When the temperature drops below -6.5 degrees Celsius, EV’s ranges fell by an average of 41%.
In order for electric vehicles to have a real chance of competing with vehicles with internal combustion engines on a large enough scale, they’ll need several performance improvements with faster charging and longer ranges per charge primary among them.
Automakers have been rolling out new EV models that promise far better battery performance with some models managing up to 450km on a single charge. But those impressive runs are performed under “ideal” conditions. And real-life conditions tend not to be ideal for most of the time.
A case in point: the American Automobile Association (AAA) has found that when the temperature drops below -6.5 degrees Celsius, EV ranges fell by an average of 41% on five models the industry group tested: the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.
In other words, instead of the usual 100km, an electric car could well produce only 59km in subzero temperatures. That’s hardly ideal then.
“We found that the impact of temperature on EVs is significantly more than we expected,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering. “As long as drivers understand that there are limitations when operating electric vehicles in more extreme climates, they are less likely to be caught off guard by an unexpected drop in driving range.”
Freezing temperatures are certainly a constant during winters months across much of Europe and North America, as well as countries like Japan and China, and so most EV owners might well find that their electric vehicles have a marked drop in their driving ranges during certain months.
A large part of the problem comes from the fact that in freezing weather car owners need to heat their vehicle’s interior, which takes up additional energy from the car’s battery. Vehicles with internal combustion engines can warm the cabin with waste heat, which means their overall performance is not impacted. On the other hand, an EV needs to draw the energy to heat a cabin from the same battery that powers its engine.
Worse: lithium-ion batteries, Brannon said, “like the same sort of temperatures that we do, around 70 degrees [Fahrenheit],” which is to say around 21 degrees Celsius.
“The research clearly shows that electric vehicles thrive in more moderate climates, except the reality is most Americans live in an area where temperature fluctuates,” said Megan McKernan, manager of AAA’s Automotive Research Center. “Automakers are continually making advances to improve range, but with this information, drivers will be more aware of the impacts varying weather conditions can have on their electric vehicles.”