Things were less than ideal for many desperate electric vehicle owners in Chicago when winter weather hit and frigid temperatures gripped the Windy City, as their vehicles were unable to charge in the bitter cold. Such was the tragedy that unfolded at Tesla supercharger stations around the city, as the negative double-digit weather turned them into EV graveyards.
As background, EV charge times are influenced by the weather. Because charging is a chemical reaction that is slowed down by lower temperatures, frigid winter weather can greatly slow charging times and decrease the range of electric vehicles. So, when extremely low temperatures hit, fast charging can be all but impossible.
Such is what played out across Chicago as temperatures fell like a rock. Fox Chicago reported as much, noting that dozens of desperate Tesla owners were trying to charge their completely dead EVs at a supercharger station in the Oak Brook neighborhood, with similar scenes playing out across the city. According to the outlet, the scenes were characterized by long lines, abandoned cars, and the utter inability of many to get their vehicles to charge in the bitter cold.
One Chicago resident who was trying to recharge his Tesla at the Oak Brook supercharger told Fox Chicago that it was proving impossible. He said, “Nothing. No juice. Still on zero percent.” He added, commenting on the massive problem, that he had been there for hours for two days without any luck charging his car. He said, “And this is like three hours being out here after being out here three hours yesterday.”
Another Tesla owner quoted by Fox Chicago described the situation as a “disaster”. She said, “This is crazy. It’s a disaster. Seriously.” Similarly, yet another frustrated Tesla owner told the outlet, “We got a bunch of dead robots out here.”
Similarly to Fox Chicago, local outlet WGN reported that one Tesla owner trying to charge his car so that he could drive for Uber was distraught about the battery’s limited range and long charging time in the cold. He said, “It’s horrible. … It takes two hours to charge, then the charge leaves really quickly, so now you’re back at the charger twice a day,”
However, another individual, Mark Bilek of the Chicago Auto Trade Association, said that the non-charging problem can be solved with the push of a button. Explaining, he said, “Like any new technology, there’s a learning curve for people.” He then added, “It’s not plug and go. You have to precondition the battery, meaning that you have to get the battery up to the optimal temperature to accept a fast charge.”
The problem is that many electric vehicles limit their batteries’ ability to charge fast in extreme cold to prevent damaging the battery. The preconditioning is necessary to get the battery at a temperature where that risk is mitigated and so charging is safer for the vehicle.
Explaining that, an expert told CNN, “If you’re in cold weather, it’s actually going to activate the thermal management to heat up that battery. And so the goal would be by the time you get to the charger, the battery is warm enough that it doesn’t matter what the temperature is outside.”
Regardless of the potential for a solution, the problem was still a severe one for Tesla owners in the city. One individual, posting a video of all the dead EVs at a supercharger station, wrote, “A Tesla graveyard, EV Armageddon on the south side of Chicago. Car died waiting in line for 1 of the 3 operating stalls.” Watch that video here: