Are Electric Cars Cheaper to Run? Pros and Cons

By Posted 5 Jun 2010, 09:21

We all know how popular the gasoline engine is but with a new breed of alternatively powered vehicles being offered to us we are finding it hard to shift from what we know best. We all know that the fuel that runs our cars is bad for the environment and will one day run out so a shift to electric vehicles – otherwise known as EV – is something being pushed to us by our governments and the big automakers.

We are told that these are friendlier to the environment and that they are cheaper to run. The first fact is true for the most part but the second we are not so sure off. The fact that they are cleaner for the environment is correct in the end result – that means that when we get them and driving them around. But what about the manufacturing process – the batteries alone are not that friendly when they are produced and neither are the manufacturing plants where these EVs are made.

The understanding that these greener vehicles are cheaper to run is flawed as well; yes they can be cheaper to run – only in the long term. Take the Chevy Volt for instance; the new electric car will have a higher price tag, as we have to pay for the privilege of this new technology.

I would estimate that it would take you about ten years or sooner to get your money back from the high premium that you paid to purchase the vehicle. Please do not hold be to that statement, this is only a rough guess on how much you pay for the vehicle and how much you will save over time. Although I would like to point out that you will make a greater saving on an EV than you would a Hybrid – although the former does not have the range like the hybrid does.

However, do not let that put you off, as the price of an EV will come down over time. We are still dependant on gasoline and it is the mass production of these engines that help to keep these prices down. As the likes of Ford, GM, Nissan and others work hard over the next few years we can see other car makers following – this in turn will lead to greater production of the electric vehicle and could then start to push their prices down.

  • Roy Wilson

    Sorry, but there is no way that an EV is cheaper to run in the long run – at least at this stage of development. The thing that most people overlook is the actual cost of that high price tag. For example, the extra initial cost leads to higher depreciation, sales taxes, insurance, license fees, etc., and that doesn't include the looming increase in "road fees" to replace the $70 Billion the government now collects in gasoline taxes.

    Another cost that EVERYONE overlooks is the "opportunity cost" of the extra up-front cost. That extra $10,000 could be earning income (or paying off credit card debt).

  • Ken

    Why are all the car companies shying away from telling you what the cost is to recharge these vehicles after every use?
    If electricity is expensive in your area now, the cost could be substantial. If more electric vehicles are produced, that means more charges, subsequently more electricity used, which brings us back to burning oil !

    Beware of the lack of operating cost info. We all can get 600 miles between fillups, just put in a larger fuel tank, detroit and Europe are doing it now, and claiming their cars can now go further ! They can, but at no savings.

    • Paul Scott

      Both Nissan and GM are telling people how much it costs to charge them. All you have to do is go to their websites and read. But let me save you the trouble.

      The Nissan Leaf battery pack holds 24 kWh and can travel 100 miles on that much energy. The national average for a kWh is about 10 cents. That's $2.40 for 100 miles of driving.

      My Toyota RAV4 EV is almost 8 years old and has driven over 82,000 miles. Our battery pack holds 27 kWh and we can go about 120 miles on a charge. We generate all of our electricity from the sunlight falling on our 3 kW solar PV system. We run both our house and car on this clean electricity and our resultant electric bill averages a mere $100 per year. We haven't been to a gas station since 2002! The evil people in the oil industry don't get a dime of our money, nor do the Saudis and the terrorists they support.

      Electric cars are vastly superior to gas burners in every way and will sell as fast as the car makers can build them.

      BTW, you imply that electricity is generated by burning oil. Not true! We get less than 2% of our electricity from oil, and most of that is on Hawaii and some other islands near our coasts.

      See http://www.pluginamerica.org for more info.

  • Tom G.

    When I first read the title of this article I though o.k. here we go; another negative review of electric vehicles. Sure glad I was wrong since it is well written and touches on some of the problems we are going face in the near future.

    Electric vehicles have been around for a long time but we just haven't been building them. J. Leno has one from the early 1900's I think. GM built the EV-1 in the 80's if I remember correctly and then of course scrapped it.

    We haven't been building electric vehicle lately because oil is so cheap. The latest thing I read about peak oil is that it will occur sometime between 2013 and 2020. That means we will no longer be able to produce enough to meet any INCREASED demand which might occur and supplies will GRADUALLY decrease over time. Do worry; some oil will be around for a couple of hundred years yet – just not enough to me our needs.

    When peak oil occurs, many people believe that oil prices could start increasing to $4 or $6 or even $8/gallon in a short period of time. Now I don't know about you, but when gasoline hit $4/gallon in 2008 I began to change my driving habits, I started driving less so did a lot of other people.

    Let's look at a simple example. Currently a Chevy Malibu takes 39.12 h.p. or 29 kW or 1660 BTU’s per minute to propel it down the freeway at 80 m.p.h. The car doesn't care where it gets it power from; it could be from a gasoline engine or an electric motor. So let's see what it will cost us to drive that vehicle the 80 miles. The current price of electricity in some locations in the U.S. is about $.12 cents per kWh of power. That means it is going to cost about $4.69 [$.12 X 29kW] to drive that 80 miles. How about with gasoline. 18 mpg divided into 80 miles equals about 4.4 gallons of gasoline at about $2.75/gal. or about $12.10. How about at $5/gallon – it is $22.00 bucks.

    So which is cheaper the $4.69 for electricity or $12.10 for gasoline. Now of course these cost do not include anything except the cost of fuel which is only one small part of the equation. Early adopters of electric vehicle are gong to pay more, ask any Prius owner. And yes, gas tax revenue to the government will fall and in fact an increase in the gas tax is currently working it's way through Congress.

