We recently returned to Florida after 4½ months in Poland. Before we left Florida in mid-March, I was planning to write an article about our insanely low fuel costs driving an electric car in the state for 9 months. That didn’t happen. I then decided to at least write the article before returning to Florida. That didn’t happen. Long story short: below is finally the article I was planning to write about our fuel costs after ~9 months driving a BMW i3 REx in Southwest Florida.
If you want to be a purist about it (and I do), note that this is a “range-extended electric car” — a 2015 BMW i3 REx — not a 100% fully electric car. That means the electric powertrain is the only thing that runs the car, but in the case that the battery almost totally runs out of electricity, a gasoline engine (a BMW scooter engine) kicks in and generates electricity for the battery.
There are two main takeaway points from this analysis, and I’ll just blurt them out now. The first is that EV charging is wickedly cheap — or no cost at all — in some places. The second is that even a 2015 i3, with its ~70 miles of electric range, can offer plenty of range and easy non-home charging for some lifestyles.
I’ll be clear, though — I’m not at all claiming I’m normal or our family situation should be used for broad generalizations. We are a four-person, one-car family that drives relatively little. Living in Florida now versus the totally walkable, mixed-use neighborhood where we have lived in Poland, it feels like we’re driving all the time, but it turns out our monthly average driving distance is about half, or even a third, of the national average. As you may have noticed, I work online — CleanTechnica has no physical office — which cuts back tremendously on miles driven. That said, we also have not had home charging, so we lack the benefit of recharging easily at home each night.
As far as the area where we live, you can look it up on PlugShare. The summary, from my point of view, is that Sarasota has a moderate number of charging stations — not a ton, but it’s no charging desert. The good thing for us is that there are charging stations many of the places where we regularly go — Whole Foods, the beach, the library, various parks, a nearby shopping mall, Earthfare, and downtown. As a result, we’ve almost never had to go out of our way to charge. Additionally, we almost never have to change our schedule to charge longer. The car charges while we go shopping or recreate — simple, easy, convenient. In fact, when people ask me how long the car takes to charge, I honestly tell them I don’t really know, since we just plug in when we go somewhere and unplug when we leave.
The rather cool thing for us is that practically every charging station in the city is completely free to use. There’s no time cost for charging and no cost per kWh of electricity. In fact, I don’t even know where a single charging station is that I’d have to pay to use. The result, of course, is that we’ve spent $0 charging our i3 in the 9 months we’ve been driving it (that excludes the 4½ months we were just recently in Poland).
If we had a Tesla Model 3, the total “fuel” cost would have been $0. Since we have an i3 REx, the story is a bit different.
Once or twice, the REx had to kick in to keep us rolling, since we ran out of electricity driving around town too much between charges. However, I think that wasn’t even the bulk of the $2.26 we spent on gasoline in those 9 months. If you don’t use the REx for a long time, something called “Maintenance Mode” turns on in order to keep the engine fresh. It runs the REx for ~10 minutes while you drive around. I think this turned on 2–3 times in the first 9 months of ownership.
In the end, though, $2.26 spent on gasoline and $0 charging in 9 months of BMW i3 ownership is not something to complain about. The low cost compared to what we’d spend on an inferior gasoline car for the same sticker price is a huge benefit of EV ownership. Additionally, the $2.26 could have been easily avoided by anyone shopping in this car class in the new car market, since they could have bought a fully electric Tesla Model 3. Even a 2019 BMW i3 now has plenty of electric range to skip the REx altogether — the $2.26 in savings doesn’t really matter, but you’ll appreciate not having to go to a stinky gas station.