Going Electric: When Should You Buy an Electric Car?

Updated on August 27, 2019
Markeli profile image

I enjoy writing on a wide range of topics including science, history, social issues and much more.

Electric cars date back to the first automobiles at the end of the 19thcentury. But by the time Henry Ford's combustion engine Model T went into mass production in 1908, electric vehicles (EVs) could no longer compete with fueled vehicles in terms of range, power and price. For many decades they were relegated to oddball city cars or special niche applications like the forklift or even the Moon buggy.

In the 21st century improved battery technology and environmental concerns have both contributed to relaunch EVs. In the meantime manufacturers like Tesla have changed the perception of electric cars: once considered ugly, EVs are now considered high-performing and fashionable. That all established manufacturers have some sort of EV on offer or in development is a sure sign the future is going electric. In 2017 global sales passed the 1 million mark for the first time. While the global market share of EVs at just over 1% is still low, in some advanced countries like Norway and the Netherlands the market share is already significantly higher. China, perhaps surprisingly, is the country with the most EVs in absolute terms. Many countries have furthermore passed some sort of legislation to completely ban solely gas-powered cars in the future. No wonder electric cars are growing ever more popular.

A Tesla Model S during "refuelling"
A Tesla Model S during "refuelling" | Source

Different Types of Electric Vehicles

Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV)

BEVs are all-electric vehicles and solely powered by electricity. They have no exhaust pipe and zero emissions. The battery is charged by plugging into the mains or at a charger station. Regenerative breaking also helps to recharge the battery to save energy while driving.

Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)

Powered by fuel and electricity. The combustion engine and electric motor can be used both separately and in combination. However the battery is much smaller than in a pure EV (or BEV) and has a range of usually only around 30 mi (ca. 50 km). PHEVs are rather expensive and benefit only partially from the advantages of electric power as they still consume fuel and emit CO2. Yet they might be the best solution if you mainly travel long distances.

Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV)

HEVs are powered by both fuel and electricity.Yet the battery is not charged externally, but only through regenerative breaking and the combustion engine. In this combination of power, electricity plays the minor role. The battery is also much smaller than in a Plug-In Hybrid Vehicle and its range much more limited. Yet the electric part helps to improve fuel economy and reduce environmental impact.

Fuel Cell Electric Vehicle (FCEV)

FCEVs run on electric motors, but the electricity, instead of coming from a battery, is generated from a hydrogen fuel cell. Refuelling in principle is done at hydrogen filling stations, similar to gas stations for combustion engine cars. Yet the FCEV technology is still in its infancy and only available in limited areas like California, Japan and South Korea. Manufacturers like Toyota, Honda and Hyundai are at the forefront in developing this technology.

The future is electric, but buying an electric car is still a big leap. Whether it is convenient to go electric largely depends on your personal circumstances and usage. Electric cars offer many advantages, but also come with some drawbacks buyers need to be aware of.

All-Electric Cars (EVs)

Pros
Cons
Zero Emissions
Limited Range
Low Running Costs
Charging
Comfort
High Price
Acceleration
Depreciation
Buying Incentives
 
Tax Exemptions
 
Reduced Maintenance
 

Pros of Electric Cars

Zero Emissions

Once charged an EV runs smoothly with literally zero emission! Thinking of our overcrowded and polluted city centers, this advantage alone should be reason enough for going electric. An EV only pollutes when it is charging and the energy derives from fossil fuels. If on the other hand the energy is from a renewable source there aren't any polluting emissions at all.

Zero Emission come in handy when the car is used in city centers where access is restricted to low emissions vehicles and and free parking slots are available for environmentally friendly cars.

Low Running Costs

As for combustion engine cars gas stations have different prices, so the cost for charging an electric car depends on where (and when) you plug in your EV. Yet generally day-to-day running costs are much lower compared to fossil fuels. Ideally you charge over night at your home when electricity costs are low. This way spending less than one third of the cost of fuel per milage is no exception. If you live in an apartment and don't have off the street parking, that is no reason to renounce an EV. There is a growing network of public charging points and service companies where you can plug in, albeit at lower savings. Watch out at shopping malls where charging is oftentimes free during your stay.

Comfort

Driving an EV for the first time, most people notice how relaxed the experience is. The car responds promptly when pressing the pedal, yet the whirring of the electric motor is imperceivable. You can only hear tyre, wind and road noise.

The electric motor also takes less space than the combustion engine. This results in more space inside the passenger compartment.

Acceleration

Due to the instant torque of electric motors, the acceleration of electric cars is impressive, even ludicrous for some models: The Tesla Model S accelerates from 0-60 mph (0-97 km/h) in just 2.4 sec! Even an ordinary EV like the Nissan Leaf version 2018 takes only 7.4 sec for this sprint. At any rate, with an EV you pull away from the traffic lights respectably. With a premium EV you can even compete with the fanciest sport cars.

Buying Incentives

Although electric cars are (for the time being) more expensive than combustion engine cars of similar size, most legislators, keen on promoting green mobility, offer huge incentives for purchasers opting for an EV. In the UK, under the Plug-In Car Grant, buyers can get up to GBP 4,500 (USD 5,400). In the US the federal government provides up to USD 7,500 of tax credits on EV purchases. Furthermore there are additional incentives by the States. Details are available from the US Department of Energy through their

Tax Exemptions

In addition to buying incentives, purchasers of EVs can further benefit from tax exemptions on the registration and the road taxes.

