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Good Question: Do Electric Cars Work In MN Winter?

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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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.

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