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 more affordable electric cars in a wider array of models than ever before. And now, the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) is investigating how electric utilities and others can promote the ownership and use of electric vehicles in the state. 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 the most popular option in Vermont.
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 about 30 models to choose from. That number should continue rising in the years to come as automakers roll out new 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 $24,950 for the Hyundai Ionic PHEV, to a high of almost $100,000 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 for the life of the vehicle, because running on electricity is the equivalent of about $1.50/gallon gasoline 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.
- 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…
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Should you buy new or used, or lease?
As with any type of car, the lowest-cost option is to buy used. The used 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.
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 capacity please keep in mind you will see less range in the winter and most drivers will want to have a buffer of at least 10-20 miles of range available, over and above their daily driving needs for all-electric options.
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 get a no-frills Chevy Volt with a $2,079 down payment and $259 monthly lease payments. For a no-frills Nissan Leaf, the down payment is $3,979 but the monthly lease payments can be as low as $229. Actual lease prices may be higher or lower depending on options and other discounts that may be available.
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 get the full electric vehicle tax credit and can take advantage of any 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 allow employees to fuel at work, making it even easier to keep an EV charged.
Smaller battery, all-electric vehicles, in average weather conditions, can go 80 to 100 miles before needing to be recharged, but most will get you farther. For example, the Chevy Bolt has an electric range of roughly 230 miles. Most people don’t drive more than that in a given day, but if they do, it is getting easier to find a charging station that will keep them on the road.
That said, charging stations are not all created equally. There are three basic types 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 charge. Level Two chargers make charging an all-electric car more convenient. There are many options available: you can have one installed in your home or can go to a Level Two charging station. Some utilities even provide free charging equipment with a new vehicle purchase.
- Direct Current (DC) Fast Charging—these stations are much more high-powered and are meant to be used more like a gas station. With these, you can stop fairly quickly— usually 30-45 minutes—and get back on the road again with an 80% charge.
There are 166 public EV charging stations in Vermont, which has the most stations, per capita, of any state in the U.S. EV drivers can use smartphone apps and in-vehicle navigation systems to find charging stations where they can leave their car to charge while they do other things.
Some good news for EV owners in Vermont
There is no doubt that the growing availability of EV charging stations in Vermont will help spur the growth of EVs in the state. To that end, the Public Utility Commission has been tasked with providing recommendations for how to promote, regulate, and tax EVs. This request was based on language laid out in section 25 of Act 158 of the 2018 session.
In the course of its inquiry, the PUC will be looking into a long list of issues, which include:
- Reducing or eliminating barriers to the establishment of EV charging stations;
- Determining what safety standards should apply to the charging of EVs;
- Overseeing rates and prices charged by stations and transparency of rates/prices;
- Addressing how EV users will pay toward costs of transportation infrastructure; and
- Encouraging EV usage at adequate pace to achieve the state’s energy goals.
Though this process will take some time, it is exciting that the PUC is actively engaged in the issue. One of the most important outcomes may be that the stabilizing of the regulatory environment will make it easier for interested parties to invest in EV stations, which will support a more robust EV industry and make it easier for consumers to invest in these energy-saving vehicles. If you’d like to learn more about EVs and charging options please visit the Drive Electric Vermont website.
Looking for other ways to save energy? Read our eBook to learn the Top Improvements for Home Energy Savings.
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).