Do Affordable Electric Cars Exist (and Should You Buy One)?
This is an exciting time for plug-in electric vehicle (EV) buyers. Manufacturers are producing a wide array of models. The value of going electric has increased as electric driving range goes up, performance improves, more affordable models are available and off-peak charging costs from several Vermont utilities offer the equivalent of $1 per gallon of gasoline. Plus, purchase incentives are available that can reduce up-front costs by $10,000 or more. If you’re on the fence about buying an EV, this article may help you pick a side.
There are more EV options than ever
There are essentially two types of EVs to choose from—all-electric and plug-in hybrid. All-electric vehicles run, of course, on electricity only. Plug-in hybrids are EVs that switch to gas when the batteries run low, and are a popular option for single-car households.
The number of plug-in models available is growing. When Drive Electric Vermont started in 2012, there were about five EV models registered with the state. Automakers now have many newer and better options (even all-wheel drive), with over 40 models to choose from. That number will continue rising in the years to come as automakers roll out additional EV models.
Don’t let sticker shock get to you
The price range of new EVs has become more reasonable, with base model prices of new EVs ranging from a low of $25,350 for the Hyundai Ionic PHEV, to a high of almost $80,000 for the Tesla Model X, with most EVs costing around $30,000 or less after factoring in incentives. (See the chart on page two of this document for pricing information on other models.) You can also save money over the life of the vehicle, because running on electricity is the equivalent of about $1.50 per gallon of gasoline (or less if you have access to an off-peak charging rate from your utility) and EVs require less maintenance.
There are several other factors that can help bring the purchase price down, including:
- To begin with, the federal electric vehicle tax credit for new EVs, which is based on the size of the battery, can save you up to $7,500 in tax dollars.
- The State of Vermont is offering up to $4,000 for income eligible Vermonters purchasing new EVs.
- Electric utility rebates and incentives can drive down the cost even more.
- And once you’ve decided to purchase, you can find low rates for financing on your energy efficiency car by taking out a green vehicle loan.
- To sweeten the deal, you can apply your federal tax credit to your loan up front, which will reduce your principle loan amount and reduce your interest even more, shrinking your overall debt.
- And then there is the option to buy a used vehicle…
Should you buy new or used, or lease?
As with any type of car, the lowest-cost option is usually to buy used. The pre-owned EV market is growing in Vermont, accounting for about 15% of newly registered EVs. Depending on the condition of the car, you could buy a used Chevy Volt or Nissan LEAF for around $10,000 or less.
EV range can be reduced by up to 50% in the coldest Vermont winter conditions. If you are looking at an older used EV model with some loss in battery range, please keep in mind you will see less range in the winter and most drivers will want to have a buffer of at least 10 to 20 miles of range available, over and above their daily driving needs for all-electric options.
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Leasing is another option. Many people prefer to lease EVs for two to three years so they can get a new one as the technology continues to improve. If you lease a new EV, the leasing company receives the federal tax credit and will usually pass the savings to you by offering a lower down payment and monthly payments. For example, you can currently get a Nissan LEAF or Chevrolet Bolt for lease payments around $200 a month once discounts and incentives are factored in.
Of course, you can always buy new, particularly if you know you want to run the car for many years and you know it will meet your needs. When you do, you can take advantage of the full electric vehicle tax credit and other rebates, incentives, or additional money-saving options, as listed above.
The skinny on electric car charging stations
When you own an EV, any standard household outlet can be your charging station. This is important to remember! Many people decide not to buy an EV because they are concerned that they won’t be able to find electric car charging stations. They forget that their home is a fueling station, where they can recharge every night. These days, many employers also provide employees with options to charge at work, making it even easier to keep an EV topped off.
Many all-electric vehicles have over 200 miles of range. – Since most people don’t drive anywhere near that amount on a normal day, owners of these vehicles may not need to charge away from home too often. If they do, it is getting easier to find a charging station that will keep them on the road.
There are three basic types of EV charging and it is important to note their differences:
- Level One/Household Charging—this is a standard household outlet, used with a charging device that comes with the EV. It is the least powerful of the charging levels and will give you about five miles worth of range in an hour.
- Level Two Charging—this option is equivalent to the outlet you plug your electric clothes dryer into, offering 240 volts, and has 3 to 10 times the power of the Level One chargers. For one hour of charging, you can get 10 to 20 miles of range. This makes charging an all-electric car more convenient. There are many options available: you can have one installed in your home, you can go to a public Level Two charging station, or many employers are offering charging as an amenity for employees. Several Vermont utilities provide free charging equipment or incentives to purchase a Level Two charger with a new EV purchase.
- Direct Current (DC) Fast Charging—these stations charge at a much higher power and are meant to be used more like a gas station. With these, you can stop fairly quickly—usually 30 to 45 minutes—and get back on the road again with an 80% charge.
There are 250 public EV charging stations in Vermont, among the highest per capita of any state in the U.S. EV drivers can use smartphone apps like PlugShare and in-vehicle navigation systems to find charging stations where they can leave their car to charge while they do other things.
What’s next for EVs in Vermont?
Growing interest and availability of EVs in Vermont are expected to increase long-term adoption across the country and closer to home. The State of Vermont is investing over $2 million of Volkswagen diesel settlement funds to help close any remaining gaps in DC Fast Charging availability across the state in the next few years.
The Vermont Legislature, Governor Phil Scott’s administration and the Public Utility Commission are all examining ways to accelerate transportation electrification efforts, including:
- Reducing or eliminating barriers to the establishment of EV charging stations;
- Overseeing rates and prices charged by stations and transparency of those rates and prices;
- Advancing the use of medium and heavy-duty electric vehicles, including buses and trucks;
- Addressing how EV users will pay toward costs of transportation infrastructure; and
- Encouraging EV usage at the pace needed to achieve the state’s energy goals.
If you’d like to learn more about EVs and charging options, please visit the Drive Electric Vermont website.
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The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of VSECU.
About David Roberts
David works at VEIC and coordinates the Drive Electric Vermont program, a public-private partnership working to increase electric car use in the state. He’s driven all-electric cars for six years and has never once run out of juice, even on the coldest winter days. He also advocates for more walking, bicycling and public transportation options as the cleanest and most efficient ways to get around. He lives in South Burlington with his wife and their adventurous chocolate Lab Rosalita (the unofficial mascot of Drive Electric VT).