Published on June 14th, 2013 | by Zachary Shahan


Electric Cars Much Cheaper Than You Think, Cheaper Than Gasmobiles (Charts)

June 14th, 2013 by  

Just this week I noted a new tool from the US Department of Energy showing that fueling an electric car is about 3 times cheaper than fueling a gasmobile. Well, those fuel savings add up, resulting in more money in your pocket, as a recent study from the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) shows. Here’s more info (and two charts!) from Sophie Vorrath of RenewEconomy:

New analysis from America’s Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) has come up with some interesting figures that suggest the number-one obstacle for mass adoption of electric vehicles – prohibitive cost – could be on the way out. Greentech Media reports that the study – which compared the 2012 prices of the fully electric Nissan Leaf (graph 1) and the hybrid plug-in Chevy Volt (graph 2) against comparable petrol-fuelled cars on the market – found the two EVs were within 10 per cent of conventional vehicles.

The study found that petrol prices were one of the major factors affecting this balance, but the bad news – for us in Australia, anyway – is that America’s state and federal EV incentives were an even more important contributing factor, as were capital costs, which are being driven down in the US in what appears to be an electric car price war. Driving habits and maintenance also played a role.



Notably, the price of the 2013 Nissan Leaf is about $6000 lower than the price of the 2012 Nissan Leaf — thanks to Nissan moving manufacturing to the US — and the Chevy Volt has seen a $4000+ price cut in recent weeks. We’re unsure what the price of the new Volt will be, but within a few years or so, GM intends to get the price of the Volt down by $7,000–$10,000.

Even if you remove federal tax credits for electric vehicles (which wouldn’t really make sense until we put an adequate price on carbon dioxide), some electric leaders are already clearly competitive.

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.

  • jagiela

    Okay so lets do a complete recap here.

    EVs are “competitive” if:

    We give the buyer $12000 to make his purchase

    We compare the EV not to its gas equivalent but to the average car. The gas comparable Versa is $11000 cheaper than the EV leaf.

    The Versa also gets 35 mpg not the 24 used in the example, so that would cut the gas cost by $3000

    The resale value of the Versa after 5 years is $6700 while the leaf is worthless as the batteries need to be replaced and cost more than the car is worth.

    So the five year ownership of the EV Leaf is only $$32,700 more than its comparable gas competitor the Nissan Versa. Impressive accomplishment which is why no one buys the things

    • Bob_Wallace

      You are right. If you put a heavy thumb on the scale and decide that the Versa is the gas equivalent of the LEAF.

      How about giving us an argument for picking the Versa over all other similar sized cars? Why not the Camry which is about the same size and less of an econobox like the Versa?

      And if you decide that an EV’s batteries are shot after only five years, which is pretty unrealistic. Are you thinking that the EV will be driven more than 20,000 miles a year? If that’s the case how much life do you think will be left in a Versa after 100k? Perhaps it’s close to engine/transmission replacement time?

      And the LEAF batteries are quite unlikely to be shot, just experiencing a range decrease. To call the LEAF “worthless” when it hits 100,000 miles or 5 years is foolish.

      No one buys the things?

      At the end of its first full calendar year (13 months) the Toyota Prius had sold 17,700 cars worldwide.

      At the end of its first full calendar year (13 months) the Nissan LEAF had sold 21,611 cars worldwide.

      After two years (and a month) on market the Prius had sold 32,900 cars worldwide.

      After two years (and a month) on market the LEAF had sold 47,322 cars worldwide.

      After three years (and a month) on market the Prius had sold 52,200 cars worldwide.

      The LEAF, seven months short of three years (and a month) has sold
      62,000 cars worldwide.

      You’re just flinging stuff up against the wall to see if something will stick.

      So far it’s all slid off….

      • jagiela

        100,000 miles would be the most you could get out of the batteries of an electric car. If you want to argue lower mileage, mainly because the Leaf is junk and can’t go very far, I suppose you would have an argument.

        But there are no tax credits available for the resale market and since no one buys the Leaf without the credits, its rather unrealistic to expect much resale value if any, above scrap.

