GM Discusses Chevy Volt 13-Mile Range Drop in Frigid Temps


Frigid temperatures are upon us Northerners and, as expected, that typically translates into reduced electric range.  But what’s the expected reduction?

Most automakers skirt around this by simply saying range will be reduced in extreme temperatures, but that’s not the approach taken by General Motors.

Volt in winter testing.

Volt in winter testing.

GM provides us with this number: 13

As Chevrolet Volt spokesperson Michelle Malcho explains, the recent cold spell experienced throughout much of the US saps approximately 13 miles of electric-only range from the 2013 Volt.  So, with its EPA-rated range of 38 miles, drivers in frigid temps can expect to see 25 miles of electric-only range when the mercury plummets.

38 miles drops to approximately 25 in below-freezing temps.

38 miles drops to approximately 25 in below-freezing temps.

Several factors come into play, including driving style and use of the Volt’s HVAC system, so that 13-mile figure is only an estimate.   Malcho advises that Volt owners conserve range by relying heavily on the heated seats, rather than on the power-heavy HVAC system.

Malcho further suggests that EV Hold mode be initially used when the 2013 Volt is first fired up on cold mornings.  As Malcho explains,

“You start the car using gas because it’s more efficient, and once the car is warmed up, then you turn it back over, and you use your battery so you’ll get more miles.”

The frigid temps are upon us and there’s no way to convince Mother Nature to warm us up soon.  But there are ways to reduce the range-sapping effects of cold temps.

Earlier, GM gave some tips on maximizing winter driving:

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19 Comments on "GM Discusses Chevy Volt 13-Mile Range Drop in Frigid Temps"

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That’s about right. Here in NJ firends of mine that have Volts are telling me they are getting 25-27 miles or electric range during this recent cold spell. Meanwhile my ActiveE is only getting about 70 miles down from a reliable 95-97 in optimum conditions.

I would like car manufacturers to plan a “cushion” in their battery sizing when designing these cars. For instance, we see now from experience that heavy usage of HVAC in the cars drains roughly 13 miles of range, (a 30% hit to the all electric range). So rather than just accepting this, why not budget extra battery capacity to dip into? Instead of a 16.5 KW battery on the Volt, why not have a 21.5 KW battery, or even a 20 KW battery? I know, I know, that’s more costly, but wouldn’t it market better if the cars rarely if ever saw less than their window sticker mileage? I think if I was a dealer, I would love to be able to tell my customers that the Volt always or almost always delivers 38 miles of range no matter how you drive it. There is just way too much disparity there in the range IMHO. And this is fixable too.

I think if the Volt had a 30% larger battery, I would rather have 30% more range in all conditions, not just in the winter. Otherwise, when it warms up, you’re not getting as many electric miles as you could.

My volt only got 27 miles on electricity yesterday and I live in Vegas. My problem is that I’m accustomed to the warmth and my climate control is set on 75 comfort and the seat heater on 1 until my seat is warm enough. (5-10 minutes) So personal comfort levels factor in greatly.

Is there anyway to remotely turn on seat heaters in the Volt? My 2011 LEAF doesn’t have seat heaters at all and the heating the cabin is definitely the biggest hit on range I have seen of any factor except 70+ mph speeds.

The new LEAF has seat/steering wheel heaters, but not way to remotely activate them. Heating up the crucial (contact) areas while still plugged in would be the efficient way to go. Pre-heating the whole cabin just fogs all the windows, then I spend 10 minutes defogging wasting all the energy I would have saved. I have found that a good jacket is much more effective 🙁

Sometimes it makes me wonder, do they ever let their own engineers take these cars home and actually live with them, or listen to their customer’s feedback…

The Volt does have remote start. I use it when still plugged into the charger in the mornings. Wish I had the steering wheel heater though. Seat and Steering wheel are the only two area of contact and would lessen the need for anything else.

Thanks Dave.

Just to clarify, you can use the app to decide to turn only the seat heaters on and not all the of HVAC?

I preheat the cabin every morning. It uses HVAC and seat heaters. The only option is to turn off the seat heaters. When the car turns on, the HVAC turns off. I don’t have any problem with fogging.

I can’t believe that Malcho mentioned the Hold mode. It is like rubbing salt on an open wound for us, the 2011/2012 Volt owners.

I own a 2012 and wish I had the Hold mode too. This Hold mode is a must for all EREVs. Until the battery chemistry improves/changes this is a great reason to buy an EREV otherwise you do have to have a bigger battery as Brian stated. Having an on board gas generator means GM sized the batteries perfectly for this auto. They just failed to see the wisdom of the Hold mode in earlier models. Malcho describes perfectly how to use this mode. Only a pity our request for this two years ago did not happen until the 2013 model. The ICE has been perfected for a 100 years. I can’t beat any of the manufactures up too bad at this point in the game with their decisions.

Use mountain mode for a minute?

The range of an ICE vehicle decreases considerably in cold weather as well, so I hope the reduced range for EV’s is kept in perspective.

It’s expected. I wonder why they have to go and talk about it. About 15 miles for me. From a summer high of 48 miles to about 32 miles on the same route when it is below 32*F.

There’s a good thread in the GM-Volt forum on this with a few more tricks :

I always preheat the cab and put the seats on low heat. Start soon enough so you don’t drain the battery as the electric heater in the Volt is around 6Kw and the 220 charger is only 3.3 kw. That’s why you need the time to get the battery charged back up once the cabin is warm.

Cold weather is not the plug-in’s friend, even moreso than gas.

In a mildly related story, I got caught out in ‘the north country’ at 5am in (record-setting) -35Fish weather (over -50F with the windchill) last week.

My LEAF started the trip with a single bar on the battery temp gauge, and ended with still one bar on display. Had the heat cranked the entire trip, and got (what extrapolated out to be) about 33-35 miles of range. Of note, the car refused to regenerate any power at that temperature for the entire trip. (not sure that it is designed that way, our my car just refused to do it)

No knock on the car at this temperature, it was unreasonably cold, so much so that one of our gas vehilces was having no part of it. Just as a comparision to my average result, I usually net about 60 miles when the temp is a few notches below freezing. 75-80ish in the summer.

/extremely cold winters bad

When lithium batteries get cold (how cold exactly depends on the specific chemistry), their ability to accept charge without suffering permanent damage goes down. Discharging the battery isn’t usually a problem as long as it doesn’t totally freeze.

A LEAF with a cold-weather package will heat the battery as necessary to keep the pack from totally freezing, which turns on around -14F. So at -35F your car was also likely using the pack heater to keep the pack otherwise functioning normally aside for little to no regenerative braking.

So what you’re seeing is completely normal.

Heated steering wheel? Its called gloves.

One gripe I have about the Volt is they need a “Never Turn on Engine Due To Temp”. Even below 15 degrees, I don’t need the engine to come one. Just let me be 🙂

I have to confess I always thought the heated steering wheel was a ridiculous option, that is until I was forced to buy one inside one of those dreaded GM/Cadillac ‘option packages’…now if that feature is available, I always tick the box.

/getting soft

In the recent cold snap here I saw range reduced to below 24 miles, but with some experimentation I was able to get back to 30 miles at 0 degrees C and 70 mph by using *two* pre-heats and then timing it so that I left just as the pack had recharged. If you do two then less juice is used the second time round, so the pack recharges before things cool down. It takes about 5 minutes longer.

But yes, hold mode to warm up the car is a useful trick too.