Interview with Wiebe Wakker, The Phileas Fogg of Electric Vehicles

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Before I begin this interview, I want to say a huge thank you to Wiebe, who has taken time out from his exceptional journey to answer some of my burning questions. A friend of mine first alerted me to Wiebe’s amazing facebook page Plug Me In (please like) and I’ve been hooked ever since on his friendly posts, news clips, updates and EPIC drone shots! Ok, less from me, let’s hear from Wiebe…

 

Wiebe, welcome! We’ve only just met, so perhaps you ought to explain who you are to our audience?

In 2014 I finished studying Events Management at the University of Arts in Utrecht. My project ‘Plug Me In’ was my graduation project. During my studies, I had the idea to travel around the world, but I wanted to do something different and with a goal. In the ‘Entrepreneurslab’ I had the opportunity to write my thesis about my own project and I combined everything that I learned at school (Marketing, Organisation, Storytelling, Account Management etc) with my own passions like travelling, sustainability, video and photography. I came up with the concept of Plug Me In, which is basically an extension of myself.

Plug Me In is a purpose-driven adventure with the aim to educate, inspire and accelerate the transition to a zero carbon future.

I believe everyone can do their bit in working towards a more sustainable world. In all of the countries visited, I engaged with organisations, companies and people, who shared their vision of sustainability, showed the challenges in their specific countries, as well as what solutions were available.

Electric vehicles are a part of the solution for the climate problem, but all of this transition is going slowly because of the many prejudices. By driving from the Netherlands to the other side of the world, I want to show that electric vehicles are just as reliable as their fossil fuelled powered cousins.

 

We read that you have become the first person to ever cross Myanmar entirely in an electric car. That’s impressive, can you tell us about the trip? Do you get a Guinness World Record?

I was the first to cross Turkey, Iran, India, Myanmar, Malaysia and Indonesia in an electric car. All were amazing trips and especially in the lesser travelled countries, it feels a bit like pioneering. The reactions of people who have never seen an EV before are great. They instantly see the advantages.

I don’t have a GWR as it’s not allowed to do this in a modified car.

 

Tell us a little about your car, you must have become quite close?

The car is a retrofitted Volkswagen Golf Variant. Originally a petrol car and converted to fully electric in 2009. It has a 37 kwh battery which gives a range of 200 km. Charging time is 4-12 hours depending on the power source. Normally I charge it at peoples home on a regular socket (yes this is possible) and takes 12 hours.

Wiebe’s trusty steed!

We have had some challenges and we are quite close. She has been doing really great overall and we already crossed 33 countries. There have been two issues. First, in India, the charger exploded, and later in Indonesia water came into the battery and I had to fly in mechanics from Holland to Indonesia to repair the car. With the help of crowdfunding, I could cover their flights, hours and accommodation.

 

Where are you now, and where were you a month ago, and a year ago?

I am now in Perth, Australia. I just did a big trip through the Australian Outback to get here. A month ago I was sleeping in my tent at the Sandfire Roadhouse, where I stayed overnight to charge the car.

A year ago I was in Kuala Lumpur where I stayed for 3 months to gather the money I needed to afford the shipment to Australia. I did various jobs to get this.

 

When we first talked, I called you a ‘pioneer of the electric vehicles movement’, and I stand by that. You’re the Phileas Fogg of lithium battery-powered vehicles. Do you feel like a pioneer or more of an adventurer?

I feel more like an adventurer. I did want to do something crazy and unique but the real pioneering has been done by many other people.

 

As I mentioned to you before, Content Pathway is completely digital, and I’ve been successfully running it remotely and travelling around the world since February 2016.  What was the ‘lightbulb’ moment for you, and do you feel that your adventure has held back your career at all?

My idea for this trip came when I was backpacking around Australia in 2009. I read a lot of books by other travellers who explored the world in a unique way. Then I decided to do something similar. I didn’t know how or what or when. It was because of my creative field of study that I learned a lot about storytelling and creating experiences, and bit by bit the idea started to grow. Then, when I got the opportunity to start my own project in order to graduate, I thought ‘damn, this is the perfect way to realise my dream’. I don’t need to write a boring thesis, but I can execute it during my study.

When I finished my studies it took 1.5 years to organise everything. It was the perfect moment to do this as I had no mortgage, job contract, or relationship. I think this trip will only bring me career opportunities as I can showcase my skills through this project and I have already had offers from companies within the electric vehicles field.

 

Let’s talk about the biggest challenge. Of course, finding somewhere to charge your car was always going to be a challenge, but you overcame it with an ingenious website. Can you tell my audience about that?

Plug Me In is based on the collaboration between people in which everyone can have their contribution. My website plugmeinproject.com offers people the opportunity to support me with a meal, a place to sleep or electricity for the car.

Based on these offers, the route to Australia was decided. I travel from socket to socket. This made me zigzag around the world, and so far I crossed 33 countries and drove 70,000km without ever visiting a fuel station.

Enjoying asian roads

Already over 1,500 people from 45 countries have plugged me in. I think it’s really great that so many people offered their hospitality and it makes this trip unique, as I get to experience the real culture of a country. Of course, it happens that I come to a place where nobody has invited me. In that case, I have to survive. I knock on someone’s door for a cup of rice or find somewhere to plug the car in. I found it quite easy. Especially in Asia, my car is an attraction as there are no station wagons in Asia and when a car drives through a town in full silence that attracts a lot of attention. If I stop my car in India within a minute there a 50 curious people around it to have a look. You will get some food as that’s part of the Asian hospitality and when I explain what I’m doing they will probably offer me a place to stay. Electricity is everywhere, so I reckon it’s easier to fill it up than a gas car, as you’d need to find fuel somewhere.

 

I know you have a vested interest in sustainability, renewable energy and electric vehicles (me too). Have you always had this, and what can you tell me about your experiences in these fields?

My mother always tried to educate me about living sustainable but when I was young it didn’t really interest me. I thought it was a bit dull. It was mainly through an internship at ID&T that my interest grew. ID&T is an events company and I was a big fan of them since I was about 13 years old. They organise big raves with loud house music and they were a bit against the society, kicking in doors etc. When I was that age I found that really cool.

At the time I got my internship, I was 26 and they had started to take a lead in more environmentally friendly events, things like biological food and recycling waste, but also they built dancing floors on which the visitors produced energy by dancing on. Those things really changed my opinion about sustainability being boring, and I saw that you can do really cool things with it and that making small changes can make a difference. That inspired me to find other sustainable initiatives like that and I wanted to show my followers that.

 

What next sir?

During my journey, I found that there is not really a website or medium where you can find out what is going on around the world in the various aspects of sustainability. I have been doing that in a mini-version with my trip but after my journey, I want to create a medium in which this is possible. For example, if you want to know what is going on with renewable energy in Indonesia, or food waste in Iran, you can find that on this website. Everyone can showcase this.

Also, I still want to be active in the field of e-mobility and hope to find a job in that and also have an idea to make delivery more sustainable, social and easier. But for now, I am focussing 100% on completing Plug Me In with success.

wonderful drone shot

 


Do you want to read more interviews?

Interview with Frederik van Deurs and Martin Andreas Petersen, GREENTECH CHALLENGE

Interview with Yoshioka Tatsuya, founder of Peace Boat

Interview with Jill Butler-Rennie, an off-shore environmental expert

 

Do you want to learn more about me and Content Pathway?

Follow the Joseph Kennedy – Environmental Copywriter page on Facebook.

Connect with me on LinkedIn by following this link.

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