        As for the Versa, that 6700 is the resale value of a 2008 Versa with 100,000 miles on it.. I chose 100,000 miles because that is what Nissan guarantees the batteries for.

        You can quibble over a number here and there but the larger points remain-

        The resale value of the Nissan Leaf is going to be much much less than a gasomobile simply because the gasoline engine is likely to last longer and is cheaper to replace in any event. The new batteries for a Nissan Leaf are 18000, making it uneconomic to extend the life of the car beyond its initial battery life- the car is scrap when the battery dies.

        • Bob_Wallace

          You’re making prediction based on next to nothing.

          If you dislike the idea of electric cars so much why don’t you just go set up a site called “I hate EVs”? You’re adding nothing of value to discussions here.

          • jagiela

            I’ve added plenty to the discussion here- I’ve proven your dreams to be hopeless idealistic failures. Hopefully, you will now accept defeat and stop advocating things like tax breaks for the rich boy toys and spend the money on cheap, safe, clean nuclear power plants

          • Bob_Wallace

            We have a low tolerance here for idiots. And you’re earning that merit badge.

            Up-rating your own comments is especially idiotic when everyone can see that you did.

          • jagiela

            Why not? Your just mad you didn’t come up with the idea.

            Seriously Bob, I would love it if someone invented a good electric car battery but claiming that EVs are cost competitive with gasoline is really insane.

            Their is no need to do any research on EVs other than the battery- if you can get that 18000 battery down to about 1800 and have it last twice as long then the vehicles would be competitive. There’s very little chance of that happening anytime soon given the very low level of advancement in battery technology

            The debate should be honest and up front and this article is deliberately deceitful. It just leaves off so much of the cost of owning the EV that the comparison is flat out wrong…

          • Dan Hue

            Where do you get $18,000? The Leaf has a 24kWh pack. That would be $750/kWh. It may have cost that at some point in the past, but surely not anymore. (A Tesla Model S 80kWh pack would cost $60,000!) To my knowledge, Nissan does not divulge what they are paying, but even at a (probably way too) high cost or $400, that’s now only $9,600.

            Surely, if your opinion is based on such wrong numbers, you must be willing to revise it.

    • make it realistic

      Wouldn’t it be great if the VW TDI engines that we build in this country (NC?) that get over 60 MPG, were allowed to be sold here? that would really put a kink in EV sales model i guess. but as obama is worried about a loss in gas tax revenue (never mind that people would start traveling/visiting each other a bit more and thus still use more gas) he/his administration won’t allow it to be sold here.

      I need a vehicle that can handle 3 car seats in the back. I don’t know of any EV that can manage that and still be able to feed my kids without living on the gov’t subsidy/handout train.

      While I’m all for zero emissions, I’d rather opt for less emissions, less taxes, less subsidies, reasonably sized vehicles. I don’t need to have 500 HP v8, or do 0-60 in 6 sec or less. just give me a couple of extra gears and a few extra Cu/ft for the toys and child separation.

      • Bob_Wallace

        “but as obama is worried about a loss in gas tax revenue”

        Does someone pay you to believe BS like that or do you do it for free?

        BTW, on this page you can see seven VW TDI models sold in the US.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Here’s a description of the 2010 Jetta.

        Read the last sentence….

        A cut above the generic four-door sedan, the 2010 Volkswagen Jetta borrows mechanical components from the upscale Audi division, provides an exceptionally strong safety rating and a list of standard and optional equipment rarely found in this class. With slightly less rear-seat legroom than the more expensive Passat, the Jetta still provides the kind of “big car” feel you won’t find in many of its competitors. On the downside, the Jetta does not offer a V6 engine – although the sporty Wolfsburg model’s turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant delivers the power of a V6 with the fuel economy of a frugal four. The really big news, however, is the availability of a 50-state compliant TDI clean diesel engine, which can achieve upwards of 42 miles per gallon in highway driving.

        And if you do a search using VW TDI 60 MPG you will find posts from individuals who are reporting 60 MPG or better like this one…

        Now, I don’t know where you get your “facts”, but it might be past time to change channels. Fox rots your brain and makes you stupid.

