2012 Tesla Model S: Will Winter Weather Ruin Its Range?

The first two 2012 Tesla Model S all-electric sport sedans to roll off the Tesla production line last month were shipped to Chicago, where they're presumably now tooling around in the Midwest's record-setting summer heat.

But how will the cars' impressive EPA range of 268 miles hold up six months from now, when the Windy City turns bitterly cold?

For now, Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] isn't answering that question.  A company spokesperson told us that "we're not yet fully ready to discuss" the car's range in seriously cold weather.

Tesla's range-calculator program  (available at its retail stores, but not yet on its website) offers some hints--but it only goes down to a temperature of 32 degrees. That's fine for the lucky folks in California, but for many of us, 32 degrees in January would be a heat wave.

For a variety of reasons, electric cars suffer a significant loss of range in cold weather. When the temperature hits the teens, my Chevy Volt's summer range of 40-plus miles drops to about 25 miles--a loss of 40 percent. Nissan Leaf owners report similar numbers.

Will the Model S suffer the same fate, or does Tesla know something that Nissan and Chevy don't?

For me, that's not just an academic question. I'm Model S owner number P 717, hoping to take delivery late this year.

I'm currently debating between the basic 40-kWh battery pack (good for 160 miles) and the $10,000-more-expensive 60-kWh battery, good for 230 miles. Those range estimates are both Tesla numbers; the official EPA ratings for range on those two battery-pack capacities have yet to be announced.

My minimum travel requirement is to New York City and back without recharging, which is about 120 miles. At  first, I assumed the 160-mile battery would be enough.

But after living through a winter with the Volt, I'm not so sure.  If the Model S suffers the same 40-percent loss as the Volt, I'm looking at a cold-weather range of 100 miles--which would leave me stranded somewhere on the Palisades Parkway in New Jersey or lower New York state.

So the $10,000 question becomes: In seriously cold weather, will the 2012 Tesla Model S suffer range losses similar to those of the Volt and Leaf?

A few months ago, Elon Musk assured me in a personal e-mail that "we are probably closer to a 20-percent drop than a 40-percent drop."  (Pretty cool that the CEO will respond in two hours to a customer query out of the blue.)

A blog on Tesla's website by Musk and company CTO J.B. Straubel says that under "very cold" conditions, range at 55 mph may be reduced by 10 to 15 percent.

Tesla's Model S range calculator, which I tried out in the Tesla store in White Plains, New York, predicts a loss of  about 8 percent at 50 degrees and 15 percent at 32 degrees. But that's as low as it goes.

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

2012 Tesla Model S display screen [Photo: Flickr user jurvetson]

Enlarge Photo

If we extrapolate that curve (actually, it's a straight line) down to 17 degrees, we get a range loss of 21 percent--only about half that of the Volt. Take the curve down to 0 degrees, and we have a 27 percent loss--giving a range of about 118 miles on the 40-kWh, "160-mile" battery. 

But how accurate is that extrapolation?  I'd rather make my $10,000 decision on the basis of real-world testing and experience. And at the moment, almost none of that is publicly available.

According to Tesla's range calculator, cabin heating causes most of the Model S range loss in cold weather. At 55 mph, the model I'm considering has a range of 170 miles at the ideal 70 degrees.

When the temperature drops to freezing, that range goes down to 145 miles. But if you're willing to  turn off the heater, range jumps back up to 162 miles.

So what do you think? Should I pony up the extra $10,000 for the bigger battery? Or just bundle up for my winter trips to New York City? Or, maybe just burn some gasoline in the Volt?

Leave me your thoughts in the Comments below.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S reservation holder and freelance writer who lives north of New York City. This is his first article for High Gear Media.


Follow GreenCarReports on Facebook and Twitter.

Follow Us

Comments (49)
  1. I would go for the bigger battery (easy to say as it is not my money).

    In addition to the longer range, you should have less cycles of deep discharge which should lengthen the battery life.

  2. Agreed. There is a reason the smallest pack has a mileage limitation on it's warranty and the bigger ones don't. Wear and tear will be higher due to all the power having to come from fewer cells which also get cycled more often. This means quicker capacity fading in the pack that has the least spare capacity to deal with that so you will end up with substantially less range than you bargained for quite quick especially under cold conditions.

  3. I agree. Go 60, be happy :)

  4. Go for the bigger pack, you'd have more range in any weather condition and if you had to ever get somewhere in an emergency that extra range may come in handy.

  5. Definitely shell out the extra $10,000. Consider if it is raining, your mpg's will go down even further. And as your car batteries age, your range will decrease. Better safe, than sorry.

