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Ford’s New Idea for Heating EV Interiors Doesn’t Blow

Beyond their aura of environmental friendliness, EVs provide the opportunity for transport and delivery businesses to save a lot of money with their reduced operating costs. Those savings can be juiced further by squeezing every last bit of efficiency out of an electric vehicle’s battery. Mother Nature poses one of the biggest challenges, though—ambient temperature has an outsize effect on battery performance, and driving range can take a hit in cold weather both because of harsh temperatures and (for EVs with electric heaters) using battery energy to heat the cabin, a minor inconvenience for, you know, electric cars in half the country.

Now consider how a delivery vehicle is used—with drivers opening and closing the doors as they hop in and out all day long. That’s a lot of precious heat escaping, only to need to be replaced again by using yet more battery power. Ford Engineers in Germany have been exploring a potential solution to the problem and it appears that they’re on to something, and no, it’s not as silly sounding as one recent study’s suggestion that you should simply drive an EV faster in colder weather.

Rather than using a heating element and channeling air through it via the HVAC system, Ford engineers think it may be more efficient to heat certain surfaces directly instead. We know what you’re thinking, but Ford’s method goes beyond heated seats and steering wheels. The engineers found that it is more efficient to heat surfaces such as the door panels and floor mats.

Why is this better? The answer is actually pretty simple. A conventional climate control system heats well, the air. That means whenever the driver has to open a window or doors on their route that warm air escapes and they have to use more energy to reheat the cabin back to a comfortable temperature. Heated surfaces can transfer heat more directly to occupants, and Ford says such heat doesn’t escape as easily when a door or window has to be opened.

Ford’s engineers tested the theory by outfitting an electric Ford E-Transit with heated arm rests, floor mats, door panels, sun visors, and a panel below the steering wheel. For the test the Transit was run through package deliveries and a craftsman’s job that was on a site over 200 miles away from the engineer’s home base in Cologne, Germany. The engineers found that using this heating method extended the Transit’s driving range by five percent and could reduce energy consumption for cabin heating by up to 13 percent, though they don’t specify how comfortable the warming was. Something tells us a heater on full blast would probably be preferable to the occupants, if not so much for the EV’s batteries, but a warm hug from the inside surfaces of a, um, delivery van might be nice in a different way.

Those are certainly not massive numbers but this was just an experiment. It doesn’t seem likely that this heating method will make its way into the Ford F-150 Lightning or Mach-E Mustang anytime soon. On the other hand we won’t say “never” either. This technology isn’t “new,” per se. Mercedes-Benz, for one, has long had heated arm rests and door panels in its luxury cars, though not for any specific efficiency reason. What could be more luxurious than the warm embrace of a leather arm rest on a cold day? And radiant heat is a known option for homeowners, whether by radiators or heated floors.

If Ford continues to research this method and refines it to get better efficiency, it could make its way to fleet vehicles and consumer cars within the next decade.

Read the full article here

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