The inconvenient truth about EVs in cold weather

The logo of the Tesla Model S on display at the Paris Auto Show in Paris on Sept. 30, 2016.

Tesla’s Model 3 passengers need a “blankie” to complete its record-breaking cross-country Cannonball Run

So, a Tesla drove across the United States. That such a feat is no longer big news is testament to how far EVs have come and an indication electric vehicles are no longer  limited to urban use.

What is newsworthy, however, is that Alex Roy, The Drive’s editor-at-large (and expert Cannonballer), along with the Model 3’s owner, Daniel Zorrilla, took but 50 hours, 16 minutes and 32 seconds to drive from Los Angeles to New York City, the quickest any car has ever traveled from U.S. coast to U.S. coast using electricity as its sole source of power.

This is not an accomplishment to be diminished. Ten years ago, such an expedition would have been measured in weeks, not hours. Even five years ago when Elon Musk began rolling out Superchargers across the land, criss-crossing the continent would have been all but unthinkable.

Those who seek to diminish Roy and Zorrilla’s accomplishments by noting that the current Cannonball Run record is something less than 30 hours miss the point. Google calculates the 4,288 kilometre drive takes just a tad over 40 hours, which means Roy and Zorrilla spent only about 10 hours charging the Model 3 — not so long ago the time it would have taken for a single overnight charge of its (optional) 75 kilowatt-hour battery. It’s an impressive feat and proof of the progress in both EV technology and Tesla’s infrastructure development.

But does it mean — as is the subtext of virtually every story written about Roy’s trek — that EVs are ripe to supplant gasoline-fueled cars in the immediate future.

Uhm, not quite. You see, buried deep in Roy’s 4,345 word treatise on his adventure is the following little tidbit: “It’s too bad we kept the heat off for most of the drive.” Yes, in order to ensure they made it between Supercharger stations, Roy and Zorrilla drove through the worst weather much of the United States has seen in decades without the comfort of cabin heat. Indeed, both wore multiple layers of clothing, Zorrilla, according to Roy’s account, donning three layers of pants to stave off the frigid temperatures, while Roy himself had to buy a wool blanket halfway through the trip. That’s right, no heat in a US$55,000+ car that purports to play in the luxury segment.


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