What does an EV really cost?

SEP 24 2012 BY MARK HOVIS 13

The goal of this article is to challenge the true cost of owning an EV. If you drive 5,000 miles per year, you are probably not feeling the crunch of fluctuating gas prices. Currently most EVs are aimed at the 15,000-mile-per-year driver with a few exceptions.

If you are the 15,000-mile-per-year driver, keep your EV for 6-8 years, and the average cost of gas over that period is $3.5-$4, then you will probably save $12,000-$15,000 in fuel consumption. Don’t believe it? Are you paying $50 per week in gas? That’s $200+ per month, $2400 per year, $20,000 in 8 years spent on energy that you will never see again. The energy cost of electricity is substantially less and can be even lower if you make you own via solar or other alternative methods.

Using the Department of Energy Vehicle cost calculator,  the equivalent cost of a Chevy Volt compared to a Camry/Accord class auto is $17,000-$20,000 or the equivalent cost of a Nissan Leaf $10,000-$13,000! So to the statement “EVs are still too expensive” I ask, Really? So lets look at three comparisons:

Nissan Leaf vs Honda Civic
Nissan Leaf
Torque 207 ft-lb
Horse power 107 hp
Leg room front 42.1
Leg room rear 31.1
Cargo Volume 14.5


Honda Civic
Torque 128 ft-lb at 4300 rpm
Horse power 140 hp at 6500 rpm
30 MPG
Leg room front 42
Leg room rear 36
Cargo Volume 12.5


Nissan Leaf vs Honda Civic


The provided graph is generated from the Department of Energy Cost calculator using 15,000 miles per year and average gas price of $3.75. The first specification to be understood in comparing EVs to ICEs is torque. The Nissan Leaf torque is superior to the Civic “class” auto and better compared to Accord “class” autos in acceleration. I use the Civic in the first comparison to make the point about EV cost. Here is a comparison where the Nissan Leaf carries the superior specification, yet cost of ownership remains the same. The DOE graph shows the cost of both vehicles equal for the five year loan period. The DOE calculator does not include a maintenance cost for replacement batteries but the American Chemical Society has predicted that well managed batteries could last up to twenty years opposed to eight.



Chevy Volt vs Toyota Camry

Chevrolet Volt
Torque 273 ft-lb
Horse Power 149 hp
Leg room front 42
Leg room rear 31
Cargo Volume 10.6


Toyota Camry 4cyl
Torque 178 ft-lb at 4100 rpm
Horse power 176 hp at 6000 rpm
MPG 25
Leg room front 41.6
Leg room rear 38.9
Cargo volume 15.4

Cost  of Volt vs Camry 4 and 6 cyl


The Volt compares well to the Camry 4 cyl class ICE in price yet performs closer to the V6 class so I included the V6 in yellow. This should really help one understand why everyone is pleased with the Volt’s overall performance. Note the torque specification on the Toyota Camry 4cyl is 178 ft-lbs at 4100 rpm. The V6 is 248 ft-lbs at 4800 rpm. That’s a lot of rpm to achieve 248 ft-lbs of torque. The Chevrolet Volt achieves 273 ft-lbs of torque directly from the Voltec system almost as fast as you accelerate. Remember that we are comparing to the V6. For the 15,000 mile driver, the Volt is price competitive with the inferior 4cyl ICE class vehicle in cost of ownership. It must be noted that the Volt is a 4 passenger vehicle with inferior rear leg room. If this is your only concern, might I suggest the 2013 Ford Fusion Energi.



Tesla Model S vs Lexus LS 460

Tesla Model S
Torque 362 ft-lb
Horse Power 306 hp
Leg room front 42.7
Leg room rear 35.4
Cargo Volume 26.3

Lexus LS 460
Torque 367 ft-lb at 4100 rpm
Horse power 380 hp at 6400 rpm
MPG 19
Leg room front 42.3
Leg room rear 36.8
Cargo volume 18

Most individuals complain about the cost of the Tesla Model S but compared to what? I chose to select a Lexus sedan for comparison and had to go to the 8 cyl LS 460 before I could get comparable performance. The 85 kwh Tesla Model S produces a torque of 360 ft –lbs. Only the LS 460 produces equivalent torque of 367 ft-lbs at 4100 rpms. The LS has slightly better horse power giving it 0-60 in 5.4 seconds vs 5.6 seconds. Still this entry level Model S will blow the LS-460 away in normal driving due to the direct torque. You can opt for a Model S that achieves 0-60 in 4 .5 seconds but this article is concerned with cost. And these numbers are achieved with an MSRP of the LS -460 at $67,630 vs $69,900 of the 85 kwh Model S after tax credits. Now with the 19 mpg rating on the LS-460, the cost of ownership of the Model S will be about $22,000 under our test conditions making the Model S cost equivalent around $47,900. Still too expensive? Well if you just said you did not need that much performance you can get a 40kwh version of the Model S for $20,000 less at $49,900. That would make the equivalent cost at $27,900! Too expensive? Really?

