It was a cold spring, and one Free Press reader wasn’t enjoying it one bit.
He had a brand new 2021 Ford Mustang Mach-E electric SUV with an EPA-estimated range of 300 miles on a charge, but on one cold morning after another, the gauge said a 100% charge would take him only 220, despite the fact that he’d just charged the vehicle overnight in his garage.
After he drove 70 miles, he said in an email, the gauge would tell him range was down to 100 miles.
It was driving him nuts. That remaining 100 miles was farther than he planned to go, but why was his expensive, sophisticated new Ford displaying a range way below the expected based on the sales brochure and government-approved window sticker?
Cold weather affects EVs’ range, but his experience seemed extreme, particularly the low range when he started the day after charging his Mach-E overnight in a relatively warm garage.
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I had ideas, but not answers. The fun thing about being a journalist is that I also had phone numbers.
A few calls later, I was talking to Cole Bucafurri, Ford global director of consumer experience and distribution for electric vehicles and go-to guy for questions about the Mach-E’s range and performance
“A lot of factors influence range,” Bucafurri said. “The indicated range is based on the vehicle’s previous performance, not an absolute value.”
That means many EV owners may go from Thanksgiving to April Fool’s Day and never see the window-sticker range on their charge gauge because that number was tested and verified under lab conditions that include temperate conditions around 70 degrees Farenheit.
Such drivers can charge at home religiously every night and start each day with full batteries, but the onboard computer will remember how far they got yesterday and assume — correctly until spring takes hold — that today’s gonna be another cold battery-sucker.
The trouble with temperatures
“Temperature can have up to a 40% effect on range if you don’t precondition your vehicle,” Bucafurri said.
Get to know the term “preconditioning.” It’ll be an important part of your life if you own an electric vehicle. It’s like using remote start to heat or cool your gasoline powered vehicle to the desired temperature before you get into it.
But while letting a V8 idle for 10 minutes in the driveway or parking structure wastes fuel and fumigates the vicinity, preconditioning an EV saves battery range. It warms the EV up while it’s still plugged into an outlet. That power from the electric grid doesn’t count against your battery’s range, and the car’s climate control uses less energy when you unplug and start driving because the interior is already toasty.
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Heating an EV uses a disproportionate amount of energy compared to gasoline (or ICE, for internal combustion engine) vehicles. The heat they pump into the passenger compartment is a byproduct of ICE operation that would just dissipate in the radiator and atmosphere if some of it weren’t diverted to keep the human cargo comfy.
Getting rid of heat is an ICE vehicle’s biggest challenge. Generating it without wrecking driving range is among an EV’s greatest hurdles.
Preconditioning can reduce cold weather’s impact on EV range significantly, said Bryan Roos, a GM engineer and the leader of an auto industry committee that’s adapting range tests to reflect the effect of preconditioning, cold weather and other factors.
After a few days preconditioning before driving, the Mach-E’s range indicator should show the results in longer predicted range each day, though it probably won’t approach the window-sticker figure until warmer temperatures return.
Short trips are not your friend
Short drives — say 10 minutes or so — are particularly bad for range if you don’t precondition. The initial energy draw to warm the cabin is worst. On short drives, you repeat it for each leg. Longer drives use less energy as the climate control system maintains a temperature rather than striving to reach one, Ford’s Bucafurri said. It’s like the difference between bicycling up an incline versus maintain holding the same speed when you reach level ground at the top.
“Preconditioning makes a big difference,” Bucafurri said. “Heated seats and steering wheel are also much more efficient” than heating air to blow through the entire cabin.
EVs should also be preconditioned on extremely hot days, Bucafurri said. Pre-conditioning takes a few minutes and can be programmed to happen automatically for regular trips.
Cabin temperature isn’t the only range factor drivers can affect.
It’s important to clear snow off the vehicle. EVs are more sensitive to aerodynamic efficiency than ICE-powered vehicles, Bucafurri said. Mounds of snow that disrupt air’s flow over the vehicle can have a “critical” effect on efficiency and range, he said. Correct tire pressure improves efficiency, particularly on cold days when it can be significantly low early in a trip.
Range depends on your driving style
The reader who emailed is probably getting closer to window sticker range as the days warm, but personal driving style has a big impact on EV range, just like ICE vehicles.
“Drivers tend to get better range over time” because their driving style unconsciously adapts to patterns that work best for EVs, Bucafurri said. The Mach-E’s trip computer also gets better at predicting your range after 12 hours of driving or about 500 miles. “People get better predictions and range over time.”
Another benefit is that EVs don’t require a “break-in” period before owners can expect maximum power or efficiency, he said. ICE vehicles generally need a few hundred miles on the odometer before that because it takes a while for oil to lubricate the engine and transmission, and for small rough spots to wear down.
That’s not a factor for EVs, most of which don’t have transmissions and whose electric motors don’t require oil.
Excluding variables like weather, you can expect full performance and efficiency from an EV on day one.
Contact Mark Phelan at 313-222-6731 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mark_phelan.