There are now an estimated 1.7 million electric vehicles (EVs) on U.S. roads, compared to roughly 400,000 in spring 2018. That means that a lot more Americans are experiencing the joys and pitfalls of EV ownership, from silent, swift acceleration and emission-free driving on the positive side to slower fueling times and shorter driving ranges on the negative side.
More Americans are also learning that frigid temperatures affect EVs differently than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, chiefly by cutting into their driving range to a greater extent. While a typical ICE vehicle might have its range reduced by 15% to 25% in below-freezing temperatures, an EV's range will be slashed 20% to 50% depending upon driving speed, temperature, and interior climate preferences. Combustion reactions occur more inefficiently at colder temperatures, accounting for the range decline in ICE vehicles. But cold slows the physical and chemical reactions in EV batteries to a larger degree, limiting the energy and power the battery can deliver to the motors. Moreover, while ICE vehicles utilize otherwise wasted heat from the engine to warm car interiors in winter, EVs use electric heaters to perform much of the climate control, further draining the already hamstrung battery.
The Arctic blast that chilled much of the "Lower 48" last week showcased the EV range hit to more Americans than ever, and also yielded a few more lessons.