For most people, driving in winter brings memories of frozen engines and batteries that only work well once the engine warms up. Battery EV's, with no engine to heat them, would just freeze up solid until the Spring Thaw, right? The truth is different. That electric cars are top sellers in Norway tells you EV's do work well in cold places.
Some factors that give electric cars an advantage in winter performance:
- Smart phone app lets you pre-condition the car, so passenger cabin and battery are warmed up. Do this while the car is plugged into the charging station and it doesn't drain energy from the pack.
- Electric motors can spin up/down very quickly, giving automakers the chance to integrate excellent traction control for great handling on icy roads.
What happens in a gasoline vehicle in cold weather? The oils in the engine turn to sludge making the engine less efficient. Hence, in really cold areas the gas cars are routinely have engine block heaters plugged into power outlets to keep the engine from freezing up.
The electric drive train doesn't have that problem, it can easily operate in cold temperatures. The concern is the battery pack, and whether it will behave correctly in cold weather. Batteries run on chemical reactions, and of course those are less efficient in cold weather.
A feature to look for is battery pack thermal management -- Is there a heating and/or cooling system for the battery pack? If so, the car can always keep the pack in optimal operating temperature range, and the car will always behave correctly irregardless of outside temperature. This does require some energy from the pack, so it helps to keep the car plugged into a power outlet - just like the gas cars must keep an engine block heater plugged into a power outlet.
In some cases specific battery chemistries aren't (as) affected by cold weather as are other battery chemistries.
In June 2012, A123 Systems announced development of the Nanophosphate EXT technology which would allow such batteries to operate in a much wider temperature range. Their contention at the time is that an electric car wouldn't need the expense of a thermal management system, because Nanophosphate EXT batteries can natively operate in any temperature. The technology was in early development at the time, and is not available even today (May 2013) in products.
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