Published on February 19th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


3rd Thing I’ve Learned From The Tesla–NYTimes Firestorm

February 19th, 2013 by  

This article was originally published on EVObsession.

We all love math, by _Untitled-1 (some rights reserved).

We all love math, by _Untitled-1 (some rights reserved).

I think this is the last major thing I learned from the Tesla–NYTimes saga. (Also see my first and second revelations, as well as this list of 5 myths that have been spread all over town in the midst of this internet brouhaha). Unfortunately, this one is again a sad comment on the masses (combined with a positive comment — or 5 — about EVs).

Basically, from the many articles and comments I read, I learned that a lot of people can’t do (or don’t try to do) math. Possibly the most common (and ridiculous) thing I heard about electric vehicles — over and over again — was that they are more expensive than gasoline-powered cars.

Yes, if you look at only one number in the equation — the purchase price of a vehicle — electric vehicles are more expensive. (And, yes, this does influence a great number of buyers.) However, doing this is like looking at this:

3 + 1+ 1

and saying it’s greater than this:

2 + 10 + 10

simply because the 3 is bigger than the 2.

But what am I getting at when it comes to electric vehicles? I’m talking about five other costs (which we do pay) that make gasoline-powered cars much more expensive than electric vehicles:

  • fuel & maintenance costs
  • time costs
  • health costs
  • global warming / climate change
  • energy security costs

If you simply look at the price of electric vehicles (e.g. $28,800 for a Nissan Leaf, $29,125 for a Mitsubishi i, or $25,000 for a smart electric drive) + the price of their fuel + the price of maintenance, many of you would find that they’re cheaper than comparable gasoline-powered cars.

However, that’s not the end of the equation. We also spend hundreds of billions of dollars a year on health costs related to the burning of gasoline, as well as trillions of dollars a year related to protecting supplies of foreign oil that we have become dependent on, and potentially even much worse if we don’t get global warming and climate change to stop (and, first, slow down).

Furthermore, there are considerable time costs to owning a gasoline-powered vehicle versus an electric vehicle. As stated in my last article, you save a ton of time standing or sitting at gas stations when you own an electric car — because instead of doing that, you simply have to plug the car in when you get home or to work, and then unplug it again when you leave.

Of course, there are actually several other benefits to electric vehicles that you could try to quantify, but the case has already been soundly made, so the rest is just fun and games.

The bottom line: as long as you do a somewhat decent job of quantifying the costs of an electric vehicle versus the costs of a gasoline-powered vehicle (e.g. get a hypothetical grade of “D”), you will see that electric cars are already much cheaper than gasoline-powered cars in the vast majority of cases. Give it a try!

Check out our new 93-page EV report, based on over 2,000 surveys collected from EV drivers in 49 of 50 US states, 26 European countries, and 9 Canadian provinces.

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About the Author

is tryin' to help society help itself (and other species) with the power of the typed word. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director and chief editor, but he's also the president of Important Media and the director/founder of EV Obsession, Solar Love, and Bikocity. Zach is recognized globally as a solar energy, electric car, and energy storage expert. Zach has long-term investments in TSLA, FSLR, SPWR, SEDG, & ABB — after years of covering solar and EVs, he simply has a lot of faith in these particular companies and feels like they are good cleantech companies to invest in.

  • @60b2bbe9dc672e9cb887f3003013b097:disqus :

    I’ve updated the cost comparison spreadsheet (link below). A few notes:

    1- Maintenance costs were never calculated in the initial spreadsheet. There was a placeholder for them, but perhaps I decided to leave them out of the calculation due to uncertainty with the EV costs. (So, initial benefit to the gasmobiles there.)

    A study on the difference in costs was recently published on this matter, so the maintenance costs are now based on that, and included in the calculation.

    2- Projected battery replacement costs are now included, based on projections by U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu. (They don’t really change much. The EV savings at 9 years go from $20,746 to $17,896. Not insignificant, but insignifiant when it comes to which car wins based on price alone.)

