UPDATED: Responding To The Washington Post Hatchet Job On Electric Cars & Winter Driving

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Last week, hundreds of motorists on I-95 in Virginia were stuck for hours when a blizzard closed the highway south of Washington, DC. Highway crews couldn’t spread ice-melting chemicals before the storm arrived because the rain that preceded it would have washed them away. But when temperatures dropped, the rain quickly turned to ice. Then the snow came and made the ice treacherously slippery. Tractor trailers trying to get off the highway lost control, blocking many exit ramps. Senator Tim Kaine was trapped in the tangled mess of stalled cars for 27 hours.

Afterwards, Charles Lane, an editorial writer and columnist for the Washington Post, wrote a blistering opinion piece entitled, “Imagine Virginia’s Icy Traffic Catastrophe — But With Only Electric Vehicles.” In it, he wails about the Tesla driver who banged on the door of a tractor trailer, begging for help because he was afraid his family might freeze to death if his battery ran out of power. “If everyone had been driving electric vehicles, this mess could well have been worse,” Lane writes.

He goes on to say even Tesla warns on its website the cold temperatures can reduce range. Charging a cold battery takes longer, and besides, he says, there aren’t that many charging stations anyway. And what happens if the power goes out? What then? Lane, a graduate of Yale law school, apparently lacks the mental capacity to realize that when the power goes out, gas pumps stop working as well.

Then Lane gets down to his main point. “All else being equal, though, cars and trucks with internal combustion engines (ICE) would have the advantage in coping with a sudden challenge such as the I-95 fiasco. It is much easier to rehabilitate a disabled ICE vehicle. Rescuers can deliver gallons of gas in convenient jugs; gas stations are still far more numerous than EV charging stations; and ICE car batteries can be jump-started in minutes. Absent some breakthrough in mobile charging technology, out-of-juice EVs in out-of-the-way places will need a tow. If Monday’s nightmare had been an all-electric affair, they might have littered the highway for miles.”

That’s true, Charles, just as conventional cars that ran out of gas littered the highway for miles and had to be towed. What a jumped up jackass you are, sir! If you are wondering how such an ignorant stooge gets to publish his poisonous ideas, consider this from his Washington Post bio: “He is a … frequent panelist on Fox News’s Special Report and Fox News Sunday.” Oh, Fox News. Sure, now there’s a bastion of journalistic excellence for you. Did you notice how Lane took a deliberate swipe at Tesla? Shameful.

UPDATE: See how a Tesla handled this traffic jam:

You Can’t Handle The Truth!

User TheGadgetGuy1 on the Tesla Lounge forum decided to test Charles Lane’s whacko theories. So he did a little experiment with his Model X. Here’s what he found:

The Scenario

  • My Model X was fully preconditioned prior to the start of the test
  • The battery was charged to 80% prior to the start of the test
  • Temperatures here in Michigan today were very uniform. 20 degrees all day.
  • After preconditioning, the Model X was parked in my driveway for the test period
  • Seat heaters, and steering wheel heaters were activated.
  • Cabin temp set to 70 degrees. HVAC on Auto mode.
  • Camp Mode was started, and the car was left in the driveway for the test period
  • Vehicle doors will remain closed during the test period. Mobile App used to acquire data every hour.
  • Test duration: 5 hours

The Raw Data

  • 79% – 207 miles – 11:45am — Test Start
  • 76% – 201 miles – 12:53pm
  • 74% – 196 miles – 1:46pm
  • 69% – 181 miles – 3:48pm
  • 67% – 175 miles – 4:45pm — Test End

The Results

  • Model X used an average of 2.4% of battery per hour throughout the test period
  • Range went from 207 miles, to 175 miles at the end of the test.
  • 5 hours of Camp mode utilized 32 miles of range, 12% of range
  • 24 hours of Camp Mode would require (extrapolated 153 miles of range, 58% of range

This data conclusively proves that a Model X can easily keep all passengers in complete comfort during a 24 hour duration event while stranded on the freeway in the winter, using less than half of the maximum battery capacity. All the while, the passengers have access to Netflix, video games, and plenty of online entertainment.

There, Charles Lane, put that in your pipe and smoke it!

