Part of our series, “Under the Frunk: Lifting the lid on Common EV Questions”
Frosty temperatures can alter the performance of any vehicle since most – like humans – prefer to be in moderate climates.
Let’s take a closer look at how frigid weather impacts electric vehicle (EV) efficiency and what you can expect when driving in colder conditions. You may be surprised to see that temperature is only part of the story.
There are a couple of reasons cold weather may impact the efficiency of an EV. Firstly, occupants of the vehicle use more energy to stay warm, and in an EV, this energy comes from the battery rather than the engine waste heat. Many EVs have heated seats and steering wheels to help heat occupants more efficiently than with blowing air. Secondly, the performance of batteries and other electronics can be reduced in the cold, meaning modern EVs consume additional energy to condition their own battery and powertrain.
How big of a deal is it?
This winter, Merge conducted real-world testing with one of the most talked about all-electric pickups – the Ford F-150 Lightning – in cold conditions in Utah. The results can help give a better understanding of what to expect in icy temperatures.
City driving – stop and go, short trips, up to 45 MPH:
Driving efficiency was reduced by around 35-45% compared to testing in moderate conditions. This means, like conventional gas or diesel, winter driving will cost a bit more.
This reduction is believed to be due to frequent short trips, each requiring a cabin and battery conditioning cycle, bringing them up to temperature from a cold, at-rest state.
A driver may see a significant impact on the estimated range on the dashboard, but the operational range has yet to be an issue in this low-speed city testing. Put another way, at an average under 30 MPH it would take an entire workday of driving without stops to drain a full battery, which would further improve efficiency by avoiding stops.
Freeway driving – long continuous segments at 70-80 MPH:
Long-distance, high-speed driving is where EV range anxiety is most severe.
Merge’s testing found that the F-150 Lightning did a surprisingly good job of maintaining efficiency and range for cold-weather freeway driving versus moderate-temperature freeway driving, with a reduction of only about 5-10%.
For long-distance trips, the cabin and battery conditioning penalties are proportionally smaller because once the desired temperature is reached, the energy needed to maintain it is reduced (versus start-stop city trips).
When driving at 70-80 MPH, aerodynamic drag becomes a leading factor in total energy consumption, and that penalty applies to both moderate and cold temperatures.
In functional terms, the pickup has been able to cover the same real-world road trip segments between charging stations in winter that it could in the fall.