      • Dan Hue
    • Dan Hue

      @jagiela, EVs are subsidized to accelerate their development because society has determined that their wide-scale adoption is in our best common interest. It does not take much vision or techno-optimism to see their potential on multiple fronts, including strategic (less reliance on foreign oil), and environmental (less GHG emissions and cleaner cities). It does not hurt either that they are a blast to drive (with their instant torque and linear, smooth and quiet acceleration). That’s why I am so happy to see cars like the Tesla Model S getting so many accolades and provide that WOW factor that will inspire more people to try them out. Obviously you are not one of them, because otherwise you would not compare a Leaf to a Versa (disclaimer, I own a Volt and have not tried the Leaf, but I hear it’s nice and have no reason to doubt it).

      I predict that EVs will catch on much faster than most people believe. Battery cost and performance is the key. People still mention $400/kWh, but insider numbers suggest $200 is closer to the mark. $100 is likely doable within a few years based on the cost of batteries in the electronics industry. Same for energy density. The Volt has (I think) a 125Wh/Kg system, which is no longer cutting edge. 200 is more like it, and perhaps as much as 400 (see Envia 400Wh/kg claims). This is with available technology. In the labs, there are numerous claims of much more advanced stuff, but I would suggest that 400Wh/kg is probably good enough (if cheap enough) to drastically alter the equation.

  • dean in michigan

    It seems two facts gets overlooked whenever there is a discussion of the costs of operating electric vehicles — EV owners pay no road tax and manufacturers are selling EVs at a loss! EVs in essence get to drive on highways built and maintained by the drivers of conventional vehicles. In addition, manufacturers are selling EVs at artificially low prices in order to comply with California’s zero emission vehicle mandate (today, some manufacturers pay Tesla $35,000 a car for its electric vehicle credits). By 2025, the average new vehicle sold in the US will add hundreds of dollars to the cost of each new vehicle sold in the US just to subsidize EV production. So electric cars are not cheaper than you think — they are much, much more expensive.

    • Bob_Wallace

      EVs will eventually need to pay some sort of road use fee. But since their purchase prices will almost certainly drop below same-model ICEVs and their operating costs are about 25% as much a small per mile road use fee won’t be meaningful.

      I don’t think your claim that EVs are being sold at a loss is correct. That isn’t what I’ve heard EV manufacturers state. Yes, there are yet to be recovered R&D costs, but that’s true of the first sales for any new car or truck model. If Ford introduces a new gasmobile line it can take thousands of sales to recoup the cost.

      GM spent less to develop the Volt than Ford spent (in current dollars) to develop the Edsel. About half as much.

      Yes, Tesla is selling their earned renewable credits to other car manufacturers. But they apparently are making a profit without the rebate.

      ” By 2025, the average new vehicle sold in the US will add hundreds of dollars to the cost of each new vehicle sold in the US just to subsidize EV production.”

      That’s an extremely unlikely to come true prediction. Long before then same-model EVs should be cheaper to manufacturer and purchase than their ICEV fraternal twins.

      We may, in fact, be very close to the point at which EVs cost the same to manufacturer as an ICEV. Battery prices seem to be dropping much faster than was predicted. Get batteries to about $200/kWh and the manufacturing price difference between EVs and ICEVs evaporates.

      Remember, ICEVs not only have engines but also a lot of rather expensive stuff like fuel, cooling and exhaust systems. Electric motors are quite cheap.

      • dean in michigan

        My costs of EVs vs ICEs are not my own — its from the government’s fuel economy rulemaking. Using the costs and assumptions the DOT used in their final regulatory impact analysis, I estimated that the average new car in 2025 will cost over $300 more just to subsidize EVs in California and 9 other states. EVs were a mature technology at the beginning of the 20th century, and since then everyone from Thomas Edison to General Motors has tried to invent the better battery. It would be nice if it would happen as you predict, but history and chemistry suggests it won’t. Also, many of the rosy EV cost estimates assume economy of scale at any volume. That is a reasonable assumption with vehicles built of recycled steel and plastic, but not one with a thousand pound fuel tank (the battery) that requires exotic materials. At some volume, the price begins to climb as rare earths and other materials become scarce. Just saying, its a lot more complex than EV supporters make it out to be.

