Can EVs handle cold weather?

4 years ago by Mark Hovis 9

Volt in winter testing.

Volt in winter testing.

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. 

 
Nissan Leaf- Baby it's cold outside

Nissan Leaf- Baby it’s cold outside

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.

Know your true daily range, and talk to your employer about adding the infrastructure to support this emerging industry. If you have charging capability at both ends of your commute, you have effectively doubled the range of your first EV. If you have calculated all of the above, you are ready for your first all electric BEV (Battery Electric Vehicle).
 
Cadillac ELR testing in winter.

Cadillac ELR testing in winter.

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.  

Tesla Model S testing in the snow.

Tesla Model S testing in the snow.

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. 

 

tesla network

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!

 

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9 responses to "Can EVs handle cold weather?"

  1. Bill Howland says:

    We’ve argued this point back and forth on Plugincars.com

    I feel NY Times Reporter Broder was given 3 bad pieces of information by Tesla, and I’ll explain why they were certainly wrong.

    Condition: The Model S range indicator dropped from 90 miles to 25 miles over 10 hours in 10 degree fahrenheit whether. Broder was criticized by Tesla for driving 3/5 mile in a parking lot either looking for outlets or looking for a free space (I’ve done the same thing several times). He ended up staying at the motel unplugged since there obviously weren’t any plugs.

    1). Tesla said the range indicator had a ‘software glitch’ in it. *NOT TRUE*, the Car died on Cue later the next day. 25 miles was very accurate in retrospect.

    2). Tesla said to ‘heat up the car and this conditioning the battery will recover range’. *NOT TRUE*, Tesla Graphic #2 shows the only thing that will increase range is to CHARGE the car.

    3). Tesla said (this one is total BS – Beyond Stupidity): “Turn off the cruise control and accelerate and decelerate to get FREE regenerative braking”..

    (note to Tesla, its better to drive at a constant speed and use 10 kwh then do what you guys suggest, use 15 kwh and recover 2 kwh back for a net usage of 13 kwh).

    I understand Broder was a ‘poor’ driver, but Tesla’s advice was beyond horrible. If he had ignored the advice I’m sure Musk would have been all over him for that reason also.

    1).

  2. Jean-Charles jacquemin says:

    Well, I have an Opel Ampera since last May, so it is my first winter with it.

    The decrease in range is significative in winter (about 33% i my case) but as it has been written in the article, having a PHEV solves a lot of problems.

    I’m still very satisfied of my Ampera.

    1. Mark H says:

      Well said Jean-Charles. This is the heart of the article. As Bill stated, the regular community has sliced the NYT article so much that we have neglected the big picture. Even with the significant loss due to cold weather, the technology is still a step forward and is ready for practical use now. This is good news and worth repeating.
      Rock on in your Ampera Jean-Charles!

    2. Anthony says:

      I own a Volt in what I consider to be a mild climate (Las Vegas). I’ve seen my range go down to 28-32 miles, from 36-40, or about 20%. My overall MPG has dropped noticeably, but I’m still above 250.

  3. Max says:

    Only way now is autonomous diesel (or other fossil fuel) heater like Webasto. Electric heating does not work neither on current BEVs (Leaf, Miev) nor on PHEVs like Volt.
    For PHEVs it’s strange, since they have an ability to use engine heat, but for some reason they do not do it or do it poorly. Same story with upcoming Oulander PHEV.

    From Russia with love for EVs 🙂 BTW we drive Smith Electrics in -27C and they do better than most diesels in the same temperature.

    1. Mark H says:

      For the 2013 Volt you have the “Hold Mode” option. By doing so, you start the motor and can select “fan only” for heat. The electric heat is pretty inefficient as you stated. It looks like more and more EVs are moving toward heat pumps. For myself, I am looking into heated floor mats. I want to ride in comfort but am open to alternate ways of achieving it. If anyone knows has heated mats and are pleased with them I would like to know.

      1. Bonaire says:

        I wonder if people wear a hat when they drive? That alone is a huge improvement on comfort in cold weather. Gloves and hat would make a cold car feel warm. And I don’t even use a hat/gloves. I’ll still drive my Volt on fan-only in 32*F and it feels warm enough for me. Only 20s*F are when I want to turn the heater up. I did grow up in a snowly climate (Buffalo/Niagara) – I feel that too many people out there have low-tolerance to cold.

        1. Mark H says:

          Solid point Bonaire. I live in NC and my brother in NY. His tolerance to cold and heat is now much different than mine. He would agree totally with you that wearing a hat while driving is as much common sense as not smoking while filing up with gas. Heating an ICE is a “no brainer” because heat is a bi-product of the inefficient energy source. In our moderate climate, people shifted to heat pumps for heating their homes years ago. In the beginning, there was much complaining about the lack of heat compared to burning fossil fuel. That is until they saw how much money they saved with this electric process. Now it is the dominant method of heating a home in moderate climates. So YES to the hat! I bought a set of heated insoles that are super efficient and do the trick. I am really in the market for a heated mats. Heated seats, heated mats, gloves and a hat. All I need is the mat….

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