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Chevy Bolt & Tesla Model 3 vs. Toyota Camry — 5 Year Cost Of Ownership

I was browsing Facebook a few days ago and I saw a member of the Southwest Florida EV group posted that Chevy Bolt prices were really low. The Bolt got a lot of publicity a couple of years ago as many made a big deal that it beat the Model 3 to market. Though, now that Model 3 production is ramped up and meeting US demand (although foreign demand is still unsatisfied in many places), we don’t hear much about the Bolt.

2019 Chevrolet Bolt EV

Image from Maher Chevrolet

I was browsing Facebook a few days ago and I saw a member of the Southwest Florida EV group posted that Chevy Bolt prices were really low. The Bolt got a lot of publicity a couple of years ago as many made a big deal that it beat the Model 3 to market. Though, now that Model 3 production is ramped up and meeting US demand (although foreign demand is still unsatisfied in many places), we don’t hear much about the Bolt. With the Model 3 selling about 10 times the volume, and with Tesla fans (including myself) very open about promoting the Tesla brand, the Bolt gets lost in the shuffle.

Chevy didn’t cut the Bolt’s prices after it lost the $7,500 US federal tax credit (from GM selling 200,000 electric cars in the country. Instead, Chevy has resorted to just doing it informally by giving a variety of incentives to its dealers. Bolt sales haven’t been too impressive since then (at about a 1,000 a month), especially considering the Volt us being discontinued. Presumably, those buyers are being steered to the Bolt. Last year, both the Volt and the Bolt sold about 1,500 a month. Why can the Bolt only sell 1,000 a month now?

I’m here to explain what Maher Chevrolet is doing to help. Unlike many dealers that only carry gas cars, and if they have an EV, just keep it parked in the back lot in case someone asks about it, Maher Chevrolet seems to like EVs. When I visited them with my sister a couple years ago, I noticed they not only had a large selection of new Bolts and Volts, but they also had a large selection of used EVs. The salespeople knew about electric cars, and since they had many free chargers at the dealership, many of the employees had bought EVs to take advantage of the free fuel. Amazingly, of their 236 new and loaner cars, 66 of them are Bolts! They have a program to make the cars easier to buy by using them as loaner cars for their service department for a few months and a few thousand miles. This allows the dealership to take the tax credit. This allows the buyer to buy a slightly used car and not have the income requirements to qualify for a bigger loan and wait until April 15th for the tax credit.

I spoke with the dealer about all the incentives above and I included all of them except the GM lease credit of $1,500 in the analysis below. That credit is only available to you if you presently lease a GM vehicle. You may or may not qualify for the trade-in credit, but I thought most people would. If you want the finance credit, but don’t want a loan, you can take out their loan for 3 months and then pay it off just to get the $1,000. Just to be clear, I didn’t receive any compensation from the dealer to write this article (they don’t even know I’m writing it).

Promoting Tesla vehicles over the last couple of years, I constantly hear that they are great cars, but just too expensive. Although I mention that the monthly cost is reasonable when you include the low fuel, maintenance, and expected resale value, people still think it is too much. What about a car that is about $10,000 cheaper than the Model 3 and covers many of the same advantages?

The Bolt is almost as efficient as a Tesla and has a 6.5 second zero to 60 mph time — you are faster than 90% of the cars on the road. With instant torque, it will feel faster than the Corvettes and Mustangs that would beat it in a drag race. Let’s see if it really should be more popular than it is.

Chevy Bolt vs Toyota Camry SE 5 year cost of ownership

Image from my Google Sheet, click to see more detail

For this round of estimates, I used the open model that Zach encouraged us all to play with a couple of days ago. I refined it to include both list price and purchase price. Although Tesla prides itself on selling the cars at list price, so everyone gets the same deal, other cars usually sell below the list price unless they are some kind of “special edition” or especially popular. I got my purchase price from Edmund’s “Good Price” for the Camry and from my understanding of Maher’s price for the Bolt. For Tesla, I used list price. You may say, how do I know that Maher’s price isn’t a bait and switch price? The answer is that I went to this dealer 2 years ago with my sister (where she purchased a Chevy Volt) and I experienced no trickery. Now, I could be wrong and this could have all changed and be a scam now, but hopefully it has not and is not. Here is a link to my google sheet — go ahead and play with the figures and see what you think.

Chart: Chevy Bolt & Tesla Model 3 vs Toyota Camry 5 year cost of ownership

I put another bar for the Chevy Bolt for reduced depreciation. I think KBB is seeing high depreciation on the Bolt at first due to the tax credit situation and lack of marketing from Chevy. If a car sells new for $15,000 less than the list price, that isn’t really depreciation, that is a reduction in purchase price. If the Chevy Bolt battery still has over 200 miles of range after 5 years and 75,000 miles (and reports from early owners suggest it will), I can’t imagine a car with great performance and low running costs will sell for $6,081. I added $4,000 (which decreases TCO by $4,000) for the top bar.

