Electric cars: Do the math

I see and hear a lot of people saying that while electric cars might be more expensive to purchase, they make up for it in operating costs. But I haven't seen a good, simple explanation of what those costs are. Can you help?

— Leslie B., Medford

Of course we can, Leslie (and we're a little concerned that you had any doubt).

We found a quick and simple explanation in a blog written in April by Art James of the Oregon Department of Transportation. With gas at about $4 a gallon, it's a lot simpler to do the math. Here's what Mr. James had to say:

"Consider that if you drive a car that gets 20 miles per gallon and gas costs $4 per gallon, you are paying 20 cents for every mile driven in fuel cost alone. In an EV (electric vehicle), that same mile is going to cost you 1-2 cents per mile. That's nearly a 20-to-1 cost reduction per mile just for fuel. EVs also have almost no maintenance costs, so the total cost of ownership can be far below what an internal combustion engine vehicle costs.

"My wife took the plunge in May 2012 and has over 4,000 miles on her EV — and hasn't been to a gas station since. At the same time our monthly electric bill has only gone up about $8 per month compared to the $65-$75 per month she was paying to fuel her last car. The transition has been a no-brainer for us."

It's true, Leslie, that the up-front cost for an electric vehicle can be a bit stiffer than for a conventional vehicle. The cheapest model of the all-electric Nissan Leaf runs about $29,000, which gets you a car that's low on fuel cost, but also a bit low on space. The price of the electric cars, however, is starting to come down as the technology becomes more widespread.

Americans apparently still need convincing. According to a May 22 Wall Street Journal article, "Only two all-electric cars, the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, sold more than 1,000 vehicles during the first quarter of the year, according to hybridcars.com data. By comparison, Ford Motor Co. sold more than 2,000 of its plus-size F-Series pickup trucks a day during March."

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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