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11 Feb 19

Freezing temperatures slash EV range by up to 50%

Do you consider swapping your ICE car for a pure-electric one? One thing to consider is that in winter, the range of your EV can drop by anything between 7 and 50%, recent findings show. Remarkably, there are considerable differences between the models on the market.

Last week, the American Auto Association (AAA) published the results of a study involving 5 popular EVs: the BMW i3, the Chevrolet Bolt (which some European countries know as the Opel Ampera-e), the Nissan Leaf, the VW e-Golf and the Tesla Model S. Their research found that when the outside temperature drops to -7° Centigrade, the range of these EVs drops by a disconcerting 41% on average.

The heater is to blame

In other words, if you would be able to drive 100 km under moderate climate conditions, you only get as far as 59 km when the mercury drops below zero. Moreover, an EV consumes more kWh when you drive it in freezing temperatures, impacting the ‘fuel’ cost considerably.

The battery cells only take part of the blame. To produce current, a chemical reaction must take place. The lower the temperature, the slower this reaction and the less current flows. On average, the 5 EVs tested lost 12% of range compared to a reference temperature of 24° Centigrade and showed a 9% power consumption increase.

However, most of the kWh go to the heater, or HVAC to be more precise (heating, ventilation and air conditioning). When the interior was warmed up on the go, the combined driving range fell by 41% in the AAA’s test, while the power consumption surged by 39% on average.

Nissan best, BMW worst

The AAA found that the BMW suffers most from cold temperatures. The premium e-city car lost 20% of its range at -7, and even 50% with the heater on. The world’s best-selling EV, the Nissan Leaf, lost 10% and 31%. Interestingly, both EVs use a heat pump, which is supposed to be more efficient than resistive heating (Tesla Model S, VW e-Golf, Chevrolet Bolt).

The most expensive EV tested, the Tesla Model S, loses 11% and 38% respectively. The popular Chevrolet Bolt registered minus 10 and minus 47%. Finally, the VW e-Golf managed minus 7 and minus 36%.

The conclusion of this study is that the use of heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) comes at a high price, both in terms of range and of actual costs. Heating an EV at -3°C was found to cost $24.27 for every 1,000 miles.

Tips for maximum range

Fortunately, there are some things you can do to avoid your EV's battery from draining inconveniently fast. The most important thing to do, is to pre-condition the vehicle before you leave. Read all about it in our article 10 tips to get the furthest with your EV.

Photo: the electric Jaguar I-Pace undergoing winter testing (copyright: Jaguar, 2019)


Authored by: Dieter Quartier