  6. if you got the money, why the question? its a no brainer that if you had it, you would figure out a way to use it.

    another thing to consider; LEAF owners are seeing range degradation...at least some are. i am in WA State, 2 days short of 18 months and just over 19,000 miles and have no range loss. others have seen loss and the difference "might" the depth of discharge others have seen while doing range tests. A LEAFer in San Diego which also has the moderate climate has done well to chart ranges during all types of scenarios but has seen loss and i believe its his several dozen forays into "turtle" mode.

    so if you have a regular commute that could stress your packs range, you might want to consider bumping up to use the middle of the pack

  7. this reduces long term wear, stress on yourself and allows you to plan longer trips that the 160 mile pack cant do

  8. Don't forget about the fact that the pack is going to lose capacity over time. Even if it turns out that you have just enough range this winter, will you have enough 5 winters from now?

    Get the bigger pack if it is that close. You'll get a zippier ride as an added bonus.

  9. You said you were driving to NYC and back. If you were to get stuck in a traffic jam you would want the extra juice to keep you warm in the winter. If driving were smooth and never jams, then you could go with the smaller.

  10. The subscription part of my Better Place car cost me ₪30,293 = $7,653 for 4 years 80,000 km unlimited battery swaps, battery lease and all the electricity I need and an installed home charger.

    And here everyone is saying I'm paying too much for electricity and discussing ANOTHER $10,000 on top of an already expensive car. Before you drew a single kWh to make it go. And in any 8 hour period I can go 50% further than a Tesla S with my tiny battery.

  11. You have a point.

    On the plus side, with a 60 KWH battery pack, the author can make his daily travels without having to go to a battery swap location (if such thing existed for him and it doesn't), which he would need to do in the fluence. So it is a time saver.

    On the negative side, it is true that the author has to pay for a 60 KWH (model s) versus a 24 KWH (Fluence) and there is no doubt, that big battery is expensive and the cost could be mitigated by swapping.

  12. As good as Tesla is vs Renault, there is a huge efficiency penalty for lugging 60 kWh battery instead of my 22 kWh. I'm getting 16kWh per 100km if I can be bothered to try, Tesla owners won't get that if they have to carry all that extra battery around even when they're only going 25 miles.

    Tesla is selling a modern smart phone with a battery the size of an 80's brick phone. Sure the standby time of 3 months is handy on treks to the North Pole, but you can't get a signal there.

    And if your daily run is more than 80 mile each way and you can't charge at both ends, maybe gasoline is still for you.

  13. Ok enough with the Better Place fanboy comments already. At least Tesla is capable of building cars with real range it's not some fly by night charging scheme. Tesla did what it takes to get real range out of current battery technology, give it ten years and the battery will probably weigh half as much and go twice the distance. Better Place is only one of many charging ideas, they didn't actually advance any new technologies they just came up with a way to pull out and replace batteries quickly.

  14. There is a penalty in weight for the model S, no doubt, but it is not that large.

    Compare the LEAF to the Model S with the 85KWH battery.
    LEAF 99 MPGe
    Model S 89 MPGe

    So maybe a 10% difference, significant, but not huge given that the Model S is significantly larger.

    Also, if you are doing highway driving, there is almost no penalty (92 mpge LEAF, 90 mpge Model S) for the weight in terms of efficiency. City driving, however, shows greater differences.

  15. Right, and it's flat-out nonsensical to claim that Better Place's tiny range cars are some kind of game-changing innovation, when they are not.

    In most urban environments, you don't need to change batteries. For long distance travel, swapping batteries every 80 miles is flat-out ludicrous.

    Let's stop pretending that Rube Goldberg's Renault is somehow more advanced than an electric car that can go 300 miles without stopping for an electron or an ounce of gasoline. Sure, the weight isn't optimal, but the Fluence isn't exactly a featherweight either. It's still a 3400 lb. car (so it's 1200 lb. lighter than a top-range Model S) and it's significantly smaller inside and out.

  16. I do agree with you on the whole John, EVs are all just different shades of excellent. The S also has a major advantage of using expensive Aluminium (please pronounce that with a British accent when reading this). That befits its money almost no object target market.

  17. @Mark Rogowsky

    Why is switching every 80 miles ludicrous? I can drive 100's miles without stopping for gas on normal days so if I have to stop twice on one 200 mile trip it's not a big deal. I've travelled 2000 miles so far and made 6 essential switches. I reckon that would have been 6 to 8 fuel fill ups instead.

    And I know the Renault sucks compared to the Tesla: it's built down to a tight budget and in reality (away from Israel's crazy car pricing structure) it would cost less than half the base price of the Model S. But the reality is, Renault Fluence + switching is a more capable car than Model S plus a wire. And that's before the crazy big battery models.

