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DOE Tool Compares Gasoline to Electricity Costs

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User Rank
Dire needs
far911   6/20/2013 7:11:17 AM
The energy savings, monetary saving, and minimal environmental pollution make up for one killer combo. It is time we saw electric cars on the roads more often than not. 

User Rank
Perspective and fairness
CharlesM   6/20/2013 11:02:29 AM
...the website does not factor in the higher initial costs of electric vehicles.

The calculator is obviously for fuel, not other costs. Though those higher initial costs should include presently available incentives such as the $7500 tax credit that brings the base price of a LEAF down to $21,300, which is within the target that market research has found to make EVs price competitive with ICE cars.

The website also does not factor in the cost of home charger installation or battery replacement.

Again, the calculator is obviously just for fuel and not other costs. It also doesn't project what the future costs of fossil fuels may be if they finally reflect their true costs to society in terms of environmental damage, fueling wars, etc. Nor does it show the what huge oil and gas subsidies and other federal incentives do in keeping oil prices artificially low enough to ensure, as Ari Fleischer infamously said, that "the American way of life is a blessed one."

Nor does the calculator factor in significant cost savings of EVs due to their drastically lowered maintenance burden, even including less brake wear.

The effects of efficient transportation are not confined to the lower cost of electricity, but rather pan out to most every aspect of transportation costs, once you fully consider them. It's true that batteries aren't perfect yet, as you are so fond of pointing out. That's just reason to provide incentives to mainstream electrified vehicles, so that market solutions will follow. We would not have cheap high technology on which many products that fuel our modern economy are based, were it not for huge federal investments made decades ago in microelectronics, GPS, the internet, etc.

User Rank
Re: Perspective and fairness
naperlou   6/20/2013 11:36:02 AM
CharlesM, you make some interesting points.  The one issue with electric vehicles is the recharging.  Generally, a gasoline powered vehicle can go longer than any electric vehicle.  Most conventional vehicles, including ones that are a few years old, can go 300 to 400 miles on a tank of gasoline.  Then, when they need it, they can refill at a large number of locations in just a few minutes.  This is not the case now with electric vehicles, and the cost to make it so is astronomical.  The infrastructure for fueling our cars is massive, and pervasive.  This is the challenge.  Competing with the sunk cost. 


Another point you make is that the calculator is only about fuel costs.  That is true and appropriate.  Overhead costs for vehicles can vary wildly.  Electrics, by the way, should be much cheaper.  Using the calculator, the purchase price (including any financing and incentives) and some estimate of the maintenance costs an individual should be able to compare the two types of vehicles.  One of the important factors is the distances driven and use put to the car.  These are the types of analyses that any large purchase should go through. 

User Rank
Re: Perspective and fairness
mrdon   6/20/2013 2:18:51 PM
naperlou I agree the eCalculator is to focus on the comparsion between fuel vs electricity cost. I know folks would not see the benefit behind buying an electric vehicle because of the initial investment. Once the investment has been made, the objective is to monitor the cost of fuel vs electricity over a period of time to realize the savings an e-car can provide. No additional costs need to be added to the equation. Nice informative article Charles.

User Rank
Re: Perspective and fairness
CharlesM   6/20/2013 5:49:25 PM
...Most conventional vehicles, including ones that are a few years old, can go 300 to 400 miles on a tank of gasoline.  Then, when they need it, they can refill at a large number of locations in just a few minutes.  This is not the case now with electric vehicles, and the cost to make it so is astronomical.  The infrastructure for fueling our cars is massive, and pervasive...

I understand that marketing appeal and the feature of long range does make an ICE more handy. However, society has not always had the prevailing attitude that everyone needs everything to do it all for everyone. I grew up in the '50s - '70s, an era of vast economic prosperity. For many if not most during this time, the prospect of a second vehicle was to have a dedicated commuter vehicle or one for local errands. The main vehicle was usually dedicated to family trips and longer range travel. This seemed to work pretty well for a long time, though of course demographics have changed. We now live in a new era, though, where we're pretty darn spoiled about having it all without (apparent) compromise.  We have people constantly telling us that we'd be stupid to buy a new car if it can't go hundreds of miles on a whim, even if we rarely leave town. There are pretty many of us, though, who believe that there are unintended consequences to this lifestyle and that there will be enormous societal costs to be paid for our collective high levels of frivolous consumption and lack of seriousness about curbing our energy appetites. This is already happening and will only get worse for a long time. The tragedy of the commons is coming to bear.

Electrics, by the way, should be much cheaper.  Using the calculator, the purchase price (including any financing and incentives) and some estimate of the maintenance costs an individual should be able to compare the two types of vehicles. 

ICE cars have had roughly 100 years to become perfected and get their costs down and having >99% of the market helps tremendously with the economics of cheap unit costs. The modern EV era, by contrast, started when? With the Prius? GM EV-1 (which wasn't sold)? The Tesla Roadster in about '07? Probably more like 2011 with the introduction of the LEAF and Volt.  Like everything else, batteries for transportation will benefit significantly with a few years of refinements and after their existence as a high volume commodity is assured. Even though Tesla has a battery strategy that leverages the economies of scale that have already occurred for 18650 size cells, other EVs especially suffer from the Catch-22 phenomenon of requiring high volume sales as a precondition to achieving costs that will allow high volume sales.  That's why there are incentives that taper over time.

