Gas prices neared $5 a gallon last week, according to AAA Colorado, so it’s time for a detailed breakdown of what it would cost the average person to run an electric vehicle for a year compared to a traditional car at sky-high fuel prices. With help from Matt Frommer, a transportation analyst and spreadsheet fanatic with the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, the Colorado Auto Dealers Association, AAA and others, here’s a quick guide with five comparisons:
EV fuel cost vs. Gas
Driving 11,000 to 12,000 miles a year in a compact EV, like the Nissan Leaf, costs about $470 in electricity when the car is charged primarily at home using a standard 120V wall outlet. Frommer says 90% of his charging in the past year was at home; prices at public fast chargers run higher, but are obviously convenient and necessary on longer road trips or spontaneous jaunts.
Driving the same number of miles in a gasoline car with average 25.7 mpg fuel economy at $5 a gallon would cost $2,212, Frommer calculates. His numbers are echoed in a Chevy dealer’s calculations for a Chevy Bolt EV, similar in cost and performance to a Nissan.
Cost per gallon equivalent
All in with the EV, Frommer concludes, he paid the equivalent of $1.07 a gallon for EV “fuel,” an 80% discount from current gas prices.
And the first few years of EV ownership are usually repair or maintenance-free. No $80 oil changes required. The most expensive thing EV owners tend to do is rotate their tires, at $30 to $50.
Depending on what part of Colorado you are in and which utility brings you electricity, your gallon equivalent cost will vary. Kilowatt hour prices from place to place can vary into the double digits. Be mindful of the time-of-use pricing that Xcel is now using with more than 300,000 people who’ve had smart meters installed: Plugging in after 7 pm at night costs 10 cents per kilowatt hour, while doing so at the 4 pm weekday peak costs 27 cents per kilowatt hour. Real world example? Frommer calculates he spends the equivalent of 78 cents a gallon if he’s not careful when he charges at home, but only 61 cents a gallon at home charging at Xcel’s lowest off-peak times. Public fast-charging stations like Electrify America can cost $3.61 per gallon equivalent.
Then again, gasoline prices can vary significantly around the state as well, so keep that in mind.
You can find comparable fuel economy for various EVs from the federal government here, factoring in the differing electrical consumption of motors in every model on the market.
Costs to purchase new EVs vs. new gas car
EVs are undoubtedly cheaper to operate the second they roll off the lot, but often cost up to $10,000 more to purchase than a comparable gasoline model, even after government incentives.
All new car purchases appear stunningly expensive to many buyers these days, but shopping for an EV can add to your sticker shock. The hot but hard-to-get Rivian trucks are back-ordered at $90,000 plus. Hummer just added $6,000 to its electric muscle model that was already $100,000, notes Colorado Automobile Dealers Association CEO Tim Jackson.
Chevy did just announce a price break on an overlooked, highly reliable EV hatchback called the Bolt, which lists at closer to $26,000. Nissan keeps the Leaf in about that price range, as well.
The EV market becomes more confusing because government tax credits are no longer available on all models. The federal tax credit, which can be up to $7,500 for an EV, does not apply once a manufacturer sells 200,000 units, so Tesla and the Chevy Bolt are now out, with others approaching the cap. Also, you can only qualify for the full $7,500 if your federal income tax in a given year is that high — it’s not a “refundable” tax credit.
At the state level, the Colorado tax credit on EVs is now $2,500, dropping to $2,000 on Jan. 1.
New gasoline car prices are way up as well, if at a slightly lower inflation rate than EVs. The average total price in May was $47,148, up more than 13% from a year before, Kelley Blue Book said. That was the second highest monthly average on record, they added.
What cars are actually on the lot?
In other words, could you get one even if you wanted one?
You’ll likely have to wait. Here’s an example: Nissan dealers for the entire Rocky Mountain region sold fewer than 200 Nissan Leafs in the first quarter. Each of those dealers could have sold 200 on their own, if they could get them, said CADA’s Jackson.
Microchip production and other supply chain problems continue to plague car manufacturing and delivery, Jackson said, for all engine types. CADA’s Toyota dealers talk about the difference between now, with gas at a shocking $5, and the months in 2008 when gas hit a then-shocking high over $4 a gallon. In 2008, the hybrid Toyota Prius was relatively new and popular, and when inflation-weary consumers flocked to it, Toyota ramped up production to meet demand. Now, Jackson said, no one can really ramp up production or delivery on anything.
“We don’t have the same comparison, because we’re out of everything. Our lots are empty,” he said.
Many models of gas-powered cars are also in short supply across Colorado, dealers say. The difference being that, with gas engines still powering 85 to 90% of all new car sales, there are more comparable choices to try if your favorite model is on backorder.
Other details to know
Environmental advocates want you to take heart that there are other alternatives, if $5 gas is really getting you down and a new EV is not in reach. They mention improved bicycle lanes and dedicated paths in many Colorado cities. In the Denver metro area, RTD is planning how to carry out a proposed August bus fare holiday that would make all rides free, paid for with an infusion from the Colorado legislature.
Used car prices are “red hot” right now, Frommer notes, which is bad if you are buying, but great if you are selling. He suggests taking advantage of those high prices to sell off car transportation altogether, and replace it with a combination of telecommuting, biking, walking and transit. Denver is preparing to reopen applications for substantial e-bike rebates, and the state is working out details of its own e-bike rebate plan.
“I think it’s going to be a really interesting year for transportation,” Frommer said.