Who Should Look At The Chevy Bolt?

The Chevy Bolt makes sense for those who want:

  • Instant torque and sports car level acceleration
  • One-pedal driving
  • Low maintenance costs
  • Low fuel costs
  • Quiet operation
  • High-tech dash
  • 5 star safety rating from NHTSA

Yes, the Tesla Model 3 has all of those advantages (and some), but it has a a slightly higher cost of ownership and a significantly higher initial cost and monthly payment. For those unable to afford the Tesla or those who can afford the Tesla but just don’t care about autonomous driving and entertainment features in their cars, the Bolt is a solid choice that more people should consider.

Who Should Look At The Tesla Model 3?

We have written a lot about why the Model 3 is great, but in the context of this discussion, the advantages would be:

  • Fully autonomous driving with a software update without buying a new car
  • Leading-edge entertainment features
  • #1 in safety
  • Faster charging
  • Optional AWD and performance models
  • Better styling and access to the Tesla community

Who Should Look At The Toyota Camry?

I could be cute and say nobody, but I’ll take a more serious tone. I’m not picking on the Camry. I’ve owned four Toyotas and three of them have been Camrys, so I used to be a fan of both the brand and the model. For the sake of this section, all the midsized gas cars are about the same (Accord, Altima, Sonata, etc.). This is an update of what I think about the 7 reasons not to buy a Tesla that I wrote about a year ago:

  1. You need off road capabilities. If you are looking at a Camry, this doesn’t apply to you. Off-road EVs are coming soon, but this isn’t the article to discuss them.
  2. You need to haul big stuff. Once again, if you are looking at a Camry, the Bolt and Model 3 will be as good in this area. I wrote 2 weeks ago about how next year will be the year of the electric crossover. If you need bigger stuff, that is coming too.
  3. You live in a rural area. Tesla, Electrify America and ChargePoint in the US (and other companies around the world) are quickly expanding their charging networks, so unless you live deep in Alaska, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, or South Dakota, or travel a lot away from interstates in the rest of the US, there isn’t a reason to not get an EV. Charging is still slower than gassing up on long trips (more so with the Bolt than a Tesla), so if that is a deal-breaker based on your driving habits and charging options, wait another year or two, because faster charging is coming. (Editor’s note: If you have charging at home and/or work, unless you drive a great deal, charging is a convenient and quick activity. In many cases, it may well be more convenient over the course of a year than using a car and having to go to the gas station. Of course, this matter depends on individual driving habits and charging options.)
  4. You don’t drive many miles. I think the Bolt does better than the Camry in this category. The Bolt gets about $900 a year in savings on fuel, but is still competitive if you drive 10,000 a year.
  5. You are very conservative with your money or don’t make much money. The Bolt is a better choice than the Camry or Tesla for a person like this. Of course, a used car (EV or gas) or no car is even better if you can make that work.
  6. You are risk averse. If you don’t like change and want your new car to be just like your old car, the Camry is a better choice.
  7. You don’t have a place to charge your car daily. If you don’t have chargers available at your work or your home (and if you rent outside of California, it isn’t easy to get someone to install them), I wouldn’t suggest an EV. Many others are willing to go to public chargers at grocery stores and libraries, but if you are busy at a job that you can’t do in your car while charging, that just takes too much time out of your day. A Camry is a better choice in some areas until we get a few more chargers installed. [Editor’s note: I think this totally depends on individual lifestyles and available destination chargers, not just work or home charging. For example, there’s an LA Fitness near me with ChargePoint chargers. If someone exercises there every day, they can easily get all the charging in that they need. If someone shops at Whole Foods or Earthfare every other day (many people do), it’s again often easy to get all your charging needs in while living your normal life. What’s most important is knowing your local charging options and knowing if they are at places you visit often anyway. But Paul kept it simpler and shorter … until I came along and more than doubled the size of this paragraph. —Zach]

So that tally is: if you don’t live in an extremely rural area or don’t like any change or can’t find a place to charge, you should consider a Camry. For the other 90% of the people that are in the market for a small to midsized car, you should really look at the Bolt at the lower end and the Tesla Model 3 at the higher end.

Chevy Bolt

Remember, many of the incentives on the Chevy Bolt end on September 30 (including the $3,750 federal tax credit is cut in half)! Will they be extended? I don’t know, but it is a good deal now.

Use my Tesla referral link before October 1st to get 2,000 miles of free Supercharging on a Tesla Model S, Model X, or Model 3 (you can’t use it on the Model Y yet). Now good for $100 off on solar, too! Here’s the link: 

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Written By

I have been a software engineer for over 30 years, first developing EDI software, then developing data warehouse systems. Along the way, I've also had the chance to help start a software consulting firm and do portfolio management. In 2010, I took an interest in electric cars because gas was getting expensive. In 2015, I started reading CleanTechnica and took an interest in solar, mainly because it was a threat to my oil and gas investments. Follow me on Twitter @atj721 Tesla investor. Tesla referral code:


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