Nissan Altima & Maxima vs. Tesla Model 3 — Cost Comparisons Over 5 Years

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To satisfy my own curiosity (and, apparently, that of millions of other people), I’ve been running 5-year cost comparisons of the Tesla Model 3 and other top selling cars on the US market. This round of comparisons pits the Tesla Model 3 versus the Nissan Altima and Nissan Maxima.

Among other top selling cars, the Model 3 has a significantly higher upfront price (starting at $35,000 if you buy the base Model 3 in a store, or $39,900 if you buy the notably better Model 3 Standard Range Plus online — it takes ~5 minutes). Nonetheless, a Tesla (like any electric car) has almost no maintenance, has lower “fuel” costs ($100 of electricity generally gets you much further than $100 of gasoline), benefits from the US federal tax credit for EVs, and is expected to have much better value retention according to Kelley Blue Book (which means that you should be able to sell it used for a price much closer to its initial price than you’d be able to sell a used Accord, Camry, Corolla, Civic, Maxima, or Altima after the same amount of time). All in all, the result is that Model 3 ownership costs are often much more similar to the costs of a lower-priced models like the Camry, Accord, Civic, and Corolla. How about the Nissan Altima and Nissan Maxima?

Photo © Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica (available for use anywhere with credit)

In case you are not familiar with the Tesla Model 3, I’ll provide a few brief notes about the car. The Model 3 scored the best safety rating in the history of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) testing. The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+), the trim I’ll be using for the comparisons, zips to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds (the Model 3 Performance does so in 3.2 seconds). The Model 3 is also packed with cutting-edge tech, includes videos games (for use while parked), has something called “sentry mode” to prevent intruders and to capture vandals on camera, benefits from Tesla-exclusive “dog mode” to keep animals cool & safe if you want to leave them in the car for a bit while you are shopping or otherwise busy, sports a beautiful glass roof, offers extra storage space in the frunk (front trunk), and oozes a clear cool factor.

A Nissan Altima or Nissan Maxima features … none of these things. Nonetheless, how much money can you save by going for a cheaper, lower-tech, slower, less safe car? We’ll have a look below.

Tesla Model 3 image via Tesla

So far, I’ve been running comparisons of the top selling cars in the US with the Model 3 one model at a time. I’ve published separate articles for the Camry, the Accord, the Civic, and the Corolla. However, while the Nissan Altima sees far more sales, the Nissan Maxima comes closer to catching up to the Model 3 on tech and performance, so I decided to include both of them in this comparison.

As always, critical factors in any 5 year cost comparison can vary a great deal from individual to individual or from place to place. There is no “one size fits all” comparison — not even close. That’s why I publish a variety of scenarios using different assumptions for some key factors. To dive into the assumptions I used for this analysis, make sure to go to the bottom of the article. Also, I strongly encourage anyone comparing these cars or others to jump over to my Google Sheet, copy a tab, and start your own cost comparison.

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For the Model 3, I’m not using the $35,000 version of the car that you can get by going into a Tesla store or by calling Tesla and ordering it. Instead, I’m using the $39,900 Model 3 SR+. For the Nissan Maxima and Nissan Altima, I picked the Maxima SV, Maxima Platinum Reserve, Altima SV, and Altima Platinum VC-Turbo trims.

The comparisons are done for the following general scenarios:

  • High Gas Price, High Electricity Price
  • Low Gas Price, Low Electricity Price
  • Moderate Gas Price, Moderate Electricity Price
  • High Gas Price, Low Electricity Price

Who will win in each of these? Place your bets now!

Photo © Megan Gale (used with permission)

High Gas Price, High Electricity Price

This scenario uses $5/gallon for gasoline and $0.20/kWh for electricity. Remember that both prices are an estimated average of the whole 5 year period. Also remember that the $/kWh figure is not as simple as picking a residential electricity price. Some people will have free workplace or public charging, some will have low-cost solar panels on their roofs, some will have to pay for public charging/Supercharging, some will have low “time of use” (TOU) electricity prices, and some (like me) will have $0 in charging costs due to ubiquitous free charging in their cities. For this “high-fuel-cost” scenario, I thought the two figures above were sensible, but I encourage you to copy the Google Sheet yourself and input figures that you think would match your situation over 5 years.

Low Gas Price, Low Electricity Price Scenario

This scenario uses $2.20/gallon for gasoline and $0.07/kWh for electricity. See the notes in the section above if you skipped them. Also, as an example that the cost of electricity can actually go much lower than even $0.07/kWh, I’ll emphasize that in 9 months of electric car ownership in Florida I spent $0 charging — yes, $0.00. I don’t have home charging and every charging station I’ve found and used in my city (at grocery stores, the beach, parks, the mall, downtown, ballet class, and elsewhere) is free to use. So, in some situations at least, you can input an EV electricity cost of $0 — but I didn’t do so here since I didn’t want to be skewered alive by people who don’t have free charging everywhere. The lowest average gas price I can find in any state in the USA is $2.261 (in Mississippi), but I got pretty extreme and went lower — down to $2.20 — for this scenario. Don’t ask me how you could actually have such a low average gas price over the coming 5 years.

Moderate Gas Price, Moderate Electricity Price

This scenario uses $3.10/gallon for gasoline and $0.13/kWh for electricity. See the notes in the sections above if you skipped them.

High Gas Price, Low Electricity Price Scenario

This scenario uses $5/gallon for gasoline and $0.07/kWh for electricity. See the notes in the sections above if you skipped them.

Assumptions used in the comparisons above included:

Again, you can change any assumptions as you see fit by copying/duplicating this Google Sheet. But it seems that there’s really no debate here — it makes no sense to buy a Nissan Maxima or Nissan Altima instead of a Tesla Model 3. Buy a Tesla Model 3 and enjoy your life!

Any more thoughts on the results?

If you are interested in buying a Tesla Model 3 (or Model S or Model X) and need a referral code to get 1,000 miles of free Supercharging, feel free to use mine:

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Zachary Shahan

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], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

Zachary Shahan has 7370 posts and counting. See all posts by Zachary Shahan