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Electric car range is affected by extreme cold, but at least the cars can start

Sorry for the snarky headline and the swipe at internal combustion engines, but I have seen so much misinformation spread about electric cars in cold weather lately that I had to clarify something.

Yes, electric cars are negatively affected by the extreme cold, but it’s perfectly manageable and arguably as manageable if not more easily manageable than gas-powered cars.

In case you are not aware, North America has been hit by a massive wave of extremely cold weather over the last 2 weeks.

In Quebec here, it results in temperature often going down to -25C (-13F) before accounting for wind chill. It’s not unusual for a Canadian winter, but it’s fairly extreme for December and now early January.

Following this cold weather, Le Journal De Montreal, one of the biggest newspapers in Quebec, made a front page out of electric vehicles being affected by the cold with a headline translating to ‘Electric vehicles are Freezing” all based on the experience of one Nissan Leaf owner and one Chevy Bolt EV owner.

Here’s the front page (picture by Karel Mayrand):

Of course, that headline ran on the same day that hundreds if not thousands of gas-powered cars wouldn’t even start in our little province.

To be fair, they did briefly mention that EVs have a better chance to start than internal combustion engines at the very end of the article, but that brief mention on page 5 did nothing compared to this anti-EV propaganda on the front page.

Now, there’s no doubt that EVs are negatively affected by the cold both due to heavier use of the heating system that can’t take advantage of an inefficient engine that loses most of its energetic potential through heat and due to batteries being less efficient at low temperatures.

But EVs don’t just “freeze” in cold weather like they claim. That should be obvious just from the fact that there’s no better EV adoption rate than in Norway, but here’s a quick personal experience from a road trip I took last weekend just as an example.

Electrek’s Take

For any type of vehicle, regardless of the type of powertrain, there has to be some planning to assure a safe and efficient trip. The problem with Le Journal de Montreal’s two examples is that they are talking about two electric vehicles that are already not ideal for long-distance travel in the first place.

Both the Bolt EV and Nissan Leaf are great commuter cars and even with a decrease in range in cold weather, they will still be able to cover most commutes easily. Even though the Bolt EV has a longer range, its limited fast charging capacity/options doesn’t make it a great car for road trips –especially in the cold. While Tesla will heat batteries to enable 100+kW charging, the Bolt’s system is slow to heat the battery for rapid charging which maxes out at a little above 50kW.

For now, Tesla’s vehicles are still the best options for long-distance travel with EVs.

Last weekend, I had to travel 150 km (mostly highways) each way to stay at a family member’s cottage north of Montreal. My Tesla Model S P85 gets about 400 km of range on a full charge, so normally I wouldn’t even think about it even though I can only charge on a 110-volt outlet for a day at the house.

But with the temperature around -25C and no Supercharger on the route (yet), I wasn’t exactly sure how it would turn out.

I didn’t change my driving habits (I drive at about 118 km/h in good conditions) to get to the location and ended up arriving at the cottage with 177 km left – meaning that I used about 223 km worth of range in cold weather to travel 150 km. That’s 48% more energy than in ideal conditions.

While spending the weekend there, I gained 73 km being plugged in the 110-volt outlet. With 250 km of range and having done the trip on 223 km two days before, I was confident that I would be able to make it back.

And to highlight my point that EVs are no more of a headache than ICE cars in cold weather, as I was making my mental math to make sure I had enough range when leaving, another family member had to jump his ICE truck in order to leave the cottage.

I ended up stopping at a CHAdeMO/CCS station on my way down just to try it for 10 minutes and make sure my CHAdeMO adapter was still working (I hadn’t use it in months):

I got about 30 more km out of the stop, but I also slowed down to about 110 km/h on the highway with more traffic on our way back.

To my surprise, my range was still 100 km when I arrived home, which means I could have almost made the trip both ways without charging at the cottage or at the DC fast-charging station.

There you have it, an EV weekend road trip without a headache in freezing -25C temperatures. Put that on your front page Journal de Montreal.

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