The Final Leg – When will EV airport transfers become a reality?

Featured Image: JCutler Photography

On average, 52% of the carbon produced by your winter ski holiday can be attributed to your travel to and from your ski resort of choice. We’ve pitched the idea of taking the train instead of the plane to Morzine, Les Gets or Avoriaz several times and our local sustainability collective Montagne Verte has made this even more attractive with their Alpinexpress initiative, offering discounts to those who travel here by train.

Yet the final leg of your journey is a tricky one when it comes to reducing carbon emissions. Regardless of whether you land at Geneva Airport or Cluses train station, your final push into resort will likely be on a diesel-guzzling transfer minibus. Is that still necessary in 2023? Surely there’s a cleaner alternative? It’s a question you’ve continued to ask us in recent years.

There’s always someone working on these projects here in Morzine and in this instance, it’s Roland Burns, co-gerant at Skiidy Gonzales Airport Transfers. “We’ve been committed to EV transport for a long time,” Roland explains. “But the type of EV vehicles available right now, their price and the charging infrastructure changes the cost level and increases the operational complexities of the type of operation we run in Morzine.” Skiidy Gonzales carry significant volumes of passengers during a regular winter season, but let’s be honest, it’s a long time since we’ve had one of those. “Despite this, it’s been our intention for a very long time to get going with electric transfer vehicles, as and when it becomes feasible.”

The Timeline…

– Approaching Winter 19/20 – Details became available concerning the Mercedes EQV, an eight-seater electric vehicle. In the autumn of 2019, Opel had a much better priced option become available too. “We could see things were moving,” Roland explains. “This was really exciting and we thought this was the start of a big change, but then COVID-19 appeared.”

– Summer 20 – Most car manufacturers stopped production and minibus production was halted across all brands, both in the diesel and electric varieties. COVID-19 caused vehicle supply to dry up. “Opel then closed their order book entirely on the EV models, which made it impossible to proceed” Roland explains.

– Winter 20/21 – An unprecedented winter season to conclude an unprecedented year of uncertainty. Our ski lifts stayed closed, there were no international travellers arriving in the mountains and consequently no one travelling on airport transfer vehicles.

– Approaching Winter 21/22 – Skiidy Gonzales made a deal with Mercedes to trial two EQVs in their airport transfer fleet for the coming winter season, giving the company the chance to test and resolve some of the logistical challenges involved in operating electric vehicles on the routes between Morzine and Geneva. “When the French government banned British skiers from travelling, we had to cut all of our orders for all vehicle purchases, but kept our rental fleet in place,” Roland tells me. “We did this to protect our business and to ensure its survival.”

– Summer 22 – Vehicle manufacturers once again closed their order books, sparking a shortage of regular transfer vehicles for the Winter 22/23 season, never mind EV alternatives. “And unfortunately the Mercedes deal wasn’t available anymore,” says Roland.

– Spring 23 – At the end of April 23, Opel finally confirmed that the electric version of their eight-seater minibus is now available to order, with delivery in autumn 23. “There’ve been no guarantees on this date of course, but they seem confident for the first time in three years,” explains Roland.

So, things are moving, quite literally. You’re maybe wondering why Skiidy Gonzales aren’t using Teslas for transfers? I was too. “The Tesla Model X carries a maximum of four people after we’ve loaded their ski luggage,” Roland explains. “And they cost four times as much to buy as a standard Renault Traffic minibus.” Skiidy Gonzales would need a huge fleet of Teslas to carry skiers, and passengers would need to pay significantly higher prices for those transfers. “Right now, EV transfers are actually better suited to the resorts with longer airport transfer journeys, such as those in the Tarentaise, as they only make one airport rotation in a regular day, which is less complex operationally and maintains better economics for the operator.” 


If the issues surrounding vehicle availability are finally improving and airport transfer companies can consider the increased costs of buying EVs, what’s left to consider? Charging, that’s what. The Mercedes EQV is currently the best in class, with 350km of autonomy per charge. “However, there’s an expected loss of up to 30% for weight – eight passengers and their luggage – the drain of the mountain roads and the terrain, and a negative effect on the batteries during the cold winter weather,” explains Roland. “Until we’re able to test this scenario, we won’t know the autonomy loss and everything hinges around this. It means we can’t get though a normal Morzine double rotation day on a single battery charge,” he continues. Usually one standard airport transfer vehicle would make two trips to and from Geneva Airport each day. Rapid super chargers aren’t currently available in Morzine, so charging would need to take place at a charging point close to Geneva Airport to complete a day’s rotation. “We would, potentially, need to charge twice a day like this, plus overnight in Morzine. It takes an additional 80 minutes per charge – more if there’s a queue at the charger, and of course the driver would need to be paid for this time too, adding to our costs and therefore overall airport transfer costs,” explains Roland. 

Moving forward…

The current EV offering sounds perfect for local accommodation operators undertaking shorter-distance slope drop-offs and pick-ups to their guests as vehicles can easily be charged overnight. “Airport transfers will follow, but they’re not as simple to run and it’s impossible to keep the economics the same, or even close at the moment.” Would you pay more for an airport transfer operated by an electric vehicle? With fuel prices increasing, you’ll likely be paying more for the traditional alternative anyway. “When EV supply, battery technology and charging facilities enable us to operate reasonably priced and reliable airport transfers, the take-up will be huge,” Roland believes. “Until then, we will try, from Winter 23/24, to move some of our shorter distance work to EVs and we’ll begin testing and offering electric transfers within the limitations I’ve described,” Roland tells me. “We’re excited to finally get going with this after years of our plans being scuppered!”

Skiidy Gonzales operate both shared and private airport transfers between Geneva and our local resorts. To get a quote and book online, head HERE.

The Final Leg – When will EV airport transfers become a reality?

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