How do extremely cold temperatures affect the range of an electric car?

 In Inside FleetCarma

(Dec 16 2013) UPDATED PLOTS (including Chevrolet Volt data) here

Last week’s extreme cold felt in Quebec, Ontario and most of the Northeastern states, made the weather something people actually wanted to talk about.  Public attention turned to how the cold temperatures affect the range of electric cars.

We thought we’d take a look through our real-world database to discover how these frigid temperatures are affecting the range of electric vehicles.  We looked specifically at the Nissan Leaf and pooled our data from the last 2 years (including most importantly the last few weeks).



The graph that we generated was put together by taking data from real-world trips of different Nissan Leaf vehicles throughout North America.  The temperature is the average temperature recorded during the trip, and the range value shown is the maximum daily range available for that vehicle.

What we see is the classic “lower half of the bow-tie” that we talk about in both our hot, and cold weather webinars.  This shows that as the temperature drops, the electric range of a vehicle drops as well.

It is important to note that variation in a drivers range will depend on many things including the driver’s style and the route that each vehicle needs to take.  Temperature has such a significant influence for two reasons, the efficiency of the battery decreases in cold weather, but what is more significant is the auxiliary load.  When the heater is on, available power from the battery that could be used to extend the range is instead used to heat the cabin, resulting in a trade-off for some EV owners between comfort and peace-of mind.

What can those with electric cars do?  Our EV Champions have been discussing this and many other things on their Participant Blog.  Some of the suggestions are alternative ways to heat the EV, driving without using any heating (except when it is essential for safety) and trying to find ways to get in as much charging between drives as possible.  Check out the challenge blog for the full discussion.

Want to learn more about the way in which temperature affects the range of electric cars? Our Hot Weather Webinar goes in depth into particular driving personas and how the different usage and driver comforts can maximize or minimize the effect that temperature has on range.

What can EV owners due to get more range in cold weather?

The folks at GreenCarReports have a great article about six tips to maximize you range in cold weather. Also, we’re going to profile one of our EV Champions in the next few weeks about how he’s able to get much higher daily range than the averages we’ve shown here. Stay tuned!

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