Many cities, keen on low emissions, grant additional benefits like free parking, toll exemptions or even access to priority lanes normally reserved for buses.

Less maintenance

An electric car has far fewer moving parts compared to a combustion-powered one. No oil and filter changes, no spark plugs, no catalytic converter, no exhaust pipe. This results in less maintenance and lower costs that can add up over time.

free charge at shopping mall
free charge at shopping mall | Source
Park & Charge - no waiting line yet
Park & Charge - no waiting line yet | Source

Cons of Electric Cars

Limited Range

Range anxiety still features prominently among the drawbacks of EVs. It stands for the worry that the battery will run out of power before destination or a suitable charging point is reached. The average electric car has a range of around 150 mi (ca. 240 km), which more than suffices for your daily commutes, but won't be enough on longer trips.

As EVs will gain ground this drawback will be mitigated in three ways:

  • newer EVs have longer range
  • charging infrastructure is continuously expanding
  • quick chargers are getting faster every day

Recharging

Linked to range anxiety is also the fact that recharging an EV takes considerably longer than refueling a combustion engine car. At a 240-volt source an EVs can typically add around 25 mi an hour, which is ok for overnight charging at home and daily commutes. For longer trips instead you will have to plan ahead and recharge on the road. The rapid chargers available on motorways are much faster, but still require a stop of about half an hour to add 200 mi.

High Price

The price tag was once undoubtedly the biggest deterrent for potential buyers. Since electric cars have become more mainstream, prices have come down significantly. That's largely due to the falling cost of the battery, which once made up about half the cost of the entire car.

Though price parity to a combustion engine equivalent hasn't been reached yet, with buying incentives and a usage suitable for EVs, over time the electric car is oftentimes already cheaper than the combustion engine car. A number of EVs are now available at very accessible prices (the Nissan Leaf starts from USD 29,990 and even the fancy Tesla Model 3 is available for USD 35,000)

Depreciation

Once a car is out on the road it begins loosing value. Depreciation depends on a large variety of factors, but is, at least for the time being, generally higher for electric cars than gas-powered ones. This drawback should gradually level out, as the market for used electric cars develops further.

Nissan Leaf - one of the top-selling electric cars
Nissan Leaf - one of the top-selling electric cars | Source

Time to Take the Leap?

Unless you're looking for an EV purely out of ideological reasons, the main argument in favour or against an electric car will be set by the cost of ownership. Simply stated, compared to gas-powered cars, EVs cost more when you buy them, but less when you use them. Without braking even on the cost, there is no way EVs will make it from a niche product to the mainstream market. While prices of EVs are still higher than their gas-powered equivalent, what ultimately matters is the cost of ownership. Here EVs fare far better and, depending on the particular circumstances of the owner, have in many cases already beaten their gas-powered equivalent.

Assuming an electric car costs USD 10,000 more than an combustion engine equivalent, this upfront investment will be recovered in a number of ways:

  • The cost per mile for EVs is (conservative assumption) only one-third of that for gas. Assuming you spend USD 1,500 on gas in a year, that equals a saving of USD 1,000 per year. In fact, savings are much higher with overnight at home charging or when you can take advantage of free charging stations at shopping malls or at the workplace.
  • Many governments offer huge incentives for EV buyers. If you get USD 4,000 from incentives and save USD 1,000 a year on gas, you would have broken even after six years
  • As an electric car has far fewer moving parts, you also have huge savings in maintenance costs over time
  • With EVs you furthermore save on road taxes, parking fees, fees on accessing city centres (like the London Congestion Charge, etc.)

EVs are especially suited for daily commutes. When travelling longer distances you need to arrange your journeys based on your range and the available charging network capabilities. If you are travelling long distances on a regular basis, a PHEV might be the better option.

In case you're buying the EV as second family car, it is ideally suited, as you have the first car for longer journeys.

Going electric is not without its challenges, but one of the major arguments in favour of electric cars is sometimes overlooked: the vast majority of buyers would never switch back to gas.

Price and Range of All-Electric Vehicles

Model
Range
Price (USD)
Audi e-tron
204 mi / 328 km
74,800
BMW i3
153 mi / 246 km
44,450
Chevrolet Bolt
238 mi / 383 km
36,620
Hyundai Ioniq
124 mi / 200 km
30,315
Jaguar I-Pace
234 mi / 376 km
69,500
Kia Niro
239 mi / 385 km
38,500
Nissan Leaf (40 kWh)
150 mi / 241 km
29,990
Tesla Model 3
220 mi / 354 km
35,400
Tesla Model S
370 mi / 595 km
79,990
Volkswagen e-Golf
125 mi / 201 km
31,895

When Would You Buy an Electric Car?

See results

Best Electric Cars 2019

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Marco

    Comments

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      • hmkrishna profile image

        Halemane Muralikrishna 

        4 weeks ago from Murali Sadan, Ichlampady PO, Kasaragod, India - 671321

        Just go electric - zero-emission

      • Markeli profile imageAUTHOR

        Marco 

        4 weeks ago from Italy

        Yes, Ken, this article is more about the general criteria to consider when switching from gas to electric. But you're right, there is definitely a need for specific advice about the developing niche market of used EVs.

      • Ken Burgess profile image

        Ken Burgess 

        4 weeks ago from Florida

        Darn it, I was hoping after reading the title you had some insight as to when a person should buy a used EV for the best value.

        Good article, EV is definitely the future.

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