Snow Day Is Test Day for Electric Cars

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With a fresh blanket of snow covering the East Coast, the first mainstream electric cars that have reached customers in the U.S. will have their chance for a real world winter driving test. Will GM’s Volt and Nissan’s LEAF perform well and maintain a reasonable battery range?

The reality is that cold weather conditions will affect the range of an electric car’s battery. GM’s “Maximum Bob” Lutz said earlier this year he only got 28 miles worth of juice from the battery of a Volt when he drove it for a weekend in Detroit last winter. The Volt has an advertised electric range of 40 miles at a standard temperature before an internal combustion engine kicks in.

In his blog post, Lutz said: “The range can vary on any given day depending on temperature, terrain, driving conditions and so forth — especially temperature…The distance you can go in an electric vehicle varies hugely with the outside temperature, including with the Volt.” While I haven’t yet seen snow battery tests from Volt drivers, embedded below is a Volt snow handling test:

The folks at electric car startup Coda have also emphasized the effect temperature can have on battery range, which is why former Coda CEO Kevin Czinger told me the company has invested significantly in an advanced battery management system. Czinger told me earlier this year that the range of the Coda Sedan will hold up to its 90-to-100-mile range, despite extreme hot and cold weather, because of its high-volume, air-cooled, battery thermal management system.

In comparison, Czinger said Nissan’s LEAF could get as low as a 40-mile range in extreme hot and cold weather (compared to its advertised 100-mile-range) because of its lack of a sufficient active thermal management system for the battery pack. Remember that Coda pushed back the launch of its sedan until Q3 2011, and the Coda Sedan is priced significantly higher than the LEAF.

Tesla (s tsla) CEO Elon Musk has also dissed Nissan’s LEAF battery and battery management system, saying the LEAF battery pack will have temperatures “all over the place,” causing it to suffer “huge degradation” in cold environments and basically “shut off” in hot environments.

Needless to say, I’ll be particularly interested to see how the Nissan LEAF’s battery performs through this cold winter. All you early-adopter LEAF drivers send us your thoughts and real-world cold weather battery driving experiments!

Embedded below our test drives of the Nissan LEAF, GM’s Volt, and the Coda Sedan:

Nissan LEAF

GM’s Volt

Coda Sedan

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I think the Leaf has too much range anxiety, especially if you want to stay warm and run the heater.

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