Electric vehicles lose edge in minus-30 cold

John Gilbert

After getting the chance to test drive an assortment of electric vehicles over the last couple of years, the benefits and inevitability of EVs moving into the mainstream of U.S. consumers are obvious. The only drawback EV drivers have is range anxiety – the concern that your battery pack might get drained of electricity and you might not have enough to get home.

I have driven the Mustang e, Volkswagen ID4, Genesis GV60, Hyundai Ioniq, Nissan Leaf, Chevrolet Bolt, Audi e-tron and several others, but either during a spring, summer, fall or special events.
An idea popped into my head that many manufacturers are unaware of  the effect of severe cold on their EV batteries, and not many auto journalists have the built-in cold-weather testing opportunity that I do.
I made several contacts, suggesting my idea, but none had their newest EVs ready to be tested.
Last week, the timing was perfect. A Mercedes EQB 300 was delivered from the Chicago press fleet, and we in Duluth, gateway to the North Shore, knew we were in for a week of severe cold. We get storms that drop 20 inches or more of snow on us, and we get some thermometer plunges that make folks elsewhere in the country cringe.

We had a record quantity of snow through the month of December, and we had a record mild January with little snow and moderate temperatures.
The Mercedes is a new, somewhat stubby design with a blunt front and a compacted rear, but it has seating for seven, while maintaining a compact size that allows for decent agility and city driving. Seats are comfortable buckets and rear-seat room is adequate, although a bit tight if you wanted to squeeze into the third row.

The EQB 300 is the SUV version of a similarly named Mercedes sedan, but with the popularity of SUVs, it seems like every model should have its own. Several of them cost more than $100,000, so I was surprised to learn that the EQB 300 we had showed a sticker price of $61,650, off a base price of $54,500.

That is reasonable for either a Mercedes or an electric vehicle.
Because it’s pure electric, the EQB 300 is very quick. It has two battery packs, one for the front wheels and the other for the rears, so it can be tabbed 4Matic – the Mercedes name for its all-wheel-drive vehicles.
Generally, EVs come with ether one electric motor to power either the front or rear wheels, or two electric motors to apportion AWD power.
The EQB 300 has two motors and produces 225 horsepower and 288 foot-pounds of torque, while its sister ship is the EQB 350, which has larger motors and develops 288 horsepower and 283 foot-pounds of torque in its peppier AWD package.
If you drive it moderately, you can get the equivalent of 104 miles per gallon on whatever that equation is to calculate electric vs. gasoline engine power. If you show off the acceleration and drive it more than 70 miles per hour, the range goes down fast. In extreme cold, it goes down faster.
When the delivery fellow arrived with the car, they said it needed to be charged, and I told them the existing Level 3 charger down near Canal Park is often busy, with a couple cars waiting for the free outlet, but Duluth Kia, the region’s Kia dealership, also has an outdoor charging station near its service door, and I called them to learn they made it available to anyone with an EV, for free.

They took off, and we waited for the Mercedes to reach full, but we decided to unplug it and go home with it 90 percent full. Parking outside in our driveway meant it would be very cold, which also met my desires for a proper test.
The EQB started immediately; and performed well, although when Saturday came, I knew I would be covering a UMD women’s hockey game, followed by a men’s game, at AMSOIL Arena, which is about three or four blocks away from the Canal Park charging station.
When the first game ended, I drove to the charging station and plugged in the EQB 300 on the Level 3 charger. Then I walked back to the arena, and while I was dressed in all sorts of fleece and down sweaters and parkas, it was a genuine survival test. I made it, and I was overcoming the serious chill of 20 below zero by about the second period.

I was able to get a ride from a photographer friend after the men’s game and press conference, and when I got to the car, I was impressed to see the gauge on the charge station said “100 percent charge.”
Naturally, the Mercedes started easily, and the instrument panel told me we had an available range of 186 miles on our full charge. The heater came on promptly – another benefit of electric cars – although I realized how much we missed seat heaters and a steering wheel heater on the car, which are further signs that Mercedes might have underestimated the true quality of Minnesota winter cold.

Some of the Hyundai, Kia and Genesis EVs have larger battery packs and can send you on your way with 285 miles of range. The Fords, and other EVs, get much less, while some might attain the magic 300-mile plateau in summertime.  
Once again, the car functioned flawlessly in the cold, and when we parked at home it said we still had 160 miles of range. Sunday morning, we drove out to near the first checkpoint for the annual John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon so I could snap a couple pictures, then we headed for a warmer place for some breakfast.

The agency wasn’t coming to pick up the Mercedes until Monday afternoon, and as I had learned from previous swaps, I didn’t want them to be too low on battery power.
It was genuinely cold Sunday night, 27 below not counting the windchill, so I got busy with other work and didn’t drive it, to preserve whatever power remained.
When they arrived, I said I was sure there was more than 100 miles of range on the EQB 300, so they could get a good jump out of town on their way home. The fellow got into the car and pushed the button. I asked him what it said for range and he looked at the instruments and said, “Forty one miles.”
I was surprised, because all my planning seemed certain to leave them a better margin. It also showed a maximum range of 78 miles, if you drove it conservatively. 
They headed on their way, stopping downtown Duluth at the free Level 3 charge station on their way. I apologized, but we all learned something about EV range with Mercedes vehicles on my impromptu test.