Payne: How EVs fare in Michigan’s icebox

Posted by Talbot Payne on February 19, 2023

Novi — Electric vehicles are the new, new thing in the automotive market and they wow customers with their liquid acceleration and silent cabins. But these advantages come with challenges like range anxiety and charging issues — issues exacerbated by vehicle velocity and outside temperatures.

In particular, EVs suffer in extreme heat and cold. Cold like Michigan winters.

Where EV range is more predictable in moderate climates, it’s more problematic in Midwest states where temperatures can range from 90 degrees in August to single digits in January. Under 30 degrees, some EVs can lose 30-50% of range, which makes them a challenging sell here as opposed to always-70 California, which accounted for 40% of EV sales in 2022.

How challenging? California had 563,070 registered EVs as of December 2021, while Michigan had just 17,640, according to data compiled by National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

The experience can be off-putting to customers who are told their vehicles have 300-mile range, only to learn that, in reality, they have much less — adding anxiety and time to road trips. Such reliability issues may deter customer acceptance of EVs even as governments force automakers to make nothing else over the next decade.

This winter, I tested three all-wheel-drive, high-tech EVs — the 2023 Volkswagen ID.4, my own Tesla Model 3 Performance and the 2023 North American Car of the Year, the Kia EV6 — to gauge their consistency. I also spoke with a few EV customers about their experiences in our winter wonderland.

On Jan. 25, southeast Michigan got a blanket of snow and accompanying 32-degree temps. The $52,000 VW ID.4 Pro S tester in my driveway was well-equipped for the slippery conditions with AWD, and I was able to grunt around town for my daily rounds, including grocery shopping, lunch, and exercise.

Had I been heading out on a road trip up north, however, I might have struggled.

The 2023 VW ID.4 Pro S features about 245 miles of range, though winter conditions will cut into that.

In my errand-running, I traveled 29 miles in total at speeds up to 60 mph and took 85 miles off the battery — getting just 34% of predicted range. That means the ID.4 would have gotten just 81 miles on a full charge instead of the advertised 240. Had I been heading north to, say, Boyne Mountain Resort to ski, I wouldn’t have been able to make it to the first Electrify America fast charger in Bay City which is 90 miles from my Oakland County home.

Even if you make it to chargers, their reliability is not guaranteed. I’ve had consistent trouble with charging stations, and when — on my Jan. 25 outing — I tried to recharge at EA’s Novi charger, two of the four chargers were being serviced and the other two didn’t work. I spent 20 minutes in frigid conditions on the phone with a remote EA agent trying to charge before finally giving up. Gas engines, too, suffer range degradation in cold conditions, but staffed, gas infrastructure is everywhere — and, crucially, gasoline’s energy density means vehicles can be filled outside in less than five minutes.

Such frustrations are why many owners just use their EVs locally.

Yasmin Ponce says her VW ID.4 loses about half of its range in cold conditions.

“I (get) about 50% range in the winter in comparison to the spring and summer,” said Yasmin Ponce of Royal Oak, who charges her VW ID.4 to 80% of capacity (about 200 miles) at Meijer Royal Oak on long metro commutes with her young family. “I purchased an insulated window sunshade for my car to see if that makes a difference.”

Fifty percent of range is consistent with my experience in owning two Tesla Model 3s over the last four years. When temperatures drop below 30 degrees, my range varies from 50-70% of predicted range. On one typical 33-degree January day this year, I covered 15 miles on local errands and took 31 miles off the battery.

In sub-30 degree temps, the Tesla Model 3 Performance suffers range degradation of 30-50%.

Batteries are affected by temperatures at both extremes. I set out in August 2019 in my $60K Model 3 with 310-mile charge for the 377-mile trip to visit family in Charleston, West Virginia. Using Tesla’s extensive charging network, my EV indicated that I could make the trip (with 16% of battery remaining) on a single stop in Grove City, Ohio, south of Columbus. But as I traveled south down I-75 into Buckeye country, temperatures soared from 75 degrees to 95. Battery range started to crumble, and the Tesla’s big screen told me to slow down — from 75 to 65, then to 55 mph — if I were to make it to Grove City.

Fearing I’d run out of juice (not to mention getting steamrolled by semis below 55 mph), I diverted to a Tesla charger north of Columbus for a 40-minute charge.

Dick Amacher has put more than 60,000 road-trip miles on his Tesla Model Y (pictured) and Model 3 sedan.

“Tesla’s Supercharger network gives me the confidence to go wherever I please,” says Dick Amacher of Rochester Hills, who’s owned a pair of Teslas and has more than 60,000 miles of EV road trips to his credit — including to Florida.

“My worst winter range was driving from Rochester to Detroit Metro Airport (at) Christmas in my Model Y. It was about 5 degrees and windy,” he recounted. “The roads were slushy and not plowed. I took Telegraph Road to intentionally drive slower to have more traction. I used about 70% of a charge for a 90-mile round trip.”

Under optimal conditions, such a trip would use about 30% of the Model Y’s roughly 300-mile range.

Alex Alexanian charges his Polestar 2 at an Electrify American station in Novi. This winter, with mostly mild temperatures, he's noticed a 10% to 15% range loss.

Owners who use their vehicles for local commutes, like Farmington Hills’ Alex Alexanian, have little to worry about.

“It’s been pretty good day-to-day, I’d estimate 10-15% drop. I haven’t been doing many long trips,” said Alexanian, who drives an AWD Polestar 2 locally and prefers a gas-hybrid Toyota Sienna hybrid for longer journeys. “On the really cold-snap days, I did watch my range drop more significantly, but that was near zero degrees.” An EV fan, he’s put in an order for a Rivian pickup.

I’ve found Kia models to be more accurate in terms of range no matter the temperature. The Kia EV6 won the 2023 North American Utility Vehicle of the Year (I’m a juror) due to its stylish design and quick-charging, 800-volt platform. The EV6 GT — the $63,000 performance model of the EV6 line — lost about 30% of battery during my cold February test.

Detroit News auto critic Henry Payne follows a snow plow in the 2023 Kia EV6 GT after an overnight February snow.

Unfortunately, the EV6 GT has but 206 miles of range (compared to 276 miles for its sibling, EV6 AWD vehicle that I drove this summer), so it’s not built for long trips. But like many EVs coming on the market, it tries to adjust its range for temperature and driver style. And it offers clever features — an ECO drive mode and five regenerative modes — to help squeeze a few more miles out of the battery.

I charged the EV6 GT at my home overnight on a 240-volt wall charger to 100% capacity, but — anticipating the cold — the Kia indicated I’d get just 186 miles (90%).

Even that proved optimistic for my mixed driving (interstates, surface streets) over the next two days in temperatures that swung from 20-40 degrees. In 70 miles of travel, I took 100 miles off the battery.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne.

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