All-Electric Nissan Ariya Handles Ultra-Cold Temps on Pole to Pole Trek

Extreme cold-weather driving impresses the EV’s pilots and provides feedback for future all-electric vehicle development.

Chris and Julie Ramsey take a self-portrait during their Pole to Pole electric vehicle expedition. “This car performed superbly,” said Chris Ramsey. (Chris Ramsey)

Chris and Julie Ramsey covered more than 33,000 km (20,505 miles) across three continents in an all-electric passenger vehicle from 1823’s magnetic North Pole to the South Pole in a world-first expedition. The Scottish adventurers joyfully recounted their 10-month long globetrotting feat during an interview with SAE Media at the 2024 Chicago Auto Show.

The Ramseys’ four-wheel transporter was a production 2022 Nissan Ariya e-4ORCE crossover SUV with no changes to the drivetrain, suspension system or 87-kWh lithium-ion battery system. “We wanted to keep the modifications minimal to prove the reliability of a standard EV,” Julie Ramsey said.

Engineers from Reykjavik, Iceland-headquartered Arctic Trucks added a full underbody skid plate, installed front and rear towing points and altered the Ariya’s wheel arches to accommodate 39-inch (991 mm) tires. Those colossal tires rolled at 4 psi to handle the Arctic’s snow-covered boulder fields and slick ice. The coldest temperature at Earth’s northernmost region hovered around -39C/-38 F degrees and plummeted to bone-numbing -53C/-63F degrees with wind chill.

Julie and Chris Ramsey flank the Nissan Ariya that went Pole-to-Pole over a 10-month span in 2023. The couple, who reside in Aberdeen, Scotland, also drove a modified first-generation Nissan LEAF with a 24 kWh battery system in the 10,000 mi/16,093 km transcontinental Mongol Rally in 2017. (Kami Buchholz)

“The car charged every time,” Julie Ramsey said. “It might not have charged at the same rate and speed as if it were in normal temperatures, but it did charge.” In the brutally frigid Arctic, the team typically charged the weather-exposed Ariya in six- to eight-hour periods.

With charging stations non-existent in the polar regions, the Ramseys’ relied on prototype mobile hybrid charging systems: a 5 kW wind turbine that powered a petrol generator in the Arctic, and solar panels to supply generator power in Antarctica. “When we had good sun for the solar panels, we used about a third less of the fuel than if we were just running the generator,” Chris Ramsey said.

During the Ariya's development, Nissan tested the EV in Japan’s snow-covered northernmost main island. “The Ariya [also] underwent real-world testing in Canada in sub-zero temperatures,” according to James Mastronardi, vehicle performance development manager for marketability engineering at Nissan Motor Co. The extreme cold temperatures encountered on the Pole-to-Pole EV excursion left the Ramseys with an occasional pang of range anxiety.

While Ariya’s driving range can reach 304 miles (489 km) when equipped with e-4ORCE all-wheel drive and the 87-kWh battery system, the driving range of the 109.3-in (2776 mm)-wheelbase utility vehicle was roughly halved (to about 150 miles, or 241 km) in the Arctic, and sometimes dropped as low as 62 miles (100 km), according to the Ramseys. “The terrain is very variable,” Julie Ramsey said. “It can change from hour-to-hour, so that also has a big impact on the car’s range capability.”

In addition to using experimental hybrid charging systems at the Poles, the Ramseys primarily relied on public charging stations in the 14 countries the expedition passed through. The Ramseys were stymied by the unreliability of many public charging stations in the U.S. “What let us down was the infrastructure to charge the car. That part needs improvement, but the car performed amazingly.” Julie Ramsey said.

For Nissan, the official car partner of the Pole-to-Pole trip, the successful expedition brings additional confidence to Ariya’s capabilities and its innovative technologies, which include a dedicated battery heater to prepare the Li-ion battery system for charging. “Having an understanding of how Ariya performed in extreme cold weather conditions, like the North to South Pole expedition, is something that will help us in our future development of electric vehicles,” Mastronardi said.