Edmunds and KBB have 5-year total ownership cost calculators for different car models and EVs and PHEVs like the LEAF and the Volt are included. From a cursory browse, they seem to show that EV cars and plug-ins aren't (yet) cheaper than their ICE counterparts, but neither are they much more costly, or if at all when considering the enhanced ride quality of electric propulsion. IIRC, these calculators generally show total outlay over 5 years to be in the mid-$30k range. If you keep browsing different models you can find entire families of popular vehicles, such as larger SUVs, that fall well into the $40k range over 5 years. At least this goes to show that a car's success in the marketplace is not always tied to its practicality or frugality, as many have alleged as reasons to dismiss battery-powered cars.

Elizabeth M
User Rank
Great idea
Elizabeth M   6/21/2013 7:21:59 AM
What a brilliant idea from the government. I hope it helps people start to wake up to the reality of electric cars and gives them a better perspective, as well as the industry an impetus to get a truly affordable EV out to the market soon!

User Rank
Re: Perspective and fairness
jpratch   6/21/2013 8:54:46 AM
"No additional costs need to be added to the equation." only holds if you buy a new vehicle every three to five years. If EVs are being built with insufficient robustness for decade-plus service, they fail the "green test", battery replacement not withstanding. That is a known issue.

A reasonable life cycle cost of an electric vehicle whose marketing is aimed at ecologically aware individuals and sold on the "green" premise needs to sell from the perspective of reducing "conspicuous consumption". The attitude of replacing the car before the tires wear out is the wrong mindset. So the first entry into the model needs to be "How long do you plan to own your vehicle"

So the reality of batttery replacement at 3 to five years as well as an ownership period approaching a decade should be factored in. For equivalent ICE this might also include such costs as tramsmission replacement as appropriate. I have owned two mini-vans (one foreign, one domestic) with known automatic transmission life limits of between 100,000 miles and 150,000 miles. Of course, battery replacement is twice to three times the transmission costs. But informed vehicle choices should be inclusive of total cost factors.

I am NOT against EVs. I have chosen to rent a Prius hybrids on many business trips and I like that car a lot. I have driven them on long high speed trips, in traffic and even in Arizona summer heat. If the performance of total EVs is close to that I have experienced with the Prius hybrid, the only issue to me is delivered range and acquisition/life costs. For a "daily driver" for work, an EV could be great, but to compete with my 1978 Triumph Spitfire, it needs a drop-top.

User Rank
Critic   6/21/2013 8:57:29 AM
Electric cars, from the perspective of total cost of ownership, are not quite ready for prime time.  Neither is our infrastructure.  I think they'll get there eventually. 


Electric cars cost more to purchase than do their gasoline-powered counterparts.  Depreciation can also be higher.  Most people seem to forget that replacing the batteries in an electric car is a major expense!


We should consider the polution caused by cars, too.  Contrary to popular belief, if you consider the whole life cycle of an electric car, including manufacturing and disposal, it polutes more that a gasoline-powered car.  Remember that electricity is generated, in many areas, by burning fossil fuels (coal or natural gas).


User Rank
Re: Dire needs
Constitution_man   6/21/2013 9:01:32 AM
I still cannot use my transport mode to make a political, environmental, or policy statement.  It's just not in the budget.  I just bought a $2700 used car with a gas engine that gets 27-30 mpg.  I don't need or want ANY new car.  The cost and complexity are not justified.  Given the collateral cost of in-home alterations for the charger, the fact that the parts man at a Chevy dealer still cannot tell you the part number or cost of a new battery for the Volt, the huge depression in range that is experienced by the Leaf in hot climates [thanks to a non-cooled battery]... I am still not sold.  And, the myths aren't talked about.  Myth #1 - The government does NOT give anyone $7500 for buying a leaf or any other EV or hybrid.  They do SEND you $7500, but they first must take that money out of the hands of your neighbors and yourself to do so.

Myth #2 - The electricity that charges up your car with a cord is not pollutant-free.  Somewhere in North Dakota, a trainload of coal is burned to make the juice and a ton of environmentally intrusive high voltage towers must be erected to move the power... or somewhere else, a nuclear reactor must chug out the juice, along with a ton of thermal pollution and a cask of persistent radioactive waste that we "safely" bury.  The viewpoint I often hear [and agree with] is that the EV/Hybridized cars do look like the infancy of another era, but they are by no means within the reach of ordinary everyday Americans when compared with the real cost of good used 4-cylinder ICE cars.

User Rank
Bogus Comparisons
ab3a   6/21/2013 9:05:07 AM
I want to see electric vehicles become the norm some day.  But nonsense comparisons like this don't help.

First, what was the cost per kWh? The costs can range from 3 cents per kWH to 25 cents or more if it is charging at the wrong time on a "smart grid."

Second, let's consider the costs of replacing the entire energy storage system after 1000 cycles (I'll be gracious and consider 1200 cycles instead of, say, 300).  The cost would be akin to replacing the gasoline engine and fuel system of a car after less than 100,000 miles)

Third, Where is the electrical infrastructure to handle all these vehicle charging systems? Think you can just plug one of these babies in to your suburban home? Perhaps a handful of owners in the neighborhood could do it, but pretty soon, you'll need to upgrade the service all the way back through most of the grid. 

I think electric vehicles have a future. There are inexpensive new fuel cell catalysts that may offer even better performance than platinum. There are new, electrolyte free lithium-sulfur batteries that may offer better power density than anything we have today. There are ways this can work much better, but we won't get there by making nonsense claims based on fairy dust assumptions that are swept under the rug. 


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