An Economic Case For Electric Vehicles

The future belongs to full electric (EV) or plug-in hybrid electric (PHEV) vehicles because they make very good economic sense even in this period of low gas prices. There are many different types of vehicles on the road and people have different driving needs and habits but we can use averages to compare costs. The average American car gets 24.8 miles per gallon and the current price of gasoline is about $2.44. That means it will cost you $9.84 cents for the fuel to move that car 100 miles. EV mileage varies by model and driving habits just like gasoline cars but they are averaging about 3.5 miles per kilowatt-hour (kWh). At 3.5 mpk (miles per kWh) it will take 28.6 kWh to travel 100 miles. At a national average of 12 cents per kWh the cost of fuel to move an EV 100 miles is $3.43 compared to $9.84 for a gasoline car. If you get your electricity from the BPU, cut that cost in half.

A plug-in hybrid (PHEV) complicates the math because they use electricity for the first few miles then switch to gasoline after draining the battery. Fueling these is still much more cost-effective than an old-fashioned gasoline-only car. A Chevy Volt can travel 53 miles in all-electric mode and when the gas engine takes over it gets 42 mpg. That same 100 miles in a Volt will cost you $2.70 for gas and $2.21 for electricity, still better than the $9.84 a ‘old-school’ gas car gets. Putting this another way; given today’s cars and fuel prices powering an electric car or PHEV is the same as gas at $0.85 per gallon.

If you think driving an electric car is only for tree-hugging geeks consider that the 6.4 second 0-60 time of the Chevy Bolt is just a bit faster than a 1987 Camaro IROC-Z which did it in 6.5 seconds.

The cost of fuel is not the only positive for EVs or PHEVs, they are also much more convenient. Yes, you need to plug-in your electric vehicle when you come home but how hard is that compared to all the maintenance required for a fossil fuel car? There is no waiting in line at a gas station or standing in the cold wind with your hand on a frozen pump. No oil change and filter replacement every 3,000 miles. No checking and replacing anti-freeze or worrying about your starter battery. No tune-ups, or air filters, or muffler, or exhaust pipes. No worries about spark plugs, fuel injector or fuel pumps. No rusted through gas tanks. The maintenance schedule for the Chevy Bolt has three lines; rotate your tires every 7,500 miles, change your cabin air filter every two years, drain and fill vehicle coolant circuits every 150,000 miles. Go ahead, look it up. You also don’t have to pay for all that stuff with an EV either.

There are downsides to electric vehicles, as is the case with most technologies, but those will diminish as EVs become more prevalent. Charging stations are rather sparse today but as there are more EVs on the road there will be more charging stations; perhaps gas stations will offer charging, at least while they are still around. It does take longer today to charge an EV than it takes to fill a gas tank but those times will drop and the need to charge ‘on the road’ will decrease as battery capacity improves. You don’t need to worry about charging the old wire-line phone hanging on your wall but how many of you would give up your smart phone? A study by AAA shows that on average, Americans drive 29.2 miles per day which is well within the range of all EVs, 238 miles for a Chevy Bolt, and most of the PHEVs. The most common way to charge will be at home but a Tesla supercharger provides up to 170 miles of range in as little as 30 minutes.

I’m not a car sales rep, in fact, don’t even own an electric car, though I am in the market and looking very closely at them. I think I would be a fool not to consider one. Ford introduced the Model T over 110 years ago and today’s gas guzzler works essentially the same way. We are long overdue for a change.

Tom Meara is a Jamestown resident.