[Editor’s note: I would add three things. First of all, some drivers will surely end up in a traffic jam like that with well under 80% charge. However, one does not need to have all of those things on and would sensibly be a bit more cautious with the battery in such a situation. Furthermore, if the battery gets to 20% charge, the car will do various things to make sure to preserve energy and lose as little charge as possible. So, in essence, the loss of charge shown in that example is unlikely to be so high or uniform. —Zach Shahan]

Some Actual Journalism

Lane cites a report by AAA that claims EVs lose 41% of their range and another by Consumer Reports that puts that number at 50%. The AAA test was done in a laboratory and Consumer Reports only tested 2 vehicles. Both reports are from 2019, which means they are hopelessly outdated today as battery technology and car software continues to improve.

Then he makes some snide comments about EV drivers in Norway, citing statistics that show there are still more conventional cars on the roads in that country than EVs. That means Norwegians are only buying electric cars for second vehicles, he says, and keeping their gasmobiles (and dieselmobiles) for longer trips and driving in winter. He also says Norway is reducing some of its EV incentives, implying that the government is having second thoughts about supporting electric cars.

There is a lot missed there. The fact is that even at 100% BEV sales month after month, it takes a long time to transition a society’s fleet of vehicles on the road. Vehicles are typically on the road for 10–20 years. People don’t buy new cars every year. Last month, 90% of new vehicle sales were plugin vehicles sales; 67% of sales were full electric vehicle (BEV) sales. It’s hard to get much better than that, but there is no case where high plugin vehicle sales would rapidly make every vehicle on the road a plugin vehicle.

Additionally, what this intrepid fake journalist didn’t do, was mention an experiment in 2020 by the Norway Automobile Federation in which it drove 20 different EVs in real-world winter conditions “until they stopped completely and shut down.” That information was published by InsideHook. NAF found the 20 cars it tested in the real world lost an average of 20% of their range in cold conditions. The Hyundai Kona Electric and Tesla Model S only lost 9% of their range. You can learn more about their testing protocols and results in this video.

InsideHook has this to say about some common EV myths. “It’s only fair that we acknowledge the failings of internal combustion engine cars in the winter. It’s much easier to point out the faults of EVs because all of us who’ve driven gas cars our entire lives accept the cold weather annoyances of the latter as standard operating procedure. The slog of warming them up in the morning, frozen fluids, black ice slides, dead batteries — we accept all of this as normal, even though they’re problems with the inherent design of modern gas powered automobiles.

“Speaking of dead batteries, is that what happens to electric cars in winter? Is it possible you could go back to your Tesla Model Y after leaving it out in the snow to find the battery is shot? This is one of the biggest misconceptions about how EVs are impacted by cold temperatures. After studying the issue, Consumer Reports cleared this up, writing, ‘It’s important to note that EV batteries lose range not because of how the cold weather affects the physical battery but because of the added power demands that come from operating the car in cold weather’.”

Buried at the bottom of the AAA press release is a grudging admission that “drivers in [cold climates] shouldn’t be discouraged” from buying an EV. “Owning an electric vehicle in these regions just requires some additional planning.” If you’re already carrying an ice scraper, shovel, flashlight, battery jump-starter, and extra winter clothes in your gas-guzzling SUV this winter just in case, InsideHook says, doing that additional planning will be easy.

Are there challenges that go along with driving an electric car in winter? Yes, there are. EV drivers need to think about the level of charge in their batteries and leave more time for charging in cold weather. Driving an electric car is not the same as driving a conventional car, and Charles Lane displays his ignorance and bias when he says EVs should mimic conventional cars in every respect. That attitude assumes nothing should ever change, no matter how dire the need might be to move away from burning fossil fuels for the good of the human species.

As InsideHook points out, Norway is not spending all this money to encourage people to buy electric cars because of the climate crisis. The government is doing it because it recognizes that the detritus that flows out of the tailpipes of gasoline and diesel powered cars has a significant affect on the health and lifespan of its citizens. Perhaps Charles Lane should spend a little less time bashing electric cars and a little more time educating himself about the ruinous consequences of driving conventional cars and trucks.

You would think someone educated at Yale would know how to do basic research, but apparently that is too much to ask of a member of this Washington Post editorial writer. Its readers deserve better.

Featured image courtesy of NAF.

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Steve Hanley

Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. He is proud to be "woke" and doesn't really give a damn why the glass broke. He believes passionately in what Socrates said 3000 years ago: "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new."

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