How Does The Total Cost Of Ownership Of Gasmobiles Compare To EVs?

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Ladies and Gentlemen, the gauntlet has been thrown down and there’s money on the line. Fortunately for me, it’s your money on the line, so listen up. While chatting over coffee (okay, in the comments section of a recent article), Zach and dRanger framed up an interesting idea for a case study comparing the total cost of ownership (TCO) of some popular EVs with the TCO of some of the most popular gasmobiles.

Having laid down the framework, let’s pick teams from our list of contenders. On team Gasmobile, we have the Ford F150 SuperCab, Toyota Camry, and Dodge Durango (with the V8, to set the high-water mark). We will pit their specs against the new kids on the block on Team EV, with the Nissan Leaf and the always popular Tesla Model S (not the P85D version, though). To round things off, Team Misfits includes long-standing eco favorite, the Toyota Prius, as well as the new contender, the 2016 Chevy Volt.

Team Gasmobile Photos

Team EVs Pics

The Misfits (PHEV and Hybrids) Photo

Boilerplate Items

To ensure a level playing field, we plugged the cars into the Edmunds True Cost to Own (a Total Cost of Ownership calculator), which creates brilliant summaries of the total cost picture for owning cars. We used 2015 model year vehicles, as that’s what’s available in the tool with the exception of the Volt, for which we used 2016 specs. Neither the Tesla Model S, Nissan Leaf, or Chevy Volt are listed in Edmunds’ database, so I extrapolated based on MPG and mi/kWh, equivalent tax rates, and estimated or official maintenance schedules, as they were available. Other factors – zip code is 93003 (Southern California, which impacts fuel cost, taxes, and insurance), assumed 15,000 miles per year, all cars are financed for 5 years, standard maintenance schedules are followed, and depreciation is included. Phew, that was a mouthful. Having worked through all the legalese, let’s get to the fun stuff!

I’ll share one screenshot of the Edmunds tool so folks can see what the summary looks like, as I’ll be pulling the mass of results into a single sheet for easier comparison. Below is what the Dodge Durango TCO looks like with a chart breaking down each of the cost areas, the Total Cost to Own, Total Cash Price, as well as the itemized costs of ownership.

Dodge Durango TCO

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The Comparison — 5-Year Summary


Stubbing the data into Edmunds‘ calculator kicks out some fun figures right off the bat. What was interesting about this exercise is that I played with the zip code and found that this made a very large impact, mostly due to higher insurance, fuel, and tax costs in California vs other states. For example, the total cost to own the F150 SuperCab Truck is $11,000 cheaper over 5 years in Texas vs California.

The Comparison — 10 Year Summary


Extrapolating this dataset up to a 10-year timeline continues several of the 5-years trends and also highlights a few others that should have seemed obvious but weren’t at first. We quickly see that the Tesla Model S continues with higher insurance rates, maintenance costs, and depreciation, with the saving grace being the fuel savings. Let’s do a quick rundown for the major themes:

Depreciation — This is a tough one to estimate for EVs but seems relatively accurate for the Leaf based on the price of some of the used cars on the market today after taking out the rebates up front. Teslas are holding their value much better today and it will be interesting to see how these supply-limited vehicles do over a longer term.

Financing — This made sense to end after 5 years so I left it alone at the 5 year rate.

Fuel — This is pretty straightforward on all vehicles — EVs use mi/kWh x electricity price; gas, hybrid, and PHEVs use the blended city/hwy MPG x price of gas. It will fluctuate up or down based on a more mellow or aggressive style of driving on both EVs and gasmobiles. There’s also a hefty impact here in California on high gasoline costs which, thankfully, make EVs more attractive from the financial side. If only we could keep gas prices over $4/gallon.

Insurance — Unsurprisingly, the most expensive vehicle on the list has the highest insurance rates. This is an area that should be positively impacted by autopilot and, eventually, autonomous driving. Actually… if accident rates drop by 50%, I would expect insurance rates to drop by a hefty margin as well. Net — I would expect autonomous driving to cause us to need the insurance industry less (fewer accidents, less non-value-add money spent on repairs and medical), driving reductions in full industries like auto insurance, auto repairs/body shops, towing services, hospitals, and even new car sales. Very interesting dynamics at play!

Maintenance — Tesla’s flat fee of $600/year for the annual checkup or $475 if paid in advance is pricey compared to all the other gasmobiles on our list. This is a topic of regular discussion on the Tesla Motors Club boards, as it’s actually higher than many comparably priced luxury vehicles when, based on everything we know about electric vehicles, they should require lower maintenance. The Leaf, on the other hand, only requires an annual checkup with very little done… at a very low cost.

In Summary

While it’s obvious that there are puts and takes with the savings vs reliability vs maintenance costs between gasmobiles and EVs, the data show that Teslas are more expensive to own than many gasmobiles, though the fuel savings do let owners afford a more expensive Tesla than a comparably priced gasmobile. Having said that, the Dodge Durango barely edges out the Model S as the most expensive vehicle on our list to own over 10 years, due to its extremely poor fuel efficiency.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Leaf proves its value, taking top spot as cheapest to own/operate in most categories. One unquantified hurt here is the range on these vehicles. The Leaf is range limited whereas most of the other cars on our list are not. If nothing else, this proves a strong case for EVs driving cost savings in the home pocketbook, which the average consumer will soon be able to take advantage of as more long-range EVs come onto the market.

For more detailed breakdowns of these figures, I highly encourage interested parties to hop on over to the Edmunds True Cost to Own tool to run the numbers for your preferred vehicles and location — though, as I noted above, they do not include EVs or PHEVs yet.


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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1657 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field