    3- I’ve put a call-out for more input on the assumptions used, and I’ll soon do comparisons with more competitive EVs (the Ford Focus Electric isn’t exactly the most competitive EV on the market. ;D) Thanks for pushing me to do better calculations… which I imagine are simply going to put EVs in better light. But we’ll see….

    Link to the spreadsheet:

  • @60b2bbe9dc672e9cb887f3003013b097:disqus: and, wow, looking at that original post again (it had been awhile), this is the first paragraph:

    “So,… when I ran my comparisons of a Ford Focus Electric and Ford Focus S the other day, I thought the Ford Focus S was the most similar non-electric model to the Ford Focus Electric. Woops. After some discussions with readers, it seems the more appropriate comparison (for current Ford Focus options) is the Ford Focus ST, which has a base price of $23,700.”

    Funny how you claim that the cheapest Ford Focus (Ford Focus S) should be the comparison vehicle, see that I initially used that vehicle, see that others convinced me the ST was the better comparions vehicle (more similar), and yet claim that I used the ST unfairly because I had an agenda! Seriously, you’re not even trying to join in the discussion in a civil and useful way. You’r completely ignoring obvious statements I made in the article. (And I’m yet to receive any documentation from you on any of the things you claim… such as the S being a better comparison than the ST.)

    • EVDriver

      I confused the Focus S and ST. You compared to the souped-up ST. You should have used the S, which gets better gas mileage and has similar performance characteristics to the electric version.

  • tina

    Paying ahead is a habit Americans have lost. Credit is so easy. With an EV, you are paying ahead, and it’s a shock. Ever think of what a gasser costs AHEAD? All fuel, lubrication, anti-freeze, mechanical maintenance costs for 10 years add up. I did the math a long time ago. My EV conversion costs were paid off in the first 18 months of driving. 10 years later I am planning some major upgrades as I convert to lithium batteries. The new charger & controller were paid by cost savings a couple of years ago. The new pack is about equal to a replacement lead-acid pack. The old lead acid pack will store electrons from PV panels.

    It may not be the Tesla of my dreams, but I get around!

    • Nice. And completely agree.

    • EVDriver

      tina, about six or seven years ago, I came within an eyelash of buying a guy’s lead-acid Ford Ranger conversion. Test drove it, and liked it enough for the price, even though the usable range was only 20-25 miles. As you know, maximum range is irrelevant with lead-acid because completely draining the battery, or even coming close, is terrible for lead-acid. So you have to limit yourself to using about half the capacity.

      I was all set to buy it, and the guy finally says, “You know, I really like you, and I have to tell you that this vehicle just isn’t going to be reliable enough for you. I’ll sell it to you if you want, but you have to ask yourself how much time you want to spend fixing things.”

      I thanked him profusely and didn’t buy it. And then I told him that he needed to save his cash, live below his means, and avoid debt, because we were headed into a real estate crash and depression that would make everyone’s teeth rattle. This was a couple years before everything hit the fan. He shared his candid expertise with me, so I shared mine with him. (I’m not a real estate puke, but I have some high-level finance knowledge.)

      Anyway, as far as costs go, I’m finding that my EV, while a lot of fun, will cost me more than the equivalent gas car would. Of course, this author of this blog thinks (hilariously, in my view) that if he shortens his time horizon before the point where the battery will have to be replaced, then he can eliminate the lithium-ion replacement issue — as if a use car buyer wouldn’t take it into account and cut his offer.

      In any case, here in Seattle, I estimate that electricity will cost me a year-’round average of between 7 and 8 cents a mile, including the EV road tax, vs. 10 cents for the equivalent ICE car. No oil changes or exhaust replacement in the EV, but batteries are expensive. All in all, the advantage goes to the gas car on cost.

      This isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with EVs. I’m having fun with mine, and await a battery breakthrough. You are a hobbyist, a classic American tinkerer. It’s all good, but let’s remember to tell each other the truth.