        • Bob_Wallace

          ” I estimated that the average new car in 2025 will cost over $300 more just to subsidize EVs in California and 9 other states”

          You are assuming that EVs will be significantly more expensive than ICEVs 12 years from now.

          I think that extremely unlikely. But if it makes you feel good to hold that belief that’s your privilege.

          I, on the other hand, choose to believe that EVs will be the same price or a few thousand dollars less than an equivalent ICEV 12 years from now.

          And I believe that because I’ve been watching what is happening in battery technology and not using the “8% per year” price drop assumption which seems to be based on nothing of any substance.

          Check back in 2025 and let’s see who had the best crystal ball.

  • jagiela

    Ignored of course, is the tax subsidy for the electric and that the “price war” is driven not by the market but because the companies must meet the clean vehicle standards. Basically, to be able to sell real cars they have to sell a certain amount of zero emission vehicles.

    Thus they drop the price of the cars to get the credit even though they lose money on every car they sell. They make it up when they sell the real gasmobiles. Just another one of the thousand green subsidies that keeps garbage on the streets.

    • Bob_Wallace

      “Thus they drop the price of the cars to get the credit even though they lose money on every car they sell.”

      Well, the problem with that is that the car companies have reported that they are not losing money on their EV production. There are ‘yet to be recovered’ R&D costs but that happens with any new model introduction. It takes time to recover the cost of developing and tooling up for a new model be it EV or major upgrade of an ‘old favorite’.

      “because the companies must meet the clean vehicle standards”

      And what’s wrong with that? It will take a few years to build EV markets and it is unlikely many manufacturers would have bothered if not pushed into doing so by the increase in CAFE standards.

      Previous CAFE standards brought us affordable, more efficient choices. Auto manufacturers needed to sell a lot of efficient models at a low margin in order to be able to sell the gas guzzlers that brought them large profits.

      We need zero emission vehicles. A combination of stick (CAFE standards) and carrot (subsidies) is moving us to where we need to go.

      • jagiela

        Well, car companies are in it to make money to say that the marginal cost of producing the car while ignoring the r & D and capital investment, I suppose you might get it to the point that the EVs aren’t money losers but that is a farce. These costs must be recovered just like they are on all other vehicles and the EVs aren’t doing that.

        Then we have to consider the $7500 federal tax subsidy and the $5000 in state subsidies. Do you honestly think that America can afford 200 billion in subsidies for these clunkers? Of course not. EVs again aren’t paying their weight.

        And what about resale value? Gasmobiles can last fifteen or twenty years but EVs are worthless after five years because the batteries are dust. Are you going to buy a five year old car to put in $20000 of new batteries?Didn’t think so

        You can insist that we need to subsidize these things, but that isn’t what we are discussing- we were discussing weather it was cheaper to buy a Gasmobile or an EV clunker.

        The answer: Despite massive government subsidies totally about half the price of the car, the EV is a clunker that costs an insane amount to drive

        • Bob_Wallace

          What would be a farce would be to charge EVs for their R&D expenses and not charge ICEVs for their R&D costs. Ford spent $2 billion in today’s dollars to develop the Edsel (which they never recovered). GM spent less than $1 billion to develop the Volt.

          We subsidize many/most emerging technologies. The federal government gave massive aid to the railroad companies to help them build the transcontinental railroad. We’ve subsidized air travel, the electric grid, computers, nuclear energy and on and on. Sometimes we’ve developed technologies totally at federal expense and handed them over to private enterprise for others to make profits. Satellite/space technology and the internet are a couple of examples.

          ” Gasmobiles can last fifteen or twenty years but EVs are worthless after five years because the batteries are dust. Are you going to buy a five year old car to put in $20000 of new batteries?”

          Gasmobiles rarely last 15 to 20 years without some fairly expensive repairs. EV batteries are likely to last a lot longer than 5 years and certainly will cost less than $20k to replace since they don’t cost that much now. (You’ll get further if you don’t use bogus numbers and make obviously incorrect claims.)

