What’s The Real Impact of Cold Weather on EV Range? This Chart Shows You

Prolonged winter temperatures across large parts of the Northern Hemisphere may be colder than they’ve been for many years, but despite that, electric cars like the Nissan LEAF and Chevrolet Volt are holding up just fine, even if they do travel less far in extreme cold.

That’s the verdict of Canadian-based FleetCarma, (via GreenCarReports) combined with many anecdotal tales from EV owners across the frigid north.

LEAF and Volt both have optimum 'goldilocks temperature zones' for ideal range.

LEAF and Volt both have optimum ‘goldilocks temperature zones’ for ideal range.

Earlier this week, FleetCarma — which offers a data-logging service for fleets looking to examine the performance and efficiency of their all-electric and plug-in hybrid cars — published the largest snapshot of how cold weather affects EVs to date. Its goal: to demonstrate how range is affected by extremes of cold and heat, and allow EV owners and fleet managers to better predict what range to expect for any given temperature for their type of EV.

In addition to providing great statistics on what temperature an EV will give its best range per charge, the data also shows what kind of range to expect when the mercury plummets.

The data, collected from more than 7,000 trips made by Nissan LEAFs, and another 4,000 trips made by Chevrolet Volts, recorded the outside temperature of each trip and the range achieved during the trip.  FleetCarma then calculated the average range for each car at any given temperature from -25 degrees Celsius to +35 degrees Celsius (-13 to +95 degrees Fahrenheit) and plotted it on a graph of temperature versus range.

Cold weather kills range…

The collated data clearly shows there’s a goldilocks zone for both LEAF and Volt range at temperatures between 15 degrees Celsius and 25 degrees Celsius (59 and 77 degrees Fahrenheit), where both cars are capable of exceeding their EPA-approved range with ease. At temperatures below -5 degrees Celsius (23 degrees Fahrenheit), range plummets, with the worst LEAF range occurring at temperatures of -20 degrees Celsius (-4 degrees Fahrenheit) and below.

(At this point, it’s worth noting that FleetCarma doesn’t include data from Chevrolet Volts at temperatures below -4 degrees Celsius, since the Volt’s range extended engine kicks in at this temperature, skewing data.)

Cold weather does effect LEAF range quite a bit.

Cold weather does effect LEAF range quite a bit.

…But poor driving kills it more.

Plot temperature against average range, and there’s a clear differentiation between warm and cold weather, but as FleetCamra notes, good driving style can really make a massive difference to real-world range, whatever the temperature.

This is most noticeable in the aforementioned goldilocks zone, where LEAF drivers who employed eco-conscious driving techniques like hypermiling were able to achieve more than twice the range per charge for a given temperature than the average range recorded.

Even when temperatures were as low as -25 degrees Celsius, (-13 degrees Fahrenheit) those who employed eco-driving techniques were able to eek out a 20 percent improvement in range over those who did not.

EVs still work

FleetCarma’s study shows a clear reduction in temperature in cold winter months, but it doesn’t follow that EV owners should put their cars away for the winter. As we’ve recently shared, cars around the globe — from Norway to Alaska — are out in extreme cold, and their owners still manage to drive some pretty impressive distances regardless. 

But as Phil Karza from Saskatchewan points out on Facebook, operating in the frigid north does require some concessions to be made when it comes to heating and charging.

“Every morning the heat is on and I have not been driving in ECO mode (That really kills you in the cold, I’ve found out)” he says. “I pre warm the car every day for 10 minutes, good for the 20 km drive to work [but] I alternate between window/floor and cabin at 22 degrees C, [but the heater] doesn’t really put out a lot of heat on the way home.”

Like the LEAf, the Volt's range is larger when its warmer outside.

Like the LEAf, the Volt’s range is larger when its warmer outside.

Consumption, he reports is about 50% of the car’s total charge for a 40-50 Kilometer (25-30 miles) round trip, yet the biggest problem seems to occur with charging. Even with a 6.6 kilowatt on-board charger, his car only charges at a maximum of 2 kilowatts, presumably due to the extreme cold.

But, says Karza, it’s all okay. He still loves his car, and after leaving his LEAF at home in exchange for the family Toyota Prius one day, he soon switched back. “It was no warmer than the LEAF at -36 degrees Celsius,” he said. “The Prius was loud, so we went back to the LEAF!”

What’s the moral of the story? It seems that wherever you’re willing to go in the winter, your EV can go with you. Just be aware that range will vary according to just how cold it gets — and how well you drive.


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