      • yes, one story’s facts are the same for eveyrone. thanks for the illumination. 😉

  • nskylinegtr02

    “I’m talking about five other costs (which we do pay) that make gasoline-powered cars much more expensive than electric vehicles… global warming / climate change”

    How would you determine this global warming/climate change cost on a per electric vehicle, or per gasoline vehicle basis?

    I think your statement is too broad. If you can provide a value for this then maybe you can make a better case that electric vehicles arent as expensive as most think.

    I agree with your piece overall. This is just my two cents.

    • EVDriver

      There’s actually an important point to make in favor of EVs that the author has missed. Not only that, but it’s probably one of the most important pro-EV facts out there. I’d state it here, but given his penchant for misrepresenting the facts he does have or can reasonably be expected to obtain, I’m pretty reluctant to offer something that Zachary will misuse. Oh well.

      • haha, hilarious. 😀

        • EVDriver

          Well, it’s true. There is a huge factor that even the hypesters like you have been ignoring.

          • I wasn’t laughing at that, but at your ridiculous claims about me.

    • this matter hasn’t been studied enough to put out specific numbers — and, frankly, it’s such a complicated matter to study that i doubt we’ll ever get such specifics. but this is the best study to date on the matter:

      inferring the costs is a challenge, though.

      • EVDriver

        EV fuel costs are lower, but your methods of calculation are bogus. You leave out major cost factors on the EV side of the ledger, including the replacement price of batteries, which you ludicrously assume to be zero; the substantial electrical losses between the plug and the EV motor; and the one-third reduction in mileage imposed by cold weather.

        You also leave out the most significant factor arguing in favor of EVs relative to ICE power. But since you’re so blatantly irresponsible, I’m going to let you run that treadmill yourself and see how long it takes you to discover it. Based on the shallowness of your thinking, I expect it to be a very long while.

        There’s no reason to tell blatant lies on behalf of EVs. The facts are enough. Not for you, but for everyone else.

        • I’m adjusting the graphs and numbers on that post to not go beyond 8 years — I imagine the batteries will work quite a bit beyond their warranties, but just to be cautious.

          Electrical losses between the plug & EV = substantial? (Again, if you have some correction to make, I’m going to need some documentation to back it up, because your absurd claims about me only make me think that you are not trustworthy — plus, I don’t add new info without documentation anyway, since I have received bad information from supposed experts in the past.)
          Range — others have found that the range is better than advertised or rated. I’d assume that, overall, the range is less than advertised, but without substantially scientific 3rd-party testing, I’m not going to put in a range that goes against the EPA rating. Sorry, but that would be obviously biased (something you are claiming to not be, but doing everything you can to refute your claim).

          “most significant factor” — believe it or not, I’m not giving your ridiculous comment a second thought. if you want to share your opinion, feel free. but i’d bet a house & a horse on it not being the “most significant factor.”

          • EVDriver

            You know what? I’d actually lay it all out here, but I’m not going to do it because I think you’re a classic technie Kool-Aid drinker. I’ll look in from time to time and see if you ever decide to play it straight. But I doubt you will. I’ve seen your type before; anyone who’s spent much time in the tech world has.

            You need to do more than re-write press releases. Get out there and find independent, knowledgeable people who will tell you how electricity, chargers, batteries, gasoline, diesel and all the rest actually work, and what they really cost.

            Then do the numbers. Then do them again. Then run them by people who know more than you do. Then write your articles. That’s the only way to do it if you expect to actually get any respect from knowledgeable Americans who think for themselves, and take the facts as they come.

            Or you can keep doing what you do now: pump out breathless hopes that have no basis in reality. Choice is yours.

          • You’re just showing again how little you know about this. I’ve done all of the above.

            And, furthermore, in the case of the comparison that is apparently what pissed you off, you still avoid all the most important elements of it! You ignore that it was an exercise in using different assumptions/parameters and encouraging individuals to do the same with their specific parameters. You ignore that I left a spreadsheet there for others to use or modify. You ignore the whole point of the piece. And you expect me to take you seriously?

            Average car ownership hit a high last year — 6 years. Yet you complain about an 8-year cost of ownership comparison.

