Electrics have their advantages in cold weather

Conventional wisdom says EVs perform more poorly than gasoline cars when the temperature drops.

  • Electric Vehicle

Electric vehicles are cold-weather duds. Right?

“Wrong,” says a new analysis from Waterloo-based FleetCarma, which specializes in measuring real-world fuel consumption using its own data loggers and computer program.

Conventional wisdom says EVs perform more poorly than gasoline cars when the temperature drops.

That’s mainly because, unlike internal-combustion engines, their batteries and motors don’t generate much heat – certainly not enough to keep passengers toasty warm.

Rabid EV enthusiasts don extra clothing in chilly weather. Those with more sense turn on the heater. And, as I’ve found in every battery-powered car I’ve driven, when you do that, range plummets.

Heaters suck batteries dry, consuming far more energy than air conditioners demand in the summer.

FleetCarma’s work doesn’t alter that reality. But it does shed light on the costs.

EVs typically cost more up front but less to operate, mainly because electricity is much less expensive than gasoline.

FleetCarma assessed the impact of cold weather on those expenses.

The surprising result: EVs get comparatively cheaper to run as the outside temperature drops: Their advantage is 7.7 cents per kilometre at 23C, 8.6 cents at 0C, and 9.2 cents at minus-18C.

This seems odd when you consider that, according to FleetCarma, EV range drops by 20 per cent when the temperature drops from 23C to zero, while internal-combustion loses just 12 per cent. Dropping from 23C to minus-18, EVs lose 29 per cent of their range, gasoline cars only 19 per cent.

But it?s basic arithmetic: Since internal combustion starts at a much higher fuel cost ? 9.3 cents per kilometre compared with 1.6 for EVs ? even with its smaller percentage impact, it still costs more than the EV.

Each technology has different reasons for higher cold-weather energy consumption. For EVs the big one is the passenger-compartment heater, followed by keeping the battery and other power train components warm. For internal combustion, ?excessive idling? and the engine?s initial warm-up dominate.

Winter tires also disadvantage EVs, since the summer tires they replace generally have lower rolling resistance than those on gasoline cars.

The main result, the overall energy consumption and cost, is based on many trips of varying lengths. But the reasons why consumption changes in cold weather is based on four-minute trips, covering a single route and with everything but the outside temperature kept as consistent as possible.

This means, for example, the impact of a cold start on internal-combustion engines is quite high. On a long trip, once the engine has warmed up, the vehicle operates far more efficiently.

As always, driving style plays a huge role in energy consumption. But the analysis suggests an interesting limit to this advantage. At warmer temperatures, EV operators, by careful driving, are more able to reduce energy consumption than those in gasoline cars. But down at minus-18, they lose that edge.

The basic message: ?Cold weather impacts all vehicles,? says FleetCarma CEO Matt Stevens. It?s not one-sided in favour of internal combustion.

My own wrinkle: EVs enjoy the biggest advantage when used for short trips with cold starts. Internal combustion does better over greater distances, the longer the better.

Something to consider in the showroom.

Speaking of EVs, Nissan?s Leaf will eventually get an overhaul.

?We?re working on it,? vice-president and chief creative officer Shiro Nakamura told me last week at the Detroit auto show.

A major goal is increasing the car?s range, since the current maximum of 160 km ?is limiting the customers,? Nakamura said. The goal is a better (not bigger) battery that delivers 300 km.

The new Leaf will retain design elements that signal it?s an EV, ?but not too much,? he added. ?People want a hint? that it?s electric, ?but not for it to be too different.?

Nissan says its next electric model should be the eNV200 van, and the ?swept-wing? Bladeglider sports car is being considered for production.

Follow on
Instagram #wheelsca

Show Comments