Good Question: Do Electric Cars Work In MN Winter?

By Jason DeRusha, WCCO-TV

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — It’s an ambitious-sounding goal: one million electric vehicles on the road by 2015. But when you think about the combination of battery-power and subzero winters, it doesn’t sound like a good mix.

Just how well do electric cars work in the winter?

“Most batteries do not work well below 50 degrees, and it plummets off below freezing,” said Garrett Ferderber, a technical expert with ReGo Electric, a Minneapolis company converting hybrid cars to plug-in hybrid cars. “It works well in the winter, only because we’ve taken some steps to ensure it works well.”

Ferderber’s company redirects some of the electrical energy gained while the car is plugged in, back into the battery cells to keep them warm.

“When it’s plugged in, it’s warming the cells, when you unplug and drive awhile they hold that temperature,” he said.

They’ve insulated the block where the battery cells sit, again trying to keep them warm, and keep them at peak performance.

If they didn’t, Ferderber says “their capacity would be cut in half or worse.”

The major mass-produced electric vehicles aren’t available in Minnesota yet. The Chevy Volt is a plug-in hybrid, meaning it plugs in overnight to charge, but it also has a gas engine to power the vehicle on longer drives.

Nissan’s Leaf is all-electric, though, with no gas backup.

“Nissan will be the first affordable all-electric vehicle produced in this country,” said Doug Sprinthall, new car director for the Walser group of dealerships.

The Leaf is engineered to get between 90-100 miles on a charge, but Sprinthall says, during the winter “there will be a diminished range — they’re thinking 60 or 70 (miles) in a charge.”

Of course, conventional gas engines get a reduction in gas mileage during the winter. Some Toyota Prius owners report a drop of around 20 percent with their hybrids in the extreme cold.

“We won’t know until you drive them” in Minnesota weather, said Sprinthall.

More from Jason DeRusha
  • Greg Laden

    That’s OK. Better to just stay home during the winter anyway.

  • scott

    “We won’t know until you drive them” in Minnesota weather, said Sprinthall.

    So they are now building cars with out any type of multi weather testing? I don’t think that it will be deducted in the cost.

  • Bege

    I am concerned about the push to electric vehicles because of a fact I learned in a Physics class at Hamline University: Electricity is the most inefficient form of energy because it takes 3 BTUs of some other form of energy (coal, natural gas, etc.) to produce 1 BTU of electric energy partly due to the amount lost in transmission of the electrical energy. Until the lions’ share of this additionally needed electricity is produced by non-polluting, renewable energy (solar, wind, etc.), I think we are digging ourselves into a different, but no less earth damaging, hole than our current fuels. It is kind of like the impact that bio-fuels have had. No one seemed to extrapolate that when so much corn began to be used to create ethanol, it drove the prices of mainly corn so high that it impacted our food prices because farmers had to pay much, much more to produce meat, milk and eggs. As I grow older and I see how myopic “planners” are and how they seem to be driven only by the quick buck, I have very little hope for our future and the future of the world.

  • Shawna

    First of all, Ford produced affordable, all electric Rangers about 30 years ago. So, Nissan would not be the first company to produce all electric vehicles in this country. Second, by the time you figure in the efficiency reduction due to internal heating and rush hour traffic, what would be the point of getting less than 60 miles to each charge? Third, I completely agree with Bege!

  • Anon

    Bege, I love you.

  • stew

    Last night,I parked my electric car in my driveway and entered my house just in time to see this “good question”. I have to laugh a bit because I have been driving a fully electric car for more than ten Minnesota winters. The electric heaters make the passenger compartment instantly warm in below zero weather—NO WARM-UP NECESSARY!!!! I never have to stand around a stinky windswept gas station. I use electricity that is so cheap it is like buying gas at 75 cents a gallon. And when the temps REALLY dip, I never have any “will it start” anxiety. Electric motors don’t really care how cold it is.

    I love it, and will never go back! The batteries are in a conditioned compartment and do not suffer the same problems that your conventional starting battery has when the temps dip. I lose about ten to fifteen percent of my range due to heating the cab and other cold related losses. That is actually better than the average drop in fuel economy gasoline car has in the winter!

    Don’t listen to the so called experts. Most of them are remarkably ignorant. Listen to someone who has lived with one for ten years and has real experience.

    • tupu

      What about driving to work and leaving your all-electrical vehicle in the parking lot, without a plug-in, in sub-zero temps for 8 hours while you work. Will the batteries freeze or is there a battery heater? Do you always need to have it plugged-in when left in sub-zero temps?

  • stew

    What is meant by a conditioned compartment is that the batteries are in an insulated compartment and therefore will hold a reasonable temperature for a day or so, without any additional heat input. Because it is usually more convenient to find and to plug in to a regular 120 volt outlet, I tend to keep it plugged in at work and whenever I can. 120 volt outlets are the slowest charging, but they are just about EVERYWHERE!

    In terms of the batteries freezing: I am using lead acid batteries which are the same technology as your starting battery in your gas car. The same rules apply. They won’t freeze for months unless they are discharged.

  • WCCO Good Question: Do Electric Cars Work In MN Winter? · ReGo Electric Conversions
  • Jam

    What are you driving stew?

  • David

    are you still using your 8 track, your vcr, dos. Soon it will include internal combustion engines.

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