did handle itself really well.” Product development engineers, it was confirmed, monitored the Explorer en route. “It’s perfect,” said Amko Leenarts, Design Director of Ford Europe, when asked what snagging issues had been discovered. “I’ve not gotten any feedback from Lexie that is bad.”

For Aloha, who didn’t have such luxuries as a heated steering wheel, driver’s seat with a massage function or climate control, a cup of tea was a touch of comfort on the road. “I drank an unbelievable amount of coffee on this journey to keep me going,” said Lexie, whose circumnavigation of the globe took twice as long as had been expected.

Lexie Limitless circumnavigates world in Ford Explorer

“Once I hit the 100 day mark, it really felt like I was in the thick of it. The goal with this drive was always to see what was possible and of course a lot of plans had to change.” Complications with paperwork, such as VISAs and permits, were par for the course. “There were a lot of moving parts involved in this so it did take a bit longer than we anticipated, but at the same time this is one of those things that just takes as long as it’s going to take.” Aloha’s journey took five years.

“I don’t have any big plans on the horizon, I think I’m going to take some time to just process everything that I’ve experienced over the past 200 days on the road,” Lexie says, signing a copy of Aloha’s biography. “I hope,” she wrote, “we made Aloha proud.”