  18. There are more comments in this thread
  19. I would also worry about capacity losses due to battery deterioration. As for HVAC losses, the Tesla website claims 5 to 10 percent loss due to interior air temp control. But the energy required for HVAC is by and large mostly dependent upon TIME (and of course, ambient temps), not miles. Thus the somewhat contradictory situation that increased speed reduces range but also reduces HVAC consumption during that trip. One pretty obvious tip would be to make sure the car is fully conditioned while still powered from the grid before you start driving. I
    don't know if this was done but heat from the operating batteries
    may be great enough to contribute to interior heating, in addition to heating the pack itself.

  20. If it was my money, I would spend my time finding parking in the city that offered charging - even if you only needed it in the winter. If there's nothing convenient to the office, then convince your favorite parking facility to install an EVSE.

  21. He should do that regardless, but he didn't specify that he could wait on a charge. I'd still say get the bigger battery to give yourself flexibility.

    The smaller battery is really best in an urban environment. The medium battery and big battery are large enough for decent road trips and are much more durable.

  22. I am surprised that Tesla doesn't have the "winter testing" data to back it up...

    Usually all major auto makers test their products in extreme cold and extreme heat to account for environmental differences.

    Tesla can easily figure out the % using a large environmental chamber...

  23. The Model S has spent nearly all its road-testing hours in the development phase in temperate California. I suspect they have some kind of environmental facility by now, though I'm not sure. I also suspect that cars will be sent out to cold climates this winter -- actual production models -- for more extensive testing.

  24. You are telling me that Tesla are selling cars before they fully test them? That would be irresponsible...

    I hope the owners don't take their cars to Lake Tahoe then... B/c that is about 230 miles from SF bay area and Tahoe can get really cold in the winter and hilly....

  25. Tesla has performed plenty of cold weather testing. And they have existing data from their existing Roadsters which goes back years. They have video of Model S doing cold weather testing posted on YouTube.

  26. Why aren't they publishing those data then? That is important to buyers.

  27. That's right Xiaolong Li, alpine lakes can get...hilly, LOL.

    "Right, and it's flat-out nonsensical to claim that Better Place's tiny range cars are some kind of game-changing innovation, when they are not." Mark, they don't have to be game changers in "your" driveway. Just in Israel and the few places they are sold.

  28. Did you even try to research your claim?

    "This winter Model S took a trip to Baudette, Minnesota, one of the coldest places in the continental United States. Tesla engineers worked for days in sub-zero weather in order to put Model S through a rigorous set of demanding winter driving tests."

  29. Tesla engineers may have indeed "worked for days in sub-zero weather" testing the Model S, but neither the video nor the accompanying written copy makes any mention of how cold weather affected range--nor if in fact range measurements were even taken. I spent two weeks going back and forth with the Tesla PR department trying to talk to the engineer in charge of the cold-weather tests in Minnesota. In the end, they put me off, and said they weren't ready to talk about the subject of cold-weather range until the fall. (This suggests to me that they may not have any good data to talk about.) If your research has turned up some real information about cold-weather range of the Model S, I'd be delighted to hear about it, as would our readers.

  30. Chicago is cold? Never mind, let's talk about REAL cold. I'm in Saskatchewan, Canada, but Northern states like Montana, North Dakota & Minnesota get cold like we do. We're talking zero F and colder - occasionally all the way down to -30 or -40. I know lead acid batteries lose a lot of power at those temperatures - that's the reason people install heated battery blankets (http://amzn.to/O3p17x), as well as block heaters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Block_heater). So, the question remains, what is the impact on range at those temperatures, especially when the heater and defroster are running full blast to keep the occupants warm and the windows clear?

  31. The impact on range will be severe, but the analogies are imperfect. Lead acid batteries don't drop their stored charge because it's cold, the chemistry is less efficient so the power draw from a cold start might not be capable of starting your car in -30 without some heat protection.

    Lithium batteries don't love icy cold either, but the batteries themselves will come up to temperature fairly quickly. The most important issue is that heating a car with electric space heaters is inefficient as heck. It was never an issue with gas-powered cars because the waste heat from your engine is an extraordinary source of free heat. At -30, your heater is going to be eating up probably 1kw to keep the car warm.

  32. True, but maybe trivial. Consider driving 4 hrs non-stop. That's 4 kwh for heating. Not much compared to the total drive usage.

  33. Actually the big hit is from the heater. There are numerous Roadster owners who have done just fine under those conditions.


