Electric vehicles lose up to 30% of their range in winter weather, says firm

Electric vehicles boast a higher efficiency relative to gas vehicles, preventing them from using wasted heat to warm up the cabin and maintain passenger comfort below freezing.

Electric vehicles lose up to 30% of their range in winter weather, says firm
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Despite the push by the Trudeau Liberals to have all new vehicles sold in Canada be electric vehicles (EVs) by 2035, a recent study uncovered that they could lose up to 30% of their range in freezing temperatures, possibly jeopardizing that target.

According to Seattle-based Recurrent, which measured range loss in 7,000 EVs at temperatures between -7°C and -1°C, the Jaguar I-Pace lost 3% of its range while the Volkswagen ID.4 lost 30% at those temperatures.

Recurrent researcher Liz Najmam cited the energy needed to heat the EV's cabin during the winter for its decreased range.

She said its higher efficiency relative to gas vehicles prevents it from using wasted heat to warm up the cabin and maintain passenger comfort.

“If you've ever touched the hood of a gas car, you know it's really hot after it's been driving,” said Najman. “And that's because gasoline engines are super inefficient, and so they create all of this waste heat.”

She added that when you turn a gas vehicle on, you funnel all its heat from the engine to the cabin, whereas EVs generate heat in other ways. 

When EVs use more energy to heat the vehicle, that's less juice from the battery that won't go toward the range. However, some vehicles use more efficient heat pumps to warm the cabin, leaving more energy allocated to the distance travelled.

Sudbury, Ontario native Steve Holmik drives a Tesla Model Y, and he loses upwards of 50% of his range in cold temperatures.

“Around town, the range impact is negligible,” said Holmik. “It's nice and warm when you get inside. It's no different to essentially driving a gas vehicle.”

But he attributes that Canada's winter weather could be an issue for people who drive long distances, especially if they travel where electric charging infrastructure is in short supply.

“Especially once you get north of Sudbury, the infrastructure isn't there,” said Holmik. “If you go to Timmins, you'd be lucky to find a Level 2 charger.”

However, some vehicles, like Teslas, have a battery preconditioning feature that warms up the car battery before reaching a charger, which quickens charging times.

Holmik said by preheating his car while it's still plugged in at his house or using a fast charger, he enhances range loss by upwards of 20%.

Federal Environment Minister Steven Guilbeault proposed before Christmas that 20% of all passenger vehicles sold in Canada in 2026 must be electric.

Passenger vehicles account for half of all road transportation emissions and about 10% of Canada's total emissions across all sectors.

The Government of Canada is pushing for six million more zero-emission passenger vehicles by 2030. Before the COVID pandemic, annual sales in Canada of cars and light trucks were under two million units, with the total stock of such vehicles in Canada being about 23 million.

Brian Kingston, president and CEO of the Canadian Vehicle Manufacturers' Association, cautioned that the federal government should build the necessary infrastructure for electric vehicles before regulating sales.

He said Canada's infrastructure is not on track to support a growing fleet — and those who will be driving the new cars. 

“The vehicles are coming, but we need a supercharged effort to help marketers make that purchase and make it easy, convenient, and accessible.”

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