Cold weather can cut electric car range almost in half

The February 2019 car sales figures are in and while for the most part, they make the usual, depressing reading (overall sales down by 12 per cent so far this year, with used import numbers down by a mere 0.4 per cent as Brexit continues to depress the value of Sterling and make used UK stock that much more tempting to Irish buyer) there was a small bright spot; electric vehicle (EV) sales.

EV Sales in Ireland

EV sales have surged in the early part of 2019, with 330 battery-powered cars sold in February, as compared to just 72 sales in the same month last year. In fact, with electric car sales now standing at 1,129 for the year so far, we’ve almost already surpassed the total number of electric car sales for the whole of 2018 (which was 1,233).

As well as the Tucson being the best-selling conventional car in the country, Hyundai also holds the top sales spot in the electric vehicle market, with the long-range Kona in the No.1 position. With 425 sales so far this year, the Kona EV is just ahead of its biggest rival, the Nissan Leaf, which has picked up 401 sales so far.

EV here to stay

Commenting on the overall figures Brian Cooke, SIMI Director General Designate said: “With Brexit looming, new vehicle registrations continue to be negatively impacted across nearly all of our Industry. However, the one exception is the sales of electric vehicles, which increased by 542 per cent this year compared to last year, and by the end of this quarter we will have sold more, new EVs than in the whole of last year. This increase is a result of a concerted effort by all stakeholders; by the Industry in supplying more, new EVs with greater travel range; by the Government through the generous taxation and other incentives; and by SEAI with their grant scheme. Ireland’s transition to a zero emitting fleet will take a number of years to happen, but the co-operative approach by the Industry and the State thus far bodes well for the future.”

The Government has been quick to claim its part in the rise in EV sales. Richard Bruton, Minister for Communications, Climate Action and Environment, said: “The record growth in electric vehicles sales in 2019 demonstrates the willingness of Irish consumers to embrace the change to a low carbon future. The Government is playing its part with a wide range of incentives supporting the purchase of electric vehicles and an investment of €10m in a significant expansion of the public charging network. The environmental benefits, longer range and low running costs of modern electric vehicles make them a viable option for all consumers. I would encourage all those purchasing a new car to play their part in making Ireland a climate leader and choose to drive electric.”

But what of weather impacts on EV's

However, you’ll have doubtless noted that the prevailing weather this year thus far has been broadly mild, even unseasonably warm. Which is great for electric vehicles, but some of those owners could find themselves on the receiving end of a nasty shock (no, not an electrical shock, silly) if the weather turns harsh again. A sudden snap of cold weather can seriously impact the driving range of an electric car, according to the latest research from the American Automobile Association (AAA). The AAA’s findings show that if the thermometer falls to as low as -6 degrees celsius, then as much as 41 per cent of an EV’s range can be wiped out.

Conversely, driving range can also be affected by very high temperatures. If the ambient gets above 35 degrees celsius, you can wave bye-bye to around 17 per cent of your total driving range. Some of the reduction in range is to do with the way the chemistry of the battery pack changes with temperature, while some is down to the increased use of in-car heaters or air conditioning when driving in such conditions.

What to be aware of

“The appeal of electric vehicles continues to grow since a greater variety of designs and options with increased range have come onto the market,” said Greg Brannon, AAA’s director of automotive engineering and industry relations. “As long as drivers understand that there are limitations when operating electric vehicles in more extreme climates, they are less likely to be caught off guard by an unexpected drop in driving range.”

The AAA’s tests were carried out on a rolling road in a ‘climate cell’ testing chamber, designed to mimc the effects of extreme temperatures. The warning doesn’t just encompass the annoyance ofhaving to stop more frequently to charge — the AAA also pointed out that extreme temperatures can add as much as USD$25 to the cost of travelling 1,000 miles in extra charging costs.

Temperate climate suits EV's best

“The research clearly shows that electric vehicles thrive in more moderate climates, except the reality is most Americans live in an area where temperature fluctuates,” said Megan McKernan, manager of automotive research centre. “Automakers are continually making advances to improve range, but with this information, drivers will be more aware of the impacts varying weather conditions can have on their electric vehicles.”

AAA tested the BMW i3s, Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf from the 2018 model year, and the 2017 Tesla Model S 75D and Volkswagen e-Golf. Tesla responded to the AAA’s warnings by saying that: “The average Model S customer doesn't experience anywhere near that decrease in range.” The California-based electric car maker said that it sees a range decrease of around one per cent in very hot weather, but it did not further discuss its cold weather figures.

Impacts for Irish drivers

Ireland, of course, only very rarely sees such dramatic swings in temperature. Indeed, our mild climate was one of the reasons that Ireland was seen originally as a perfect test case for electric vehicles, along with our relatively flat topography, relatively short distances between major urban centres, and a semi-state electrical supply setup.

A report from car sales website Carzone suggests that Irish buyers could be on the cusp of a major switchover from petrol and diesel power, to electric and hybrid. This latest reports suggests that some 61 per cent of Irish buyers have seen their running costs increase in the past 12 months, and that this is potentially pushing them to switch to an alternative-fuel vehicle for their next purchase. Insurance, fuel, and servicing costs are the most important concerns that these motorists have, and respondents listed lower running costs (45 per cent) and taking care of the environment (40 per cent) as their main reasons for considering an electric or hybrid car.

Car makers still have some educating to do, though — one in four listed fear of the unknown as their main reason for not purchasing an electric car or hybrid.