It’s a well-known fact that just like humans, electric cars work best in temperate climates. 

But what is the coldest temperature an electric car needs to be operational in? And just how do you test that? 

While we’ve proven that cars like the 2011 Tesla Roadster can more than adequately cope with temperatures down to 14 degrees F without any perceptible drop in performance or range, readers north of the border have complained that our concept of cold is their definition or a warm spring day. We are apparently, southern pansies. 

Luckily, the U.S. Department of Energy has stepped in, with details of a testing program involving two electric trucks and the the frigid temperatures of the United States Antarctic Program McMurdo research station in Antarctica. 

Back in February, two low-speed E-ride EXV2 low-speed neighborhood electric vehicles (NEVs) were flown to McMurdo before the winter season started, enabling the joint team from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) to see just how well the fairly basic electric vehicles could handle the extreme cold weather. 

With a mean temperature of 0 degrees F and a minimum winter temperature of -58 degrees F, the two vehicles will be pushed well beyond the recommended operational temperatures for vehicles normally found in gated communities and golf-courses.

E-Ride EXV2

E-Ride EXV2

The two vehicles won’t be heading out to Antarctica completely unprepared however. Engineers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) have fitted both vehicles with significant battery box insulation and battery pack heaters to cope with the extreme temperatures.  Initial testing at NREL to -9F has yielded positive results with both vehicles performing well within specifications. 

Interestingly, the two vehicles chosen for the tests are hardly what most people would even consider a real electric car. With limited range and speed, very few creature comforts and using lead-acid rather than more advanced lithium-ion battery packs, the EXV2s are hardly competitive with more advanced highway-capable cars. 

However, there’s some logic here.  Yes, both trucks are very basic electric vehicles, but this also aids maintenance and ensures that repair costs should be relatively easy. They also recharge from a standard 110V domestic outlet, negating the need for expensive charging stations. 

Who knows? Maybe the next all-electric vehicle to brave the sub-zero, 24 hour darkness that is the Antarctic winter will be something a little more mainstream, like the 2011 Ford Focus or perhaps 2012 Volvo C30? 

In exchange for the ultimate cold-weather testing conditions, we can think of several automakers we think would jump at the chance.