    We also need to build infrastructure like electric charging station at shopping malls and grocery stores. And of course we must do a lot of other stuff like: making cars smaller and lighter until we solve the battery storage capacity issue. We need to provide more buyer options like how big of a battery do we want. Do we want to drive on battery only or buy a hybrid. Do we want to drive 10 miles on battery power or 100 miles before charging.

    What about the affect on jobs. Even simple stuff like installing electrical outlets in garages will lead to a need for more electricians. Building charging stations will take engineers to design them, backhoe operators to dig the trenches, electrician's to wire them, people to make the signs telling people how to use them. Many people will decide to go with solar electric systems on their homes so they can charge their electric cars for free with the power of the sun. And of course we will need more power generation which is certainly not cheap. Oh and did I mention that this is going to change the very way our society looks at energy, lives and works? I must have forget to mention that.

    We aren't going to have a whole bunch of choices are we. What else do we currently have besides electricity [made lots of different ways] and bio-fuels for our transportation infrastructure. Electricity can be used to directly drive a vehicle or make hydrogen for example. Bio-fuels can be made from grains, garbage, industrial wastes; all kinds of stuff. O.K professor – where is the darn Flux-Capacitor when we need it, LOL

    Thank you for listening.
    tomgarven@hotmail.com
    If you write please put ENERGY in all caps on the subject line.

    So tell me why do I need such a big gasoline engine?

  • Lee B

    What about the cost of the eletric and the all the new eletric grids they are going to have to build. we have black outs in summer time because of to much eletric use. That will drive cost up and how much more coal are they going to use to make more power. we are going to take a 1000 mile trip how long will that take stopping to charge every couple of hundred miles. All the car companys need to come together with combinded together and come up with a better. hybrid and eletric are just bandaids

  • Tom G.

    Hi Lee B:

    You make some good points and yes the cost of electricity is going to go up. Also some additional electrical grids work will be needed but not for several years except for certain areas of the country. Most electric ONLY vehicles or PLUG IN hybrid vehicles will be charged at night. Using the excess nighttime capacity we have should allow us to use our existing electrical grid for several years. And yes, there are several areas of the country were grid upgrades are being done now because of a lack of capacity.

    About coal. If you live in the Midwest or East-coast much of the electricity in that part of the country is provided by coal with some nuclear, hydro and natural gas. As you head West you run into other areas like Southern California were nighttime generation is mostly green. Evening generation in Southern California is usually nuclear, hydro, some wind and imported nuclear from Arizona and hydro from the Pacific Northwest. If you recharge you car at night in California you most likely will not be using electricity generated by coal. In the Midwest and East – not so much but I have not looked at the nighttime generation mix East of the Mississippi. .

    About 1,000 mile trips. Current plans are for electric ONLY vehicles to be used for local trips and back and forth to work. These vehicles will be small, have limited battery packs suitable for only about 20 to maybe 100 miles of driving. Basically they will be small, lightweight, back and forth to work and shopping cars. Think Prius sized vehicles.

    Most likely the main vehicle for the family will be a vehicle something like the size of a Chevy Malibu or Chevy Volt. They will have small gasoline engines [and small battery packs for short trips] driving generators that turn electric drive motors or charge batteries. They can be used for work, shopping or trips of unlimited length. These types of hybrid vehicles are called series or parallel hybrids and will get from 40-60 MPG in the very near future.

    And yes I fully agree – we have a long way to go and NOT A WHOLE BUNCH OF TIME LEFT to get there. With peak oil projected to occur between 2013-2020 car companies better get hopping. China is ready to launch their electric vehicle in the U.S. next year. The Nissan Leaf is coming soon. The Chevy Volt is scheduled for 2011, Hyundai Sonata Hybrid in 2011 or 2012.

    Hope this helps explain stuff just a little bit.
    Tom G.

  • http://time4evs.com Sam McWilliam

    Cost of upkeep is very important. The EV wins convincingly. No lubes , no tune-ups.etc.
    Plus, we have enough capacity on the grid for all the electric vehicles we can sell in
    the near future. Re-charging can be done at non-peak hours to use excess capacity.

  • Tom G.

    Right on Sam – good post.

    I often wonder why things like our blog entries never seem to make it to the news outlets or if they do, they seem to fall on mostly deaf ears. Makes we wonder – are the American people even aware of what is coming at them like a freight train?

    It seems to me the American people are totally unaware. IF or when Cap & Trade/Tax passes, do they realize that electric rates will go up 50%? Are people preparing for this?

    If 'peak oil' is true; and it could be; do the American people understand that gasoline prices are going to go through the roof? If you though $4.00.gas was high try $6.00.

    How about if [God forbid] we have several more terrorist attacks and we end up in another war with one of the countries who provide us with most of our imported oil. Do you think the American people are prepared for not only $6 gas but also rationing?

    If something like this was to occur – which side do you believe China would be on? Is the fact that we just BUY stuff from them instead of MAKING it ourselves enough to make them take our side? My crystal ball is a little foggy when it comes to stuff like this.

    Electric vehicles are just the beginning of our transition away from using cheap oil as the driving force for our transportation system. The biggest concern I have is NOT that we can't do this, it is that we do not have the LEADERSHIP necessary to make it happen.

    I have never seen our country so divided. Neighbor against neighbor, corporations driven only by the motivation to make a profit. Where have the thousands of people like Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet to name a few gone? These individuals have turned over their fortunes to foundations that look for cures or for things that make our society better. Instead what I see is a bunch of individuals who send their fortunes overseas just to beat the tax system and hide their wealth in some foreign bank account.

    I respect people like the Gates family and individuals like Warren Buffet. The people who send their wealth overseas to beat the system – not so much.

    Tom G.