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The Myth That EVs Aren’t Cost Competitive Is Highly Misleading, & Harmful

The New York Times has published an article stating that EVs aren’t for everyone unless they get cheaper. I agree with this. However, the outlet seems to be missing the story. They are already much, much cheaper than they were five years ago, and they keep getting cheaper. The article neglected to mention this and even stated that a Tesla Model 3 was more expensive than some luxury cars. While that is technically true, I found it odd that they focused on this rather than comparing the Tesla Model 3 to other cars in its class. The article opted to compare the much more expensive and much lower selling Tesla Model S instead for some reason.

I found this especially odd since the couple that was featured in the article had a Tesla Model 3 each. The lead photo is the two of them sitting on the hood of their cars. If the aim of the piece was to talk about affordability, why dive into the Model S?

The article was centered around President Biden’s move to make EVs a pillar of his climate policy, and it noted that government incentives mostly help affluent buyers rather than average families.

Robert Teglia and his wife were interviewed in the article and they each own a Tesla Model 3. Teglia, who works in real estate, bought the car because he thought it was awesome. The article pointed out that he bought the Tesla Model 3 although he knew it cost more than many luxury cars, and he didn’t care as to whether or not it would benefit the environment. (We’ll circle back to the misleading narrative on cost in a moment — stick with us here.)

Not only did the article paint the couple as an out-of-touch affluent couple who didn’t really know what they were buying, but the article jumped from there and dove into the pricing of the Tesla Model S — not the 3 — to prove its point that EVs are expensive. Talk about a weird and illogical leap. It’s almost as if they wanted people to think the mass-market Model 3 (the best selling EV in the world, and the top selling vehicle of any kind or class in several countries) and the much more expensive and larger Model S are the same vehicle, fooling readers who don’t know any better.

The article noted that many Americans can’t make the large investment that is needed to buy a car. This is also true, but not just for EVs. The average American doesn’t buy new cars, because they are too expensive. So, it’s not surprising that the average American isn’t going to be able to buy a brand new EV either. Since the article shared the pricing of the Tesla Model S instead of the Tesla Model 3, I’m going to do my own price comparison between the base Tesla Model 3 and a few luxury cars just to show you how closely competitive they are in terms of upfront costs alone — not to mention long-term ownership costs that heavily favor EVs.

Note: LDV = light-duty vehicle. Image courtesy of Energy.gov

Although there are several options to add on to a base Model 3, the point is to look at affordability, so we’re sticking with the base version of the car. Before I dive in, though, I want to quote the article’s exact pricing:

“At the high end, a Tesla Model S starts at more than $80,000, and at the low end, a Chevrolet Bolt starts at $31,000 — nearly $10,000 more than a larger gasoline-powered sedan like the Chevy Malibu.”

The article later noted that the Model 3s the couple owned sell for around $40,000 before government incentives.

Price Comparison: Tesla Model 3 vs. Luxury Cars

The Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus costs $39,990 before any incentives. Depending on state and federal incentives, that number could drop to $35,690. Now let’s look at some luxury cars. Most of these brands on the Car and Driver’s list of 15 Cheapest 2021 Luxury Cars are very competitive with the base Tesla Model 3 in terms of upfront costs. Some are lower than the $39,990 price tag, but they don’t beat out the $35,690.

“At the register” (ignoring haggling with dealers), the Tesla Model 3 is more expensive than a few luxury cars.

Luxury Cars Cheaper Than A Base Tesla Model 3 After Incentives

  • Audi Q3: $35,095
  • Volvo XC40: $34,795
  • Mercedes-Benz A-class: $34,700
  • Cadillac CT4: $34,390
  • Mercedes-Benz Metris: $34,125
  • Lexus UX: $33,925
  • Acura ILX: $27,125

It should be noted that all of the cars in the Car and Driver list were lower than Tesla’s $39,990 price tag for its base Model 3. Now, you may be thinking, “Gee, I can get a luxury car cheaper than a Tesla,” and that is partially right. However, the majority of luxury cars are more expensive, many “non-luxury cars” are more expensive, and the lower operational costs of an EV mean that total ownership costs of a base Model 3 are lower than many mass-market cars for many people. (Note: We will produce a new report or two on Model 3 total ownership costs versus these competitors in the coming week.)

Would you rather opt for a luxury car that pollutes the planet or would you rather own an EV that may cost a bit more up front (or less, depending on the other option) and then not have to pay extra for gas, routine maintenance such as oil changes, or long-term maintenance of hoses, belts, transmissions, etc.?

Side note: The Tesla Model 3 is outselling the Toyota Camry in Australia + New Zealand this year.

Cars Are Not For Everyone

The above heading is kind of sarcastic, yet true for many who can’t afford a car or who simply don’t want a car. For those who can’t afford a car, the option of buying one isn’t on the table at this time no matter what the powertrain inside of it is. So, saying that EVs aren’t for everyone is misleading, since cars in general aren’t for everyone.

I think the author had a clear message but for the president. I think the author wanted to put a bit of pressure on the president to pressure the automakers that were there at the event to make EVs lower priced. Hopefully, this will happen. In fact, the author pointed out just how our government could help make EVs more affordable, and interviewed Ben Prochazka, the executive director of the Electrification Coalition, which advocated the greater use of EVs. The idea is to make a uniform incentive that turns into a rebate which lowers the purchase price. (This is part of Biden’s proposal that he is trying to push through Congress.)

“There’s just lots of reasons why a direct consumer rebate or ‘cash on the hood’ is a really important incentive,” said Prochazka. “It’s clear, very clear for everybody, the buyer and the person who’s selling.”

Some Additional Thoughts

The idea that EVs are only for the rich has been prevalent for many years, and we need not amplify that today. It’s not only damaging, but it’s simply untrue. Typical range of a new EV on a full charge has tripled or quadrupled in recent years, while the upfront cost has approximately halved. Narratives that might have been true 5 years ago no longer are today.

And although Tesla is the best-selling EV on the market, there are other EVs besides Tesla that offer similar pricing and range. New cars aren’t for everyone. In fact, they aren’t for most people. But of the people who are in the market for a new car, many more can buy an electric car than is commonly assumed — and they will most likely be much more satisfied with their purchase (based on extensive research on vehicle satisfaction).

 
 
 
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Written By

Johnna owns less than one share of $TSLA currently and supports Tesla's mission. She also gardens, collects interesting minerals and can be found on TikTok

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