Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Electric Car

I've read a fair few articles recently about the cost of electric cars versus gasoline cars or hybrids, and I decided to finally crunch some numbers myself to figure it all out.

Here's what I did.

I looked at three vehicles. The Honda Civic, the Toyota Prius, and the Nissan LEAF. The first is a very fuel efficient gasoline car, the second is the gold standard of hybrid cars, and the third is one of the more popular pure electric vehicles.

I calculated the cost to purchase and then the energy these vehicles will use over five years. So that's MSRP + (Energy Cost Per Year * 5).

But I got a little more clever than that. Gas doesn't stay the same price. I looked at a 5 year trend for gasoline and see on average it goes up around $0.25 per gallon per year. So year one we're paying $4.00 per gallon, year 2 it's $4.25 and year 5 it's $5.00. Make sense?

Electricity, however, has remained steady over the past 5 years, so it wasn't easy to predict any change. Based on that I left it as is. $0.12 per kWh every single year of the calculation. This is actually a bit funny because I only pay $0.05 per kWh due to some kooky alternate provider nonsense.

I also operated on the assumption that someone is driving 15,000 miles per year. That's really high for someone like me, but not at all out of the ordinary for a lot of Americans.

The Honda Civic

MSRP (Manufacturer Suggested Retail Price): $18,000
Combined MPG (Miles per Gallon): 32
Year 1 PPG (Price Per Gallon): $4.00
Year 5 PPG: $5.00

Year 1 cost to drive 15,000 miles: $1875.00
Year 5 cost to drive 15,000 miles: $2343.75

Total cost over 5 years: $28,546.88

The Toyota Prius

MSRP: $24,000*
Combined MPG: 50
Year 1 PPG (Price Per Gallon): $4.00
Year 5 PPG: $5.00

Year 1 cost to drive 15,000 miles: $1200.00
Year 5 cost to drive 15,000 miles: $1500.00

Total cost over 5 years: $30,750.00

*There used to be tax credits for purchasing hybrid vehicles. They expired in 2010.

The Nissan LEAF

MSRP: $17,700**
kWh usage per 100 miles: 29
Price per kWh: $0.12  (remember, price is the same all 5 years)

Cost to drive 15,000 miles: $522.00

Total cost over 5 years: $20,310.00

**There are federal and state tax credits for purchasing electric vehicles. MSRP is $28,000 - $7500 Federal credit - $2800 Illinois credit = $17,700. To my knowledge these combined, it's not either or. I cannot, however be 100% certain on this and would welcome feedback from someone who has purchased an electric vehicle.

This isn't taking into account other costs associated with each vehicle. You won't need oil changes for your electric car, but if you do need maintenance it's likely you can't just take it to a local mechanics. Also you need to install a charging station in your house, that's not going to be free, but can it be more than $1500 or there-abouts?

The main disadvantage of the electric car is the lack of available charging stations. Yes, that's the disadvantage, not the range. Even if you have a long commute, 40 miles or more, you could plug it in at work and be fully charged for the ride home if the stations were more readily available.

Anyone who says 75 miles between charges just isn't enough, because once a year they drive more than 75 miles between stopping is on drugs. Look at the costs above... you can rent a car for your yearly road trip and still come out way ahead. $1300 per year you'd be saving just in fuel cost.

And all of this is taking into consideration that you're choosing between the best options for fuel efficiency. Most Americans don't do that. The average American car gets 21 MPG. Shall we compare that car to an electric car?

I did some comparisons between cars that get around 21-ish MPG combined and found them all to be larger vehicles, primarily SUVs. MSRP on a reasonable SUV of that size is $26,000

The Average SUV

MSRP: $26,000
Combined MPG: 21
Year 1 PPG: $4.00
Year 5 PPG: $5.00

Year 1 cost to drive 15,000 miles: $2857.14
Year 5 cost to drive 15,000 miles: $3571.43

Total cost over 5 years: $42,071.43

Look at that final number. You could just about buy the LEAF and a Civic for that price and use the Civic only on the days when you intend to drive more than 75 miles between charging stops.

How much more proof to people need? Why is this so hard to grasp?

Oh and also with the cost I pay per kWh and only driving 12,000 miles per year, the 5 year on the LEAF would be: $18,570.00 (only slightly more than the purchase price alone of the Civic, never mind the SUV). Now I just need a house, so I can get a charging station. :-)


  1. You can convince 1,000 people by appealing to their prejudices faster than you can convince 1 person with logic. People are often wary about spending thousands of dollars on what is percieved as new or unproven technology, especially when said technology is something one relies on to get to work.

    As gasoline continues to become more expensive and electric cars become less of a curiosity, I think we'll see them become ever more popular.

    It's going to take people talking to that coworker who bought an electric car, expecting to hear horror stories, and in stead hearing how much money he saves. And again, five years later, when the car still runs and he hasn't had any major repair costs. It's those conversations that will convince people.

    Once enough people have had that experience, I think we'll see a sharp increase in the popularity of electric cars.

    1. Big business rhetoric is always going to trump logic, sense, and first hand accounts. Want proof? We have decades of Canadians, Europeans, and Americans who have lived abroad telling us universal healthcare works. And still Americans think our way is somehow superior or provides some profound service theirs doesn't. And it's all because those who would stand to lose by us changing systems spend billions to convince the populace otherwise.

      Frivolous lawsuits help no one but the lawyers. Anyone who has ever been involved in one, or known someone who has been involved in one, can tell you that. Yet every day there are new lawyers and new nonsense lawsuits being brought. Who is pushing this? The lawyers.

      Here's an example...

      Complaint: Electric cars just don't have the range the average American needs!

      The average American commute is 32 miles round trip. Most EVs get over 70 miles on a single charge. Less than 1% of Americans have a round trip greater than 70 miles.

      But if you sell that first lie enough times people will believe it. Pepper it with nonsense like "It may be enough miles to JUST get you to work and home but, imagine not being able to run all your errands during your commute to or from work??? Will you be able to pick up the kids from school or soccer practice? What about buying groceries?"

      Yeah, if your kids go to school in another state from you that may be a problem, but for most people it's not. If your commute is only 35 miles round trip, you can get almost home, realize you left your wallet on your desk at work, drive all the way back, and still get home on a single charge. "Oh, but what about the great American road trip?" That you take every few years? Maybe three or four of them in the entire life of the car? Rent a car. Borrow a car. Have a second, fuel efficient/plug-in hybrid car, for when you do have to take those long trips.

      There's a good documentary called "Who Killed the Electric Car". Check that out. I'll give you a spoiler... poor design and lack of customer enthusiasm isn't what killed the electric car in the 1990s.

    2. However, more manufacturers are offering electric cars - GM has the Chevy Volt, Nissan has the Leaf, Toyota has the Tesla (though not wearing the Toyota brand), meanwhile Volkswagon, Daimler-Chrysler, BMW, and Rolls-Royce have plans to introduce electric cars in the next few years.

      That's a lot of big, powerful corporations that will be marketing in favor of them.

    3. Yes, now they are working on them. Once gas prices hit $4 per gallon people started to take notice. If they had been working on this since the 90s an affordable electric car with a 300 mile range and fast charging wouldn't be a decade or more away still. And the infrastructure to support electric cars and charging would be all over the place.

      Instead, the technology is there, people like me want it, but there's no way to really make it happen.

      If we were serious about EV we wouldn't be screwing around with fracking, drilling holes in Lincoln's head at Mt. Rushmore, or manipulating middle eastern governments. We'd divert all of those resources to getting the majority of our transportation system on electric/mass transit and quit f**king around with oil.

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