          ” Despite massive government subsidies totally about half the price of the car, the EV is a clunker that costs an insane amount to drive”

          Best case for the buyer – a $28,800 LEAF would get a $7,500 federal and a $6,000 state subsidy. $13,500/28,000 = 47%. That is close to half, but few states offer a subsidy anywhere close to that.

          The EV a clunker and costing an insane amount to drive simply shows that you are massively uninformed or dishonest. Perhaps we’ll get to know you better and decide for ourselves….

          • jagiela

            Sure Ford lost money on the edsel but they made it up on the Lincoln Continental, such is business.

            What your trying to do though is compare the marginal cost of building an EV with the total production cost of your “gasmobiles” This is error and leads to the impression that electric cars are cheaper than they are.

            Again, you argue for the need for subsidies but that is a debate for a different time (there’s no need to subsidize EVs there are no technological breakthoughs needed as they are very simple to build compared to gas cars. They just rely on hopelessly impractical batteries).

            The truth remains obvious- Gas is the most practical power source for cars. EVs are nowhere near competitive and they won’t be anytime soon.

            Sorry to break it to you- but Science is Science and the Science says EVs are not practical

          • GJPinks

            But the Edsel sold five times as well as the volt.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Since the Volt is still in production we do not know if that statement will be true.

  • Kyle Field

    The key to these graphs is the time over which the capital is spread given that the primary delta is capital vs energy source…which drastically swings in favor of electrics over a longer period of service/ownership. Assuming $4/gallon, my estimation that the traditional vehicle looks to have $14k in gas costs, @12k miles/year…this works out to 5.83 years over which the costs are spread. Maybe that’s the average ownership targets for current vehicles but I expect that to rise with electrics given that they require less maintenance as well due to fewer moving parts (electric motor vs gas engine). If we spread that out to 10 years of ownership, it’s obvious electrics are a better buy.

    Regarding leasing – yes, I agree that some electric cars, like the Chevy Sonic or the Leaf are practically free (where the lease + electricity required to drive cost less than the gasoline of the existing car). I’m trying to sell my wife on this but she doesnt like the idea of trading her 2002 convertible BMW for a box on wheels like the sonic. Oh well. We’ll be waiting for the Tesla X or the one after…

    Regarding the “average” car price…at least here in so cal, we have tons of BMWs, SUVs (LAND ROVERS @ 9-14mpg!), etc on the road which drives up the “average” price. Granted, plenty of people drive econo cars a la nissan versa…but that is not the average car. It is a cheap, reliable, likely higher mpg gas vehicle that most folks looking into electric cars should definitely consider just as I looked at the Toyota Corolla vs Prius when purchasing our Prius a few years back. As I noted above with my own case, it’s a tough sell trying to convince someone to buy a Leaf instead of the Lexus RX330 they really wanted…and oftentimes, it’s the fact that people who buy those cars are not as interested in the economics of it, but the style. Bring in the Chevy volt, Tesla S and Tesla Roadster to meet those needs at much higher price points.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Average US new car purchase price is $29,746.

      Average US new car MPG is 24.8.

      12,000 miles a year at 24.8 MPG and $4/gallon costs $1,935 per year.

      Electricity for 12,000 miles in a 0.3 miles/kWh EV at $0.11 costs $396 per year.

      You can purchase a Nissan LEAF for $21,300 after federal subsidy.

      Those are the sorts of numbers that make EVs win. People are already spending more than a new LEAF costs and spending over $2k more per year on fuel and maintenance.

      What we need now is an option between the LEAF/other EVs and the Model S. Something with more room and style. A 200 mile range Camry and a 200 mile range BMW.

      • “What we need now is an option between the LEAF/other EVs and the Model S. Something with more room and style. A 200 mile range Camry and a 200 mile range BMW.”

    • Some great comments — thanks. 😀

      1- the length of ownership + simplicity of EVs is an interesting factor, and makes one wonder if the Big 3 were dragging their feet for so long on electrics because they realized it would probably result in fewer sales over time.

      2- yes, bigger than anything else, i think the image of EVs needs to be better sold, + more models for different tastes. getting there.

