Should I choose an electric for my next winter car?

John Paul, AAA Northeast's Car Doctor, answers a question from a reader concerned about electric vehicles' reduced range in cold temperatures.

The 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric.
The 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric. –Hyundai

Q. For my next winter car, I want to move in the direction of electric, but I read that electric cars are considerably less efficient in cold weather. Would you prefer a front-wheel drive electric car with winter tires such as a Hyundai Kona over a typical all-wheel-drive vehicle with a gasoline engine for driving in the Northeast? There are few all-wheel-drive electrics, but I see plug-in hybrid vehicles as placeholders, albeit a step in the right direction. Lastly, how long before we see fluoride-based batteries replace the current options in cars?

A. Battery development is constantly changing. In just the 30 years or so that I’ve been involved with electric vehicles, batteries have been the biggest issue. In fact, from the turn of the last century until the 1990s, batteries for electric cars didn’t change that much. These days, it’s the combination of new battery designs coupled with sophisticated battery management systems that are making some of the biggest improvements in electric vehicles.

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Regarding fluoride-based batteries, there is still work to do. Fluoride batteries initially were required to run at temperatures over 300 degrees. There is some development in this area, but I believe it will be years before we see this latest battery design in consumer vehicles.

Regarding range, even Teslas can experience range issues in very cold weather. AAA testing showed a 50-mile range drop when tested on a dynamometer in a temperature-controlled testing room, when using the heater.

I have yet to drive the Kona E/V but expect it to have about the same range issues when the temperature drops to freezing. Last year, I drove the Kia Soul EV, which has about a 110-mile range in the summer. I commute about 100 miles round-trip to work. After getting comfortable with the car, I could drive the trip without any problems. I drove a similar vehicle last winter, and if it weren’t for a charging station at AAA, I would not have been able to get home. If I were looking for a year-round vehicle and had a long commute, I would be looking at a plug-in hybrid. One vehicle to look at is the Mitsubishi Outlander. I found it to be a very competent SUV in all weather conditions.

John Paul is AAA Northeast’s Car Doctor. He has over 40 years of experience in the automotive business and is an ASE certified master technician. Email your car question to jpaul@aaanortheast.com.