            You continue to ignore that I initially performed the comparison for an S model (have an article published with that comparison), but created an updated post with an ST because it is more similar to the electric version.
            You complain about the fact that I used official statistics because your statistics show something else, and then call me a nutter for “drinking the Kool-Aid” and an unbalanced comparison. (Do you see the irony?)

            Rather than engage in the specifics of the comparison in a friendly way, as many others did before and after it was created in order to make it as useful as possible, you come out swinging and calling names (and contending that your personal “facts” or more accurate than the official statistics).
            Believe me, no one here is going to miss you if you decide to move along. 😉

  • jlmur

    Thanks for your support of electric cars and their suppressed advantages. Tesla is just the beginning,

  • This is an article supposedly about Tesla yet your links are pointing to data for cute little commuter cars. The Tesla is a real car and competes in the real world. I’d like real arguments.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Well, gen some numbers for us.

      Figure out what you think the luxury car equivalent of the S is.

      Calculate cost of operation of each. Gas vs. electricity for 12k mile per year. Routine maintenance costs for each. At least twice as frequent brake rebuilds for the ICEV.

      Run the numbers out about 12 years, the average lifespan of US cars.

      • EVDriver

        Zachary’s calculations, which are in some other article he wrote, are bogus. A whole lot more bogus than anything in the NY Times article he complains about. And I say that as an EV owner who really likes his EV, and who thinks EVs are going to be a very important deal once the battery issues get worked out.

        Let’s start with batteries. Zachary ignores it completely, even though it’s by far the single biggest cost of an EV. It’s why even the little EVs are so expensive relative to ICE cars. When I engaged him on this in a discussion on Time magazine’s site, he said he’d “solve” the problem by computing costs over an 8 year period. Because EV batteries aren’t replaced in eight years, voila! they’re free!

        Um, no they’re not, Zachary. Then he argued that there’s no reliable cost estimates for lithium-ion batteries. That’s not true, either. McKinsey & Co., the strategy consultants, have compiled a detailed forecast. Zachary knows how to use Google, so he could find it if he wanted to.

        Then there are the comparisons he uses. He compares Ford’s new Focus EV to its souped-up turbo gas hog Focus S. When I compared my EV’s miles per kWh to an ICE car’s miles per gallon, I went apples to apples and found a car of the same size that gets 36 miles to the gallon. The Focus is bigger, so I’d guess that the apt ICE baseline is something that gets 30 mpg, not the turbo S performance car’s 22 mpg.

        My EV’s fuel cost is currently averaging 5 cents per mile, not including my state’s EV registration surcharge, which adds 3.3 cents a mile. The ICE equivalent fuel cost is 8.4 cents a mile, plus the state’s fuel tax, which amounts to 1.6 cents a mile. Fully taxed, that’s 10 cents a mile for the ICE and 8.3 cents a mile for the EV. As the weather warms up and my range improves, I expect my EV fuel cost to drop to about 7 cents a mile. That’s better than the ICE equivalent, but it’s not a gigantic gap.

        Zachary vastly overestimated ICE car maintenance costs relative to an EV. Something like $900 a year higher, as I recall. Sheesh, I guess EVs will never need their tires replaced or a new 12-volt battery, or an alignment, or other suspension work. No components will go wrong, like power steering pumps or power windows.

        I could keep going, but I hope I’ve made my point. If not, then let me state it directly: There’s no need to invent facts or gloss over problems. Just tell the truth. The EV story is a good one, but these things are not the Second Coming. They’re just another box on four wheels with a different fuel tank.

        • “EVDriver,” if you want to get into a discussion about another article, why not do so under that article?

          Batteries– 8-year warranty on those. Cut off the cost comparisons at 8 years and get over it.

          — cost forecasts. give me a break. this is one of the biggest nuts in cleantech that researchers are focused on. there are numerous labs and research groups working on potential breakthrough alternatives. a McKinsey & Co. forecast is not going to pass muster in 8 years.

