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Tesla Model 3 resale value high
Line of Tesla Model 3s in Florida. Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica.

Cars

An Electric Vehicle Purchasing Handbook — What Car Should You Buy?

In the first chapter of this “handbook,” I examined the matter of EV charging. Now, let’s look at the question of what car to buy. (Note that this piece is written from a North American perspective.)

Top Tesla options

The lowest priced Tesla is the Model 3 Standard Range Plus. It has seating for 5 and a range of 262 miles for a bit over $40,000. That is plenty of range for both local and cross-country driving. For many buyers, it’s enough. However, if you want to up the range to 353 miles and have four-wheel drive for winter driving, you need to get the Model 3 Long Range dual motor for $50,000. This is the version I purchased.

For only $4,000 more, you can get the Model Y Long Range. It costs only $54,000. With the Model Y, you get a lot more room for baggage, you ride a little higher, you get a much bigger liftgate, and you have the option of a factory installed receiver/tow hitch. The standard Model Y seats 5, but you can also get an optional 7 seat package. The two rear seats have very little room and are most useful for small children. The Model Y was not available when I bought my Model 3, or else I would have bought a Y for that small price differential. The Model Y Standard Range is not available presently, so if you want the least expensive Tesla, you need to stick with the Model 3 Standard Range Plus (SR+).

Tesla Model Y.

Should you spend an extra $10,000 for “full self-driving”?

Every Tesla comes equipped with smart cruise control and autosteer. If there is a car in front of you, you essentially have 100% self-driving until you need to make a turn. You have full automation in a traffic jam, where the car will move forward on its own and stop on its own, automatically following the car in front of you. The autosteer is phenomenal most of the time. It will track your lane more accurately than you can, slow down for sharp turns, and relieve most of the tension of long-distance driving. You have to stay alert, because it won’t always make the right decision on complex lane changes and it won’t handle rotaries and really sharp turns like those marked 15 mph.

Should you pay an extra $10,000 for “Full Self Driving”? With FSD you can use “Navigate on Autopilot” on limited access roads. The car will automatically pass slow-moving cars and exit the passing lane on its own. It will change lanes when you activate the turn signal as well. It will use the address you have inserted into the navigation to follow your route even through complex interstate interchanges in big cities, then take the exit specified and pass control of the vehicle back to you.

The car will also automatically stop at stop signs and stop lights when Autopilot is engaged. Furthermore, you can summon the car to you in a parking lot, and it will automatically parallel park between two cars on a street.

fastest Tesla Model 3

Tesla Autopilot in action stopping at a stop sign. Photo by Zach Shahan, CleanTechnica.

In the next week, those of us who paid for “Full Self Driving” are supposed be able to automatically navigate on city streets. However, like with autosteer, you will still need to be alert and prepared to take over when the system makes mistakes. Until this software is released, many people think the FSD is not worth the money. However, once it is released more broadly and new features are added, the price is supposed to go up.

As a techno nerd who loves to keep up with the latest technology, I purchased FSD, which was only $6000 when I bought my car.

I have friends who don’t even use the autosteer. They love to drive and don’t see the point of letting the car drive itself.

Given the price, features, specs, and tech of a Tesla, as shown in my own purchase decision, I think buying a Tesla is the most sensible, but some buyers choose non-Tesla EVs. Let’s consider a few of them, including one that I can confidently recommend for some buyers.

Considerations regarding other brands

Note that Tesla and GM have exhausted the $7,500 tax credits for buyers after passing the 200,000 car federal government subsidy phaseout period. Nissan will cross over this point soon.

For any other brand, this subsidy will give you up to a $7,500 tax credit (refund, essentially) if you purchase a new electric car. However, you have to have a $7,500 tax obligation in the year you buy the car. If your obligation is lower, you will get a refund the size of your tax obligation. Also, you don’t get the refund at the point of sale. You need to wait to file your taxes and then wait for your refund. One way handle this if you have a good credit rating: Put the $7,500 part of the purchase price as a charge on a credit card, and then many cards offer free balance transfers with 0% interest for up to 18 months for a new credit card application. Before the balance is due, you will have your tax refund and can pay off the credit card.

The problem with purchasing from another brand is that you won’t be able to count on chargers being available for long-distance travel. One example: Tesla put four Superchargers on I-80 through Wyoming in 2014. As of 2021, there are still no CCS chargers used by any other brands on I-80 in Wyoming. You can travel I-70 through the mountains of Colorado, but you can’t take the virtually mountain-free route through Wyoming. This will improve with time as more CCS chargers are installed and since Tesla has promised to make Superchargers available to other brands at some point, but don’t hold your breath. Non-Tesla EVs also don’t have Tesla Full Self-Driving (if you want that) and Tesla’s infotainment system (which includes Netflix, YouTube, Hulu, Disney+, and many games).

There are literally hundreds of electric vehicle models either available now or that will be in the near future. However, many of these models are not available in the US. 

I will present one good alternative to buying a Tesla:

ID 4 electric vehicle Volkswagen EV charging

Volkswagen leaves dieselgate behind in the dust with the most affordable electric vehicle of its kind and free EV charging, too. (ID.4 photo courtesy of Volkswagen).

The 5-seat Volkswagen ID.4 SUV (260 mile range)

The Volkswagen ID.4’s base price is ~$40,000. If you can get the full US tax credit, that would be $32,500. This vehicle compares well with the Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus at $40,000, which is nearly $7,500 more in that case. Therefore, if you can manage with limited long-range driving for the next couple of years or are fine with the non-Tesla fast charging network (Electrify America, EVgo, etc.), you get a very comparable car for considerably less money. In fact, you get more space (interior and cargo).

Volkswagen ID4 ID.4 car of the year winner

Volkswagen ID.4 — Range: 260 miles; $39,000, or $32,000 with full US tax credit; SUV class with seating for 5.

 
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Arthur Frederick (Fritz) Hasler, PhD, former leader of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization & Analysis Laboratory (creator of this iconic image), and avid CleanTechnica reader. Also: Research Meteorologist (Emeritus) at NASA GSFC, Adjunct Professor at Viterbo University On-Line Studies, PSIA L2 Certified Alpine Ski Instructor at Brighton Utah Ski School.

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