  • bussdriver78

    DO LEASING COMPARISON. include the Electric Smartcar. If I drive about 20 miles a day it comes out to be almost a free car given how much gas I buy per month vs the lease.

  • Juan Pelotas

    I am all for; but please be honest. The equivalent of the Leaf is NOT an average $27,000 car. We have to compare it to a similarly sized car, like the $16,000 Nissan Versa. At the end of the day, like it or not, the Leaf is an econobox.

    Again, I am a big supporter; and I know that after about 100,000 – 150,000 miles it breaks even; but we have to be honest.

    • Bob_Wallace

      The “Average Conventional” car is not a Nissan Versa.

      • Otis11

        I think that’s @Juan Pelotas point Bob – while the Nissan Versa isn’t an average conventional car, it’s fairly comparable to the Leaf. Not quite, the Leaf has some other features that bring it’s price up, but you can get a Leaf-comparable ICE car for $18-20k, not the $27k compared in this chart.

        That means they are roughly equal currently, at year 5 of ownership, without our federal tax credit (The leaf price is listed at $27K in this chart, which is either the old Leaf, or before tax credit).

        So, long story short, the comparison is slightly flawed, but it’s flawed fairly equally in both direction, and if you take this extra into account it drops the price of both the Leaf and the comparable car fairly equally and the comparison stands.

        • Bob_Wallace

          The LEAF is over 30% faster 0 to 60 than the Versa. It’s a quiet, enjoyable car to drive, as reported by drivers, unlike driving a typical car.

          It doesn’t make sense to be to evaluate cars simply on interior volume. If so, no one would buy a BMW roadster or Ferrari when you could get so much more interior space with a econobox.

          • Otis11

            I understand that the Leaf is a bit more driver friendly than the econobox, but I still believe you can get a comparable car for $20k. And while the acceleration (and probably better handling given the batteries are in the base IIRC) are nice features, for most drivers in this category, it’s not a top feature they are looking for.

            With that I’ll stand by my original post – slightly flawed comparison, but the flaw does not bias the result.

          • Bob_Wallace

            What would be handy is a comparison of comfort/appearance. It the LEAF more like the Versa or the Camry (which sells for a bit more than the post-subsidy LEAF)?

            I put together a comparison of the interior dimensions of the $11,900 Versa, the $21,300 LEAF and the $21,235 Toyota Camry.

            I can’t see how one could use interior dimensions as a good indicator of price. The Versa has more front seat headroom and legroom than the Camry, yet it sells for $10k less?


          • Otis11

            So I actually asked this of a friend who’s very familiar with the car industry – he responded “that while the stats of the leaf look most similar to the Rogue, it’s driver experience is much more in line with the Versa Hatch. I asked if the Leaf should just be compared to both, and he recommended against it saying if it was compared to the Rogue, make a clear distinction that while they are similar in size, they ride significantly differently as they are in two different “classes” of cars not intended for the same market segment. (aka people interested in the Rogue would not drive a gas version of the Leaf if one was offered and vise-versa)”

            While that is not directly applicable to this discussion, I did not want to paraphrase the summary I wrote up just after talking to him as that was months ago. Also, if memory serves he did note that the comparison still isn’t 1-1 as the Leaf has notable “luxury” features not in the Versa, so it’s still a stretch of a comparison.

            All in all, I think the Leaf is very competitive with comparable cars and I think most drivers would actually like it better than comparable cars for a multitude of reasons (driver experience, charging convenience, lower driving noise, cleaner, etc). While not every driver will appreciate all of those, they are likely to find at least one benefit.

            (Apologies if this isn’t directly related – I have to run and I’m not at my peak atm… did my best with what I can currently muster.)

    • there are very different points of view here:

      what is the Leaf really comparable to? an average car? is it better? worse? some specs put it at worse (i.e. more like a Versa), some put it at better (note Bob’s second comment below).

      when i run my own comparison next time, I will use the Versa, but that comes with some major caveats.

      being an early adopter is exciting. driving electric is fun, quiet, and convenient (skip gas stations). of course, there are also the green and non-oil benefits….

      so, it’s hard to be real clear on which cars are best to compare.

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