Do electric vehicles work at 40 below? Alaska owners say ‘yes’

Electric vehicles charging (Photo from US Department of Energy)

Electric vehicles are increasingly popular in the United States and in Alaska’s coastal areas, but how does the technology perform in the Interior’s extreme winters?

“It’s just totally blown all expectations and hopes out of the water,” said longtime Denali area innkeeper and guide Kurt Martakis. He says he drives his Chevy Bolt EV year-round.

“I’ve been driving this thing for three years, three winters, including this last one. We don’t have a garage for it; it’s outside in the cold all the time. It is by far my number one vehicle to drive,” he said.

Martakis said powers the car for much of the year with solar energy he collects at home. He says he loves the exhaust-free and nearly silent ride.

“Until you start driving electric, you really don’t realize how much background noise there is, and how much it stresses you out.”

“Looks like a normal vehicle, drives like a normal vehicle, but its quiet,” said Arvid Weflen, another electric vehicle owner.

Weflen of Fairbanks also has a Chevy Bolt he powers with his own solar farm, but Weflen says even if he’s charging it with utility power, the EV is a money saver.

“My average is about four miles per kilowatt-hour, so if a kilowatt-hour of electricity costs 23 cents here in Fairbanks, it’s costing me about 6 cents per mile. I figure even in the coldest weather, it is less than half of what it would cost me with gas.”

Like all electric cars, the Chevy Bolt isn’t cheap, starting in the mid-$30,000s, but Weflen notes one other factor to consider.

“The maintenance on it. There really is no maintenance,” he said.

Weflen and Martakis said the Bolt gets over 300 miles on a charge during the summer, and around 120 in winter, with the drop off mostly due to the vehicle’s interior electric heater, which both say provides immediate hot air, with no need for engine warm-up.

Dan Bross is a reporter at KUAC in Fairbanks.

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