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Ford considers extending EV range with Jedi mind tricks, colored lights

Electric vehicles with large cabins suck up a lot of energy by running heat and AC. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory believes an EV’s climate control system can reduce the driving range by up to 50%. So Ford engineers in Europe are experimenting with psychological tricks that make passengers feel hotter and colder without actually depleting range.

Red lighting makes you feel warmer. So, on a cold day, an EV driver might turn on red lights and leave off the heat ­— and use the reserved energy to extend the driving range. Blue lighting could similarly be used to keep off the AC on a hot day.

Ford experimented with EV interior colors using its 10-seat Transit Smart Energy Concept at the company’s Environmental Test Centre in Cologne, Germany.

For the lighting experiment, Ford subjected passengers to a simulated winter’s day of 32° F, and a summer’s day of 86° F. They were asked to rate their level of comfort based on feeling too hot or too cold.

Ford Smart Energy Concept

In both cases, using colored ambient lighting resulted in reducing the power usage of the climate system ­— by 3.3% for cooling and 2.5% for heating.

The same delivery-van concept vehicle was used earlier this year to test an innovative heat pump system that utilizes waste heat from the drivetrain to reduce heating-system energy by up to 65%. That experiment extended range by 20%. Other measures include only opening the power-sliding door halfway to maintain cabin temperature. Every electron counts.

Based on Ford’s results, flipping on red interior lights in the winter might add seven or so miles of range to a 250-mile EV in the winter. That might sound negligible. But as part of a broad, multi-faceted program to increase efficiency, those extra miles could add up fast.

The most readily available gains could come from relatively simple driver controls. The Transit Smart Energy Concept allows drives to monitor the temperature status of all passenger seats from a dashboard-mounted tablet. Future versions of the Transit Smart Energy Concept will enable drivers to control heating and cooling of individual seats — and to deactivate temperature controls for unoccupied seats.

In the meantime, we’re now heading into winter, which means reduced EV range in many parts of the country. Today’s electric-car drivers with vehicles that have heated seats and steering wheels can extend range by using those features rather than warming up the entire cabin.

What measures do you take to extend EV driving range in the winter?

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Avatar for Bradley Berman Bradley Berman

Bradley writes about electric cars, autonomous vehicles, smart homes, and other tech that’s transforming society. He contributes to The New York Times, SAE International, Via magazine, Popular Mechanics, MIT Technology Review, and others.