What is the most energy-efficient way to heat a vehicle? It's a question Ford engineers are focused on answering as part of their efforts to improve electric vehicle range. Traditionally, vehicles circulate warm air throughout the cabin. However, the engineers at Ford think they've found a better way by heating interior surfaces.     

There are two methods for heating surfaces inside the cabin. One involves heating surfaces occupants touch, like seats or steering wheels. But another option is to use other surfaces to radiate heat toward the occupants. Both methods require battery power, but according to Ford, energy consumption could be reduced by 13 percent using these methods. On commercial delivery vehicles which make frequent stops, those savings could add up.

Gallery: Ford E-Transit Heated Surface Testing

Ford engineers installed heated armrests, floor mats, and other panels on an all-electric Ford E-Transit to test this method. Then they tested the vehicle by making parcel deliveries, special goods deliveries, and using the van for other jobs around Cologne, Germany. The testing occurred during both winter and summer over a mix of weather.

The research provided data on how changes in weather, traffic, and road conditions can affect battery range. Incorporating this data into the range calculator could help to accurately predict battery range in real-time. Then this aggregated driving data could be used for commercial vehicles to predict EV fleet ranges, estimating energy demands for specific routes based on cargo weight, weather, and road conditions.  

In addition to incorporating heated surfaces, Ford is testing other heat-generating methods including heat exchangers to transfer heat from the electric drive to the interior and/or battery pack. It's also looking at ways to efficiently pre-condition the battery pack and powertrain components so they reach optimal temperature before use. Finally, it's looking at methods for "eco-routing" to calculate the optimal vehicle routes based on the time of day and required charging stops, to get the most out of the vehicle's range.  

Ultimately this research will not only help Ford develop future EVs but maximize the performance of existing vehicles like the Lightning through software updates. The automaker plans to sell two million EVs on an annual basis by 2026. 

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