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Tesla Model 3 Is Cheaper Than Toyota Camry, ARK Analysis Concludes

A recent analysis from ARK Invest indicates that the Tesla Model 3 (even the $44,500 Model 3 Long Range*) outcompetes the highly popular Toyota Camry on a total cost of ownership basis.

There are various ways to evaluate cost competitiveness of an electric vehicle (compared to a conventional gasmobile). I think total cost of ownership (TCO) generally makes the most sense, since it’s the most comprehensive. However, it’s also challenging since you have to make various assumptions that can vary dramatically from person to person, car to car, or even market to market. You have to include assumptions regarding miles/kilometers driven over the life of the analysis, years of ownership, future maintenance costs, future fuel costs, and depreciation.

We’ve conducted out own TCO analyses many times — for the Tesla Model 3, the original Nissan LEAF, and other electric cars. We’ve used a variety of assumptions, both to try to tease out the best possible “average” scenario and to show how much the numbers change when you change certain key assumptions. We plan to publish many more TCO analyses because 1) they’re fun, 2) they’re useful, 3) there are practically endless comparisons to make, 4) they’re highly educational.

Before we get back to our own, though, we have one from ARK Invest to share with you. The recent analysis from ARK indicates that the Tesla Model 3 (even the $44,500 Model 3 Long Range*) outcompetes the highly popular Toyota Camry on a total cost of ownership basis. (*Note that Tesla’s prices/options have changed since this analysis was conducted. The Model 3 Long Range now starts at $49,500 and the Model 3 Standard Range Plus at $39,500.)

The biggest part of many TCO analyses is actually something that is often left out (because it’s hard to judge) — depreciation, or resale value. Tesla vehicles have historically held their value quite well, and ARK Invest jumped off of Kelley Blue Book’s super high Model 3 value retention forecast to show why the Model 3 is such a smart buy.

“Early this year, Kelley Blue Book (KBB) published its Best Resale Value Awards for 2019. According to KBB,1 over a three-year period the Tesla Model 3 is likely to retain 69.3% of its original sales price, 20+ percentage points or 37% more than the Toyota Camry, which will retain 48.6%,” ARK analyst Sam Korus writes.

“While consumers typically compare monthly payment plans when shopping for cars, recent evidence suggests that TCO is beginning to impact their buying decisions. In January, the CEO of Toyota North America noted that Tesla’s sales explain roughly half of Toyota’s 9% share loss to other brands in the US. TCO also provides a good framework to assess the addressable market for the Model 3.”

We’ve basically told this story in our own way several times, but the ARK analysis added something particularly interesting. The investment firm showed how 2018 Tesla Model 3 sales compared to overall sales of all cars in various price brackets, and highlighted the Model 3 in the price category in which it fit. ARK then changed things up and looked at the same general comparisons but using annual cost of ownership instead of upfront cash price. The result makes it clear the Model 3 has much more room to grow in its price category when you’re looking at annual cost of ownership rather than upfront cash price. Here are the two charts:

In the end, I think there are four strong messages:

  1. The Tesla Model 3 is much more cost competitive than an initial glance at the upfront cash price indicates.
  2. While the Model 3 dominates 2018 sales in the cash price segment it falls into, it is a much smaller portion of the market in the annual cost of ownership segment it falls into.
  3. As more people come to learn about the Model 3’s competitive annual cost of ownership (especially for what you get), there’s a lot of room for Model 3 sales to grow.
  4. This is based on only a 3 year cost of ownership analysis!

Also worth remembering, Tesla CEO Elon Musk thinks that Model 3s with the Full Self Driving option could see their value appreciate over time.


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Written By

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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