DETROIT -- Frigid temperatures cut electrified vehicles' driving range, but automakers say there are ways for owners to maximize efficiency.
With the electrified segment's growth in 2012, more people than ever in cold weather states will need to figure out what it takes to get the most juice out of their vehicles.
Sales for alternative power vehicles -- including the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid and Nissan Leaf EV -- rose 54 percent last year on sales of 368,388, according to the Automotive News Data Center.
Because last winter was mild in much of the United States, the cold spell hitting the nation the past few weeks was the first chill test for many of these vehicles and their owners.
Drivers of the 2013 Volt, which has an EPA-rated 38-mile electric range, can lose around 13 miles of distance in cold weather, according to Volt spokeswoman Michelle Malcho.
The Volt's gasoline-powered engine kicks in to extend range once energy is depleted, giving it another 344 miles. General Motors sold 23,461 Volts in 2012, tripling 2011's results.
Factors such as driving style and heating methods dictate how much range the Volt loses.
For instance, Malcho said owners should consider using the heated seats feature to warm themselves rather than the heater because it saves energy.
The Volt also has an EV hold mode owners can use while warming it before their morning commute. The mode allows them to select whether they want to draw electricity from the battery or run it on gasoline.
"You start the car using gas because it's more efficient, and once the car is warmed up, then you turn it back over, and you use your battery so you'll get more miles," Malcho said in an interview.
A Nissan spokesman wrote in an e-mail that the Leaf is being equipped with a "hybrid heating system" to combat energy-intensive climate control units that burden vehicle range.
Nissan also encourages owners of the current Leaf to seek warmth through its heated seats and steering wheel, while setting the heater at a lower level. Nissan sold 9,819 Leafs in 2012, good for a 2 percent bounce from 2011.
Honda's 2013 Civic Hybrid received an 44 mpg city/44 highway EPA rating. Not carrying excess weight on a car can help fuel economy, a Honda spokesman said.
He said range loss varies depending on the type of electrified vehicle.
A tire's air pressure drops with the temperature, so Chevrolet suggests checking pressure as it gets colder to ensure tires are at recommended levels to improve range and fuel economy.
Even though electrified vehicle range is taxed in colder climates, Green Car Reports' John Voelcker doesn't expect consumers in those regions to give up on them.
"The sales rates may well be lower in colder states and in Canada, we'll see, but there are a lot of vehicles that are less well-suited for snowy weather," he said in an interview. "For instance, while you see a lot of all-wheel-drive cars, you still have a whole bunch of people driving two-wheel-drive cars even in very, very snowy places. It'll be a mix."
New Jersey Italian restaurant owner and car enthusiast Tom Moloughney has been test driving the BMW ActiveE electric vehicle in cold weather to see how it performs. The ActiveE has an EPA-rated range of 94 miles that can drop to 73 to 74 miles in cold weather.
To help deal with the cold weather, Moloughney said the BMW has a thermal management system that can warm up the battery pack.
"Thermal management, which can be liquid or air based, warms and cools the battery depending on what it needs," Moloughney said. "In the summer, the system actually cools the battery."
In the winter, Moloughney said, he can warm the car and battery while plugged into the grid.
"Once it is done charging, I can set the car to warm itself up, and while it is plugged into the grid, the battery and the cabin get nice and warm," he said. "You can also use a smartphone to precondition the car. And the battery [while plugged in] will still be 100 percent charged."
For AutoNews Now's Jan. 24 report on electric vehicles in cold weather, click here.