  34. Definetly the larger battery, and you also get faster charging.
    You can't put a fixed figure or percentage on cold weather driving as it is VERY dependent on the temperature and even on if it is snowing or not. You do not want to get caught late at night 0F temperature in a blizzard, and realize you only have a few miles range left.

  35. I don't imagine batteries do very well in extreme temperatures period. I live in Arizona now, in the desert, not in Flagstaff, where the summer temps can be 115. I grew up north of Edmonton where it can hit -40 F/C. Interestingly batteries do worse in the extreme heat on a gasoline vehicle than in the extreme cold I have found. I have to replace my car battery every 18-24 months minimum in the heat. In the cold, it actually went a bit farther, every 30-36 months. I would like to take a model S up the hill here in the winter, from 70 F here to 15 F in Flagstaff, up from 800 feet above sea level to 7000 feet, up two large inclines, one 30 miles north of Phoenix, the other 90 miles north. If it can make that trip, I would be very impressed.

  36. Tesla batteries control their own temperature, unlike the battery in your car (and unlike a Nissan Leaf). An MS60 or MS85 (medium or big battery) should handle the trip you described without a problem.

  37. Since the Model S battery pack is liquid cooled and less likely to experience as wide a range of temperature extremes so it should fair a bit better than the Leaf’s battery pack, which is simply air-cooled. Yes, It would be interesting to see a detailed study showing range loss from 0 degrees Fahrenheit to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. This covers the average temperature in the northern states during the 3 months of meteorological winter for the lower 48 states. However if you have a long drive and its 40 below zero than you will most likely need to take the gasoline powered car.

  38. Gasoline powered vehicles have their own issue at 40 below. One of them is that you have to keep them plugged in to an electrical socket when not in use :P

  39. True, that is to keep battery warm and keep the lubrication at the right temperature. But once the engine is on, the cord is no longer needed. Engine produces plenty of heat (waste) to keep the car warm. EVs have to use precious energy to heat the battery and cabin. That will cut down ranges significantly...

  40. Get the bigger battery. Battery degradation isn't the end of the world, but your own range estimates in adverse weather show you don't have much or any margin. In 6 or 7 years normal degradation will be stacking the deck against you :)

  41. I've written a post about a 200 mile road trip I took one day last week that would fall right between the 40kWh and 60kWh Model S capabilities. $10,000 would be a lot of money to pay to make that trip once a month.


  42. When you say you have a minimum 120 mile trip there and back. Do you stop or do you just drive the whole 120 miles with a short stop to pick up. It's just if you are there for a while couldn't you recharge somewhere. I thought the model s could add 25 to 40 miles for every hour of charge at level 2.

  43. I own a Tesla Roadster and I live in Quebec, Canada. I've been testing my Roadster in extreme cold (—25 F) and everything was working. I estimate that I was loosing about 20% of range.

  44. But your Roadster has a smaller cabin to heat up and less heat loss due to surface area. Tesla S is much bigger car and will lose far more cabin heat.

    Was that 20% range loss with or without heat on?

  45. I'd pony up the extra $10k for the peace of mind you'll be glad you'll have over the lesser model over the years of ownership ahead of you. Range anxiety should be minimized in a car like the Tesla S, let the LEAFers wallow in that worry. Remember - you get what you pay for, and so don't skimp on a car that demands to be driven as swiftly as any other car on the road, instead of going 50 mph in the slow lane in order to stretch your range.

  46. David:

    Buy the biggest battery you can afford. You are saying you only want to get to work, but I'm sure there will be other situations where you want more range.

    My information is that the middle sized battery is going to be delayed. If you click that one, your car will likely come later than you think.

    I'm considering a Tesla. I will not buy one if I can't afford the largest battery and the air suspension. The rest of the options are nice, but these two are non-negotiable. If I can't afford them, I can't afford this car.

    I'm assuming that I will drive it too fast, range will decline with age, I'll give people rides around the block, turn on the climate control etc and that all these things will affect the range.

  47. David:

    Other considerations...The Tesla has a coolant circulation system to keep the battery at reasonable temps. I've been told it also keeps the battery above 20F. This works when the car is "off". So, the longer you store it out in cold weather, the more it will discharge the battery. My garage is heated to about 45F in winter, but my parking space at work is not, so I'm counting on loosing another 10% of the power while the car is parked at work. Then, you are going to want to use some heat in the car while you drive it. That will take away some more of the battery's capacity.

  48. David - I hope this does not reach you too late to assist in your battery option decision making process... I don't know if you are aware but the Tesla High Power Charger will not work with the base model - so, if you plan to make use of it then the choice is the Sb or Sc (S60 or S85?).


Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.