AAA confirms what Tesla, BMW, Nissan EV owners suspected of cold weather

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Visitors look at a BMW i3 electric automobile during the Paris Motor Show on October 14, 2014 in Paris, France

There were several surprises that emerged from the research, according to Brannon, starting with the fact that the impact on range was pretty much uniform among all five of the battery-electric vehicles AAA tested: the BMW i3s, the Chevrolet Bolt EV, the Nissan Leaf, the Tesla Model S and the Volkswagen e-Golf.

“It’s something all automakers are going to have to deal with as they push for further EV deployment because it’s something that could surprise consumers,” said Brannon.

Different factors can affect the loss of range, he and other experts have noted. Simply turning on the electric vehicles, or EVs, AAA studied in 20 degree weather revealed a 12 percent loss in range. On a vehicle like the Chevy Bolt, with an EPA rating of 238 miles per charge, that would drop range to 209 miles. But that part of the test assumed operating the vehicle with neither cabin heat or even seat-heaters turned on.

Using climate control revealed an even bigger surprise, according to Brannon, as range dipped by an average 41 percent — which would bring an EV like the Bolt down to just 140 miles of range.

The problem is that unlike a car with an internal combustion engine that can warm the cabin with waste heat, EVs have to tape into their batteries to power the climate control system.

Part of the problem, said the AAA director, is that “lithium-ion batteries like the same sort of temperatures that we do, around 70 degrees.”

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