Can EVs handle cold weather?
If this winter you have been considering the purchase of your first EV, you may have been discouraged by reports of range loss due to low temperature. The issue is a legitimate concern, but fortunately there is a solution available today for whatever your driving habits might be. First some basics.
Recently, InsideEVs published an article on fleetcarma providing a graph demonstrating the impact of temperature on the range of their fleet of Nissan Leafs. The data was based on short trips and tough driving. A knowledgeable EV driver can do better, but it is a starting point toward calculating your personal range.
Temperature by far has the largest impact on range, and you probably should subtract twenty percent from the manufacturer’s stated range during winter months IF you live in a colder climate as indicated in the fleetcarma graph. Part of this comes from the temperature of your battery pack. Another part comes from the temperature of your cabin, as well as the method of heating. EVs are rapidly developing new methods of heating the cabin as well as adopting heated seats, mats, etc. to avoid heating the entire cabin. So, in the near future, this reduction in range during cold weather will diminish. For now consider this factor.
If you feel that the BEV does not match your habits, fear not! There is a whole range of EREV (Extended-Range EVs) and PHEVs (Plug-In Hybrid EVs), which support new battery technology with an internal combustion engine (ICE) as an auxiliary energy source. Popular EREVs are the Chevy Volt, with 38 miles of pure EV range, Honda Accord, Ford C-Max and Fusion with 20. While we are still freezing outside and are reading articles about battery loss, it is important for the first-time buyer to understand how these vehicles can operate in the winter. One advantage of the inefficient ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) was to use the energy bi-product (heat) in the winter to warm the driver. The EREV/PHEV can take advantage of this heat by-product, too, by using the engine to warm both the passenger and the battery pack. So, range anxiety, even in winter, simply does not apply to the EREV and the PHEV.
Lastly, there is the decision of whether or not you buy an EV to handle long-distant driving. Many early adopters simply use their existing ICE to handle these trips or rent a vehicle. If you have chosen an EREV or PHEV, you can effectively travel as far as you like. But truly the most exciting opportunity is the one currently being implemented by Tesla Motors. Tesla Motors is in the process of building a nation-wide solar powered SuperCharger network that will allow their customer base to drive coast-to-coast free-of-charge.
Recently the New York Times missed an opportunity to chronicle this history in the making. Rather than focusing on this new leap forward by Tesla Motors, the journalist John Broder succumbed to his own range anxiety. Broder, a newcomer to EVs, made a laundry list of errors for driving an EV in any kind of weather, including forgetting to plug the test car in overnight, and ending up with the photo opportunity of the Tesla Model-S on one of the coldest days of the year being towed on a flat-bed truck.
Had John Broder bothered to read the thirty-page owner’s manual for the Tesla Model S or at least consulted his phone app to select from one of many available public chargers along his route, he would have understood the basics of driving an EV and avoided that chilly day stranded in the cold. There are things you can and can not do in both an EV and ICE. For instance, you can’t smoke and pump gas in an ICE. Some might call it a limitation, others might call it common sense.
Conclusion: There is no need to have “cold feet” about joining the global fleet of well over one hundred thousand EV drivers. Join us! The “temperature” is just right!