I have focused a lot on torque vs horse power for it is truly the thing that brings a new driving experience that is so enjoyable. Torque and horse power go hand in hand when it comes to performance. And while most ICEs will still deliver superior performance in a one mile stretch or in the traditional 0-60 test, most EVs will deliver superior passing or acceleration due to superior torque of its electric motor and not dependent on reaching a conditional rpm level. The EV also delivers superior handling based on the placement of the battery weight in the auto.

Conclusion: There currently is an affordable EV for well over half of the US population’s driving habits. Compare your driving habits and test drive an EV. EVs can cost the same monthly payment/monthly fuel bill as a comparable auto in the “same class”. The EV has less maintenance, better warranties, lower cost of ownership, and much more fun to drive. Don’t believe it? Test drive an EV, and be sure to test the cornering, accelerate at 35 mph, 55 mph as if you were passing an ICE. You are going to be surprised with your experience.

Categories: General


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13 Comments on "What does an EV really cost?"

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Absolutely excellent comparisons. I am sick of hearing people comparing the cost of ownership between chevy volt and chevy cruze. People routinely pay 35k for family sedans. A person who pays 35k for a vehicle should look seriously for a Chevy Volt.

Great article Mark!

Still love my Volt. Looking to replace a kia rio with a used Volt. Then I will have two and me and the wife will stop arguing over who gets to drive it today! BTW she ALWAYS remembers to plug it in! That way she doesn’t have to put in gas 😉

Absolutely correct. However, what most folks are saying when they say an EV is too expensive, is that the UPFRONT COST is too expensive. It’s the same problem home renters have — they can afford the monthly payment of a mortgage, but cannot afford the downpayment to buy a house. The only way for someone to afford an EV right now is to save, save, save. I am currently in the process of doing so, but expect that in 4 to 5 years when it is time to buy my next car I will only have about $12k-$16k banked (depending on the performance of the ETF I am investing in from every paycheck for this express purpose), and we can only afford (with the reduction of gas cost included) a monthly payment of about $250-$300 for a 4 to 5 year loan (a 6 year loan is out of the question — that’s just stupid). So that means I’ll be able to afford a vehicle that is approximately $30k. An by then I’ll most likely have my second child and will need something like the Chevy MPV5 (if it ever comes out) to replace my current Chevy HHR. I must… Read more »

Not sure I follow, you’re trying to save up for the whole purchase price of the car? Or even half that? Whether you’re buying an EV or a regular car, you’re always going to have that issue. How many Americans actually straight-up purchase their vehicle with cash?

American’s can barely save 20% for a home.

If you put $15K down on a $40,000 car (whether is an EV or an ICE), your monthly payments will be very reasonable. The only difference with the EV is your gas bill will by very low and so will your maintenance costs.

And as my calculations show above, if you’ve got any kind of commute, and if you can charge for free at work, the cost savings will pay for your Leaf (approx $200/month lease) and you can keep your ICE as a 2nd car.

So this uses your zip code to calculate the electricity costs, but does not assume you have a solar system which means you would have to factor in solar system costs. One thing that I found out with my 5.4Kwh solar system and Southern California Edison is that they let you keep the electric vehicle charging rate. So I charge at super off peak (12:00am-6:00am) and produce during peak (10:00am-6:00pm) and can use much more than I produce and actually end up with a credit at the end of the month. I couldn’t get this rate without my Volt, so assuming you would have a solar system regardless of the car, adding an electric car actually saves you money.

I’ve been trying to tell people this for years, they just don’t get it! I live in a state with a state tax credit so my Leaf was essentially a net $25K, no more than most any car. We also have a TOU electric rate so my fuel cost is ~10% of the equivalant in gas! I figure if I drive my car for 10 years it’s free! Too expensive? I think not!

The author’s analysis seems pretty accurate to me, although the set of factors you might consider is broader than what he included. I did a lot of analysis before I bought my Volt, and ended up turning it into a phone app for calculating TCO and other figures. If you have a Windows phone, check it out here: http://www.windowsphone.com/en-us/store/app/car-shopper/d26a169b-2cb7-4cfb-9c1f-9a1aafcfb6b3.