Under most circumstances, electric vehicles have a smaller carbon footprint than their conventional counterparts. Newer studies suggest that EVs may also have a lower total cost of ownership (TCO), thanks to their much simpler design. Tesloop, a company that combines the features of Uber, bus services, and autonomous vehicles, published a case study showing that a Tesla Model S cost only $10,500 in maintenance and fuel costs, $3500 of which was to repair a headlight that was damaged by the driver. A comparable luxury vehicle like a Mercedes S-class costs about $86,000 in maintenance and fuel for the same mileage. The Tesla even has a lower base price – $68k, compared to the Mercedes’ $96k – so all told, a Mercedes S Class owner will pay over $100k more than someone who purchased a Tesla Model S. (That was one case study; here’s a scientific analysis, if you’re interested.)
Comparing the TCO of two luxury vehicles may not be all that relevant since those of us who worry about such costs aren’t usually buying high-end cars. I decided to apply the method employed by the aforementioned scientific study to a couple of moderately-priced cars: the Hyundai Elantra (ICE) and the Nissan Leaf (EV). The problem with doing such an analysis is that so many variables exist, and how they apply to each case affects the outcome. So I decided to share my spreadsheet with you so you can plug in your own numbers in and see the results for your specific situation.
Two of the significant unknowns are the maintenance and repair costs. To estimate those, I used estimates from Edmunds.com, an independent and reputable automotive information site. Here’s a snapshot of my spreadsheet. (I used Google Sheets. For your convenience, I included my formulas.)
Taking the US electric vehicle subsidy into account and assuming that the consumer takes out a loan (4% APR) to cover the difference in purchase price, the EV comes in with a slightly lower TCO than the ICE car. And before anyone yells about the unfairness of government subsidies, remember that most new technologies, including petroleum in its infancy, receive subsidies in order to help them get rolling. In fact, fossil fuels continue to receive government subsidies, even in 2017. (That doesn’t include the hidden costs of fossil fuels like the effects of climate change, health impacts related to breathing exhaust, environmental and economic tolls caused by oil spills, and the military expense involved with “stabilizing” oil-rich regions.) Raise the gasoline price to $5/gal (a conservative estimate of the unsubsidized price), take away the EV subsidy, and the Leaf beats the Elantra by $8000 instead of $2000.
Want to run your own analysis? Click here to download the Excel version of the spreadsheet. You can open it in Google Sheets if you don’t have Excel.