Politicians in the West like to throw out big, bold numbers when predicting the switch-over to 100% electric vehicles. 2050! 2040! 2035!
In Norway, meanwhile, they're really just going for it:
Yet one small wrinkle to this whole wacky plan: Norway gets pretty cold.
Like, really cold.
And it turns out that electric vehicles, well, don't do all that great when it's really cold:
Few places on earth are better designed to create automotive agony than the Lapland Proving Ground. Midway between Paris and the North Pole, it is where automakers come to see if their newest creations can endure the most frozen of tortures.
So it seemed the perfect place for The Norwegian Electric Vehicle Association to bring a handful of electric cars, to see how they manage in conditions unimaginable in the more temperate latitudes where automotive designers work in Germany and California.
After all, drivers in far northern climates are as likely to encounter 30 below as 30 above. Cellphones regularly fail in extreme cold. Can an electric car fare much better?
Hmm, can it? Spoiler alert: No it cannot.
In Finland, Ståle Frydenlund, test manager for the electric vehicle association, locked five new models into the proving ground's cold chambers overnight and set the thermometer for -40 degrees. When he returned the next morning, the results were not particularly reassuring. Three of the vehicles – Kia Niro EV, Nissan Ariya and MG4 Electric – could not drive out of the chamber on their own power.
"We had to put the gear levers in neutral and push the cars out," said Mr. Frydenlund.
That's right: Get yourself an electric car in Norway and there's a healthy chance you'll be going around by foot-power in the colder months.
Notably, many residents of the country appear to understand what dire straits you can be in if you find yourself with an electric vehicle in the winter:
"The effectiveness of the battery is not so good in this cold," said Pererik Larsen, a paramedic in Hesseng. His coverage area extends to Bugøynes, a drive of nearly 100 kilometres. As technology progresses and electric range extends, he can imagine using an electric ambulance. But not now.
"In this kind of weather, I would be really worried," he said.
The taxi fleet in nearby Kirkenes is similarly nearly all-diesel, with the exception of one Volkswagen ID.4. But in a recent cold snap, with temperatures below -25 Celsius, the electric taxi remained parked until the return of warmer weather. "In summer time, if you only drive in the city, it's perfect," said taxi driver Magne Andreassen. In winter, he's less convinced.
Most assuredly, the technology will continue to improve, as it always does. And it's worth noting that EVs don't perform universally poorly even in the sub-Arctic temps of Norway:
[Resident Finn Lunde] has experienced vanishingly few cold-weather problems. The primary concern is range, which can fall dramatically in the cold, especially on trips when energy is being used to bring both the battery and the passenger cabin up to temperature. Snow-packed roads can make driving less efficient, as can denser cold air. But in general, testers have found that in the most bitter of Arctic temperatures, long-distance range remains 60 to 70 per cent of what a car can achieve in warm weather.