By on March 4, 2011

Thinking about getting an EV? Better move to a balmier state.

“It turns out batteries are like people. They love room temperature,” Bill Wallace, director of Global Battery Systems at GM said at an energy forum at the University of Chicago. He had come under fire, ammunition courtesy of Consumer Reports which said its tests showed the battery’s range of the Chevy Volt would last only 23 to 28 miles in cold weather.

The next day, Ford tried to make hay on the ruckus and issued a press release, titled “Cold Weather No Problem for Ford Focus Electric’s Liquid-Heated Battery System.”

Bill Wallace disagrees. “Nobody — Ford, Nissan or anybody — has anything better,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “I’m certain that a year or two from now, when they’re actually in the market and they’re actually showing cars, they will not be able to outperform us.”

Jake Fisher, a senior automotive engineer at Consumer Reports Auto Test Center thinks that “in the end, any of the technologies that are out there are very limited in terms of their capacity.”

Ford is backpedaling. “We’re not seeing a big breakthrough in the next few years in terms of where you will suddenly be able to drive an electric vehicle and not have the battery be affected by temperature,” Sherif Marakby, director of electrification programs and engineering at Ford, said.

The Chicago Tribune smells a climate change in reporting an thinks that “other reviews noting the limited range of electric vehicles in extreme temperatures are likely on the way.”

Consumer Reports recommends to get a hybrid.

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14 Comments on “Climate Change: EVs Fair Weather Cars At Best?...”

  • avatar
    SVX pearlie

    Of course CR recommends a Hybrid.

    How convenient for CR, that’s what Toyota currently sells.

  • avatar

    There’s nothing wrong with recommending a hybrid for cold-weather climates as that type of vehicle is much more suitable for that environment than any currently available BEV (battery EV).

    I was going to make this exact same comment on the earlier story today about the new “lower-temp” sodium (-sulphur) batteries.  When your sodium-battery EV sits outside and it’s below zero for several days, the battery state of charge will constantly be depleted by maintaining the battery heaters unless there is external power available.  Otherwise, you’ll have to start a fire underneath the battery pack (or use something more refined such as a diesel-fired heater or the like) in order to bootstrap the battery pack up to a high enough temperature in order to function.  Who wants to deal with that?

    Even the good-ol’ lead-acid batteries suffer significant capacity loss at lower temperatures which will shorten your effective range by a significant amount.  Plus, the in-car heating requirements suck the life out of your pack as well during cold weather.  So a hybrid is a much better choice if you live in a cold climate and can’t keep your car in a heated garage and/or plugged in overnight.

    This is one of the reasons why the vast majority of EV1s were all leased in warmer climates in the southwest.

    I’m not an EV hater, I used to own one!  It had a marine type of gasoline heater with a 3 gallon tank (heater was broken when I bought the car with an $800 repair estimate just for the heater so I never fixed it) to heat the passenger compartment.  The previous owner told me that in the winter time, the car averaged about 20 mpg, and that was just for the cabin heater!!!

    • 0 avatar

      The battery is heated when you charge/discharge it. Make the isolation good enough and a 80C will have more problems keeping cool when its hot than keeping warm when it is cold.

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    I think most of us knew this. It’s a perfect car for most of the West Coast if you’re L.A. commute isn’t too long. But for the rest of us, short hops, here and there, close commutes in medium sized cities. It’s not gonna work for longer commutes in Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Orlando or Tampa, etc.

  • avatar

    This seems like a realistic assessment to me, at least on our current understanding of things. But all this suggests to me is that if EV’s do indeed turn out to be a viable means of transportation, then their distribution will likely be differentiated across north/south boundaries. I see no inherent or obvious problem in that. After all, there is a fairly clear differentiation between the current distribution of diesels between European and U.S. markets, so why couldn’t there be an analogous differentiation of EV’s across geographical/climate lines?

  • avatar

    The problem isn’t so much the battery in cold climates, but what people want in those cold climates, heat.  The battery can be kept warmer and use some charge, but running the heater to heat the cabin takes a lot of juice.  Heated seats are going to be standard with most EVs to help with the problem, but it will still exist.

    • 0 avatar

      Heating the cabin is not just an issue with EVs.  While steering and air conditioning are direct electric powered in the Prius, not so the cabin heater.  The heater uses coolant heated by the engine like most cars and when it is cold that means the engine must stay on somewhat longer on average to keep the coolant hot enough.  Consequently the Prius uses noticeably more gas in the winter than spring or fall.  Add that to the temperature effect on the batteries and you get about a 5 mpg decrease in the winter here in the mid-Atlantic states.

  • avatar

    I will be interesting to see what the range of the Volt or any EV will be in the summer time in hot climates. I would imagine that it will be almost as bad as in the colder climates in winter. AC takes alot of watts. I would think it would be a real ‘range killer’ for sure. I would look for the volt’s mpg to really suffer in this case also.

  • avatar

    A 23 mile range in cold weather, eh?  Gee, what remarkable progress from the electric golf carts of the 1970s.
    Wanna save the planet in a 2011 Chevy?   Buy a dino-powered Cruze, and then tell six billion of your closest friends to do the same thing.

  • avatar
    Robert Schwartz

    I am an electric car hater. Don1967 says they haven’t advanced since the 1970s golf carts. I say they haven’t advanced since my great-grandmother’s 1915 Baker Electric. Batteries kept at a toasty 180 degrees are not going to save BEVs from obsolescence. BEVs got beat out by superior technology 90 years ago, nothing that could change that verdict has happened, nor will it happen.

  • avatar

    I’ve been trying to find just exactly what Consumer Reports means when they say “cold weather”.
    According to the GM engineer in the video, the battery pack is kept between 32 deg F and 80 deg F and that outside those parameters you might be using as much as 25% of the battery pack’s energy for battery and interior cabin climate control. It seems to me that with the fairly sophisticated battery temp and conditioning management system GM is using to keep the battery at optimum operating temperatures that the decreased range in cold weather has less to do with the battery not performing well at those temps than the fact that they’re expending energy to keep the battery in it’s optimum temp range.
    I’m interested to see what CR says about the Nissan Leaf’s cold weather range. Nissan is air-cooling their batteries.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    Personally I think 23-28 miles in cold weather is pretty damn good. Especially considering that w/Volt you have real car wrapped around you. Show me an ICE vehicle that doesn’t have reduced range in cold weather.

    • 0 avatar

      Actually. once you get past the cold warm up period wouldn’t the laws of thermodynamics suggest that your ICE would produce more power as the delta in temperature increases?  I remember my old 72 Fury having notably more power on the highway when I was in CT years ago and it was a hair below zero.
      I’ve been trying to find just exactly what Consumer Reports means when they say “cold weather”.
      Kind of like asking what they mean by a “serious” problem.
      BEVs got beat out by superior technology 90 years ago, nothing that could change that verdict has happened, nor will it happen.
      I wouldn’t take that bet.  In 1970, I’m sure nobody would think that the computing power you have sitting in front of you would ever be possible, let alone possible for $600 in today’s dollars.  Though for now, most with a 40 mile or more commute with a good dose of traffic travel would be best served by a hybrid.

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