          The car comparison I used — i initially compared the Ford Focus EV to a low-end Ford Focus. i was informed that was an unfair comparison because the EV was most similar to the high-end Ford Focus S. So I redid the comparison and made it very clear in the article that people could use the process to compare whatever cars they wanted.

          — I was also blamed for using the Ford Focus, btw, since it’s not the most competitive EV by a long shot. Funny that you didn’t pint that out.

          Your data — guess what, using data from one person is not the best way to provide information for the general populous. i used national averages, and then i performed variations based on several different scenarios, and I several times urged others to conduct their own analysis based on their own situation.

          I don’t recall where the maintenance costs came from, but I do recall that I looked around for the safest/best average on that I could find. Got a link to something better? Shoot it over.

          Man, for someone who supposedly likes EVs, you sure are hypersensitive to simple facts and figures.

          • EVDriver

            Zachary, I’m posting everywhere that I find your lies. Seeing as how you’ve accused the New York Times of lying, I think turnabout is fair play. You don’t recall where the maintenance costs came from, you say? Sounds to me like you might have just made it up.

            I’m not “hypersentitive tio simple facts and figures.” But I’m observant of lies and the liars who spout them. You remind me very much of the hypesters who made names for themselves for a while during the Internet stock boom of the late 1990s.

            I do like EVs, and in fact I own one. I just don’t feel a need to lie about the numbers like you do.

          • Haha, seriously, you think I made it up? No, as I said, I looked around a lot and tried to use what seemed like the most reliable figure.

            Calling me a liar is quite absurd, in my opinion of course, since I know that I’m not.

            Again, in this one specific case you are referring to, I said in several places that those were all assumptions that anyone could change. If I recall correctly (I have to go back to that article to check), I believe I included a link to a spreadsheet people could use to change any of the assumption. It’s funny that you never respond to my comments about those matters.

            Keep playing Mr Sherlock Holmes and “figuring things out.” I’ve got no issue with correcting misinformation — that’s what I’m trying to do! But when you come in with claims I know are absurd (i.e. claims about me), than my regard for your “facts” is not very high. So, be sure to give me a link to any facts you claim, so that I can carefully verify it. Thank You.

          • EVDriver

            You don’t even verify your own claims. How can you be trusted to verify anyone else’s? You’ve drunk major Kool-Aid on EVs. You’re a zombie, a Scientologist, a cult member, you name it. The tech world is familiar with the type.

          • You make incorrect and absurd claims like this. You don’t provide ANY general facts. You contend things are wrong but don’t supply any sources or data (other than data you’ve collected about your not-on-the-market Th!nk EV). And you think that your dislike of my posts is going to have any useful effect? (Or do you simply getting enjoyment out of trolling and putting people in boxes that they don’t fit into?)

            Don’t worry, we haven’t built up our reputation here from nothing. But don’t let that confuse you — you’re right, I’m a Zombie drunk on Kool-Aid. 😉

          • Ross Chandler

            Do you really have an EV or are you a fossil fuel industry shill?

        • You know what I just realized? The $900/year figure you are mentioning for maintenance costs is only in the spreadsheet — that means that you actually did see that you (and anyone else) can go into the spreadsheet and change variables in order to come up with your own best guess as to what an EV would cost compared to a similar gasoline-powered vehicle. So you just keep ignoring that possibility and the point that I pushed people to do their own calculations. Very honorable 😉 Gives me even more faith about you. 😉

          ALSO, that $900/year figure is based on 20,000 miles a year of driving. Just one of the scenarios. It’s not a fixed price. The other key input, which also is not fixed, is $0.04/mile for “Extra Maintenance Costs For Gas Car Per Mile.” Again, that was my best guess based on what I could find on the matter — I don’t remember the sources I used — but I know I spent a lot of time looking for reliable sources on that. Feel free to let me know if you’ve got a better source I could use. Happy to change the figure to be more accurate… Beyond what you absurdly think, my whole goal here is better accuracy in comparing the costs.

    • this is an article stimulated by the Tesla-NYTimes firestorm and all the articles and comments that resulted from that — many or most of which were about EVs in general.

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