“OH MY G-G-G-GOD” shivers you friend as he walks in the door, lips blue and icicles hanging down from his nose. He looks sort of like Jack Nicholson’s character at the end of The Shining. I mean, it’s winter in Minnesota, but he just got out of a car and walked in from a parking garage (or “ramp” as they say in the Land of Prince). There is no logical reason why your colleague should be this close to hypothermia in civilized suburbia, until you remember one important detail: he drives an EV and he hates charging his car.
If you don’t own an EV you might be unaware of the biggest enemy of these eco-friendly machines: the cold. Sub freezing temperatures will reduce your range significantly, and aside from battery warmup, what will drive your mileage off of a cliff is running the cabin heater (or, to a lesser extent, the air conditioning). Internal combustion engines have a lot of disadvantages; they actually send tremendous amounts of heat energy out the exhaust pipe and into the engine block/coolant, but at least that warmth eventually transfers through the vehicle, and the heated fluid of the cooling system can be used for free to keep driver and passengers warm in winter, requiring only a low-current-draw squirrel-cage fan to help push that heat into the cabin.
Tests have shown that running the heater in an EV can reduce range as significantly as 41 percent (based on a 2019 study, so things have hopefully gotten slightly better since then). What’s worse is that many of the range calculators in these cars don’t always that into account, which is the reason why you might have had to pick up your friend recently at some random parking lot while he waited for a flatbed to take his 4,000 pound paper weight to a charging station. “I REALLY thought I could make it home” he said, wondering why AAA couldn’t just put in a gallon of electricity. Heat is also a factor in cutting your range down, even if it isn’t as drastic; air conditioning is better in terms of power draw, but the aforementioned tests found that A/C can still take around 17 percent off of your range.
Tesla apparently recommends using the seat heaters as much as possible instead of the electric heating-elements-and-blower cabin system to preserve range, basically telling you to tough it. Tesla and others offer a heat pump, which warms the cabin much more efficiently than, say, a PTC thermal-element-style heater:
David Tracy was discussing this idea on Slack the other day, trying to use the brilliance of the Autopian hive mind to find an answer. Obviously, the REAL answer is more EVs with heat pumps and also more with enough capacity to give you range AND heat (or air conditioning) simultaneously, but we know it could be years away before that’s affordable. Besides, even when these things are capable of 1000 miles of range, the climate control will cut that distance down regardless.
An answer — albeit admittedly a slightly absurd one — for now seems to be reducing the amount of space required to heat or cool, because let’s face it: Most of the time cars do nothing but transport the driver and maybe a front passenger. The tighter the enclosed space, the easier it is to maintain a desired temperature. I’ve read that a few people in an igloo at arctic temperatures can bring the inside up to fifty degrees or more; such is the power of warm blooded creatures in an enclosed space. You also know how your mom said to KEEP THE DOOR TO THE GUEST ROOM CLOSED WE DON’T NEED TO HEAT AN EMPTY ROOM. One answer is pretty clear: partitions.
I’m not suggesting two-by-fours and drywall. I’d propose a collapsible partition that could easily be deployed to cut off either the rear seat area or the cargo area/third row in SUVs. The mechanism I think might work is similar to what you’ll see in the back windows of luxury cars: the electric sunshade. These devices feature a rolled-up screen and “scissor action” arms that pivot up to raise the shade.
If we substitute clear vinyl for the screen material, we could use the same system. Note on this Tesla Model Y how the rolled up screen would live just ahead of the rear seat cushion.
Deploying the partition could be done via a button or a screen in front; note that we would design the door panels to have flat surfaces to line up with the partition and keep the gaps as minimal as possible.
The same type of system could be used for the cargo area/third row, though in this case it might deploy downwards from the ceiling.
Or, if there is a cargo cover, the screen could rise out of that, not unlike the roll out “dog screens” that exist on cars like the station wagon that I recently sold to somebody that should know better.
What’s another idea? How do we keep individual occupants cool or warm without having to fill a giant space with conditioned air? Astronauts regulate their temperatures in space with climate controlled suits, as do race drivers with something called a Cool Suit that circulates chilled fluid through a grid of tubes attached to what looks like a t-shirt.
There are battery powered heated jackets you can purchase now to keep you warm, as well as heated socks that my always-cold spouse claims to have changed her life.
Such jackets or suits could be used inside your EV. While the heating element coat would work, I think the chilled-fluid thing will be too difficult to make a connection without water dripping. We could, however, install plumbing in a jacket so you can plug it into a heating/cooling outlet in the car and let the air from the climate control system give you a Stay-Puffed Marshmallow Man cocoon of comfort with just a fraction of the HVAC’s energy. I’m seeing air outlets on the console that you could hook up with you buckle your seat belt (and a power plug if the suit has heating elements); there would be tubes to connect the suit that pull out of the left or right pockets (so it could be used if you are a passenger or driver).
[Editor’s Note: You can get something similar if you own a Jeep Wrangler:
It’s called the “Lava” Jacket. I prefer just using 12V thermal elements in the jacket, but this is fine, too, I guess. -DT]
Better yet, these suits or jackets could be worn outside of the car and emblazoned with your vehicle’s logo to show the world status level, like keeping on a lift ticket from a cool resort. I’m sure we’ll see Ferrari EV suit wearers that really own Civics. Oh, and I don’t doubt that the air inlet for Tesla vehicles will be totally incompatible with heating/cooling inlets on other makes. I like the idea of the air inlet being down low so that you might get the effects of the old “ball cooler” under-the-steering-column vents in American cars.
In typical Autopian Slack fashion, the brainstorming started to go off the rails a bit. Jason argued that one solution to not having too much space to heat or cool really means having less car to begin with, and he isn’t wrong. Still, he’ll have a hard time convincing many buyers to purchase a phone-booth sized Chinese car, so a legitimate solution to keeping EV drivers and passengers comfortable needs to be found.
You know, we never had this problem with our 190,000 mile hand-me-down 1982 Oldsmobile Cutlass, did we?