Living with an EV just keeps getting better and better. High-current charging stations and massive battery packs have extended range to perfectly reasonable levels, entry-level models seem to keep offering more range and better pricing, and everything from electric hatchbacks to electric trucks means there’s an EV with a silhouette for practically everyone. Mind you, EVs aren’t perfect yet. Winter driving presents a fairly challenging situation, but ZF seems to have a possible solution called the Heat Belt.
See, the problem with operating an EV in winter is twofold. First, there’s the fact that lithium-ion batteries just aren’t happy in below-freezing temperatures. Recurrent Auto aggregated data from 7,000 EVs and found winter range to fall considerably below range at 70 degree temperatures. The popular Ford Mustang Mach-E and Volkswagen ID.4 both saw a 30 percent drop in range, a considerable impact on usability.
Then there’s the matter of keeping the cabin of an EV warm. It’s no secret that EVs don’t generate the same sort of powertrain heat as combustion-powered cars, as there should be a distinct lack of combustion going on. While manufacturers have attempted to keep occupants cozy with heat pumps and resistive heaters, the simple truth is that resistive heating is incredibly power-hungry and heat pumps can be expensive to engineer and produce. Not great when batteries absolutely hate cold weather and electric cars are generally fairly expensive.
A relatively cheap, less power-intensive solution is to warm each occupant directly, through creature comforts like heated seats and a heated steering wheel. A reasonably ass-blazing heated seat draws between three and four amps, or 40 to 50 watts of power, a much smaller current draw than a resistive heater. Better yet, if only one or two occupants are in a car, then only one or two heated seats are on, meaning current draw for heating is directly related to vehicle occupancy. However, there is one small problem with heated seats – they only heat your back and thighs.
Enter, the Heat Belt. Basically, ZF has put tiny little heating elements inside seatbelt webbing that can immediately start warming up as soon as you turn them on. Best of all, these elements are so thin that the Heat Belt doesn’t require special retractors, meaning that retrofitting should be relatively easy. A nice warm band across your body and lap sounds pretty great for winter driving, and the current draw is so low that ZF claims the Heat Belt may improve cold weather range by up to 15 percent versus using traditional climate control.
So how hot is the Heat Belt supposed to get, and what are the drawbacks? Well, ZF claims temperatures between 36 and 40 degrees Celsius (96.8 to 104 degrees Fahrenheit), which sounds properly toasty. As for drawbacks, the big one is that the Heat Belt doesn’t heat your entire front, but there’s also the possibility that winter coats may diminish its immediate feeling of warmth. Still, minor details.
While I still want to see what the Heat Belt is like in the real world, the promise of a cold-weather range boost and general coziness hits my frozen Canadian psyche just right. Given the alleged ease of implementation, I wouldn’t be surprised to see heated seat belts on production-spec EVs fairly soon.
(Photo credits: Volvo, ZF)
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