Batteries as a beacon of hope: Even in winter, electric cars are significantly more economical than any diesel or gasoline engine

The ADAC recently shocked everyone with a winter test.

Batteries as a beacon of hope: Even in winter, electric cars are significantly more economical than any diesel or gasoline engine

The ADAC recently shocked everyone with a winter test. He drove 15 different electric cars at minus seven degrees and measured their increased consumption compared to summer. A VW ID.5 performed worst (plus 107 percent), and the Chinese BYD Atto 3 performed best (38 percent). However: The test route was extremely short and the comparison value was determined at 23 degrees plus; This is an absolute feel-good temperature for batteries.

The Norwegian automobile association Norges Automobil-Forbund (NAF) also wanted to know and tested 23 models at minus two to minus ten degrees plus a storm. The result was milder. The consumption deviated from the WLTP value by a maximum of 34 percent (that is the consumption that is in the brochures). One of the losers was the Tesla Model 3, which was considered efficient, with a loss of around 30 percent, but it still managed 441 kilometers. The BMW i5 came in second (minus twelve percent).

All cars consume more energy in winter, that's physics. Combustion engines also have to go through a cold running phase where oil and fats are still viscous and a lot of heat is lost. According to TÜV Nord, consumption increases slightly to one and a half to two times during this phase. Anyone who only commutes a few kilometers to work in the cold knows the excessiveness of their cold vehicle. If you add heating, winter tires and other consumers, the energy requirement for combustion engines increases by an average of one to two liters in winter. For small and medium-sized cars, this corresponds to 15 to 30 percent more fuel consumption.

The bottom line is that electric cars are significantly more economical than any diesel or gasoline engine, even in winter. If a comfortably heated and quickly moving Tesla Model 3 consumes 20 kilowatt hours per 100 kilometers in the cold season, that corresponds to the energy content of just around two liters of diesel. This frugality is unthinkable with combustion engines.

Researchers have long been working on keeping batteries at full capacity even in winter. The problem is the chemistry, especially with the common lithium-ion batteries. In them, lithium ions migrate between the poles to generate energy. They become increasingly slower as temperatures fall. In physical terms: the internal resistance increases and the range decreases. Modern electric cars have battery management that brings the battery to an ideal temperature of around 25 degrees before charging. However, warming up itself eats up a few kilowatt hours and therefore range.

That's why manufacturers are looking for alternative chemicals that can't be harmed by cold temperatures. The Chinese battery company CATL has already increased the efficiency of lithium batteries by 50 percent at minus 20 degrees using a new electrolyte. The lithium iron phosphate battery (LFP) should be able to recharge a range of 400 kilometers in just ten minutes, and within 30 minutes in winter.

The Chinese manufacturer Greater Bay Technology wants to be able to heat the battery from minus 20 to plus 25 degrees within five minutes without causing damage using so-called superconductors. This means there is no loss of range in winter. Charging speed: up to 80 percent in six minutes. Lifespan: 800,000 kilometers. Series production is scheduled to start this year.

Sodium-ion batteries, which do not contain lithium, cobalt and nickel, are also seen as hopeful. They are initially particularly suitable for smaller vehicles because they have a slightly lower energy density. But even at minus 20 degrees, they still have 90 percent capacity without having to be warmed up. The Swedish company Northvolt has made great progress with them and wants to produce them in Germany in the Dithmarschen district from 2026. The Chinese manufacturer JAC is even already installing them in cars.

Solid-state batteries will probably only be ready for the market in three or four years. These work with lithium ions, but without a liquid in which the ions migrate between the poles. Instead, a solid, conductive ceramic layer is used. Advantage: The batteries can absorb 30 to 40 percent more energy than their predecessors for the same size and are less sensitive to temperature. Stellantis (Opel, Fiat, Citroën, Peugeot) wants to use the first solid-state batteries in 2026.