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Over the weekend we noticed that Nissan is now detailing a cold-weather package as an option on the 2011 Leaf. Although it’s not available yet at any of the current dealers, but Nissan has confirmed with fan-site Nissan-leaf.net that it will be available to order soon.
So what is in the cold weather package, and why would you want it? After all, the Nissan Leaf comes with the ability to pre-heat or cool the car while it’s still plugged in, right?
Yes, but at the moment, Nissan’s cold weather package consists of a few extra features designed to improve the performance of the car and increase comfort levels for the passengers in cold winters, regardless of where the car is.
In addition to heated seats, a heated steering wheel, heated mirrors and extra ducting to direct warm air to the passengers in the rear, the option also includes something Nissan calls “temperature management”. We’re not sure on this last option, but it could be something designed to maintain an optimum battery pack temperature in cold weather.
Like humans, lithium ion battery packs don’t like to be too cold, or too hot. Extremes of temperature reduce the battery pack’s ability to provide full power. Heating and cooling the pack as required results in a much more predictable performance and range.
Cars with internal combustion engines are rather inefficient at converting the fuel into motive force. Much of the energy in the fuel is lost as part of the combustion cycle, being
radiated away from the engine as heat and sound. This excess heat can be used to warm the car’s coolant passing it through the cabin heater matrix and warming the air inside the car.
While electric cars are more efficient at turning fuel into motive force it comes at a price - there is very little heat generated by either motor, batteries or electronics. And that means keeping warm in the winter is a challenge.
While electric cars generally use an electric heater to warm the cabin, this is not particularly energy efficient. Any energy used to heat the cabin air or cool it using air conditioning comes straight from the car’s traction battery and effectively reduces the range of the vehicle.
As it turns out, using a lower cabin heat setting alongside heated seats and steering wheel can provide the same level of comfort for passengers and drive than using just the cabin heater, while using less energy.
Less energy wasted heating the occupants equals a better winter driving range.
For owners in the Northeast, or those who simply want to take their Nissan Leaf skiing in the Sierra Nevadas, these extra features are bound to make winter trips much more fun.
What we’re surprised to not see however, is a snow mode. Found on northern examples of Toyota’s 1997-2003 RAV4 EV, the button restricted the torque fed to the wheels to prevent wheel-spin in winter conditions.
We’re not sure if this feature will come with the 2011 Nissan Leaf, or if Nissan have another solution to improve handling in winter weather. It's likely though that it's already built-in to the car's traction control system. Rest assured, would-be owners in Canada and the heavy-snow states will have a way to stay warm and drive electric.