Pump vs. Plug: The True Cost of Electric Vehicles

Pump prices have the ability to make or break an average American's day, month, or year. But while gasoline stations fight over tenths of cents to tempt your tank, electric vehicle "plug prices" have remained a mystery – until now. A new tool reveals all, and the results are astonishing. Let's take a look to see whether pump prices or plug prices are the real pocket pinchers.

Pump vs. plug
The Department of Energy unveiled its "eGallon calculator" this month, a shockingly simple tool to compare state-specific pump prices to plug prices. While gas prices scream at us from street signs, electric vehicle driving costs are nowhere to be found. eGallon changes all that, opening up information for consumers to make cost-conscious decisions about what to drive.

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Looking beneath national numbers, eGallon's data are state-specific and constantly refreshing. With the cheapest gas prices around, South Carolina's $3.41 per gas gallon is 3.15 times its $1.08 electric equal. And Hawaii's most expensive electricity ($3.69 per gallon) still manages to squeeze under gasoline's $3.74. Using mileage data for the five top-selling electric vehicles in 2012 – Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA  ) Model S, General Motors' (NYSE: GM  ) Chevy Volt, Nissan's Leaf, Ford's Focus, and BMW's ActiveE – the number cruncher compares these vehicles' costs to a gasoline car that averages 28.2 miles per gallon. The result? On average, it costs around three times less per gallon ($1.14) to put the pedal to the metal in an electric vehicle versus a gasoline-powered vehicle.

A bit of historical perspective points to another win for electric expenditures. While pump prices can spike overnight with erratic oil, regulated utilities keep electricity prices slow and steady through thick and thin.

Source: Energy.gov

Electricity also offers a more diverse generation portfolio, creating opportunities for environmental efficiency and energy independence. And while this isn't currently the case with coal-centric utilities or imported energy, it's a bigger basket to choose from than anything traditional fuels have on tap.

Beyond the pump
Critics will argue that pump prices aren't the only costs – and they're right. Beyond the purchase price premium, electric vehicles can be more expensive in many ways. For starters, electric batteries don't last forever. Chevy's Volt comes with an eight-year warranty, and replacements currently clock in around $4,500. If you need a quick charge for your Tesla vehicle and can't make it to one of the automakers' eight "supercharger" stations, go ahead and tack on $1,200 for a faster-charging home kit.

But battery technology is rapidly improving, and a new power pack eight years from now may provide magnitudes more of power at a fraction of the cost. Likewise, Tesla Motors has big plans for powering its rapidly growing fleet of vehicles. The electric-auto maker is tripling its stations this summer, with a whopping 200 planned for 2015.

Source: Teslamotors.com 

Is gas a goner?
Gasoline isn't going anywhere. But for the first time, consumers have a concrete comparison point for their daily commute. eGallon is exactly what America needs to put things in perspective, allowing drivers everywhere to now make more data-driven decisions on their next vehicle purchase.

Tesla's plan to disrupt the global auto business has yielded spectacular results. But giant competitors are already moving to disrupt Tesla. Will the company be able to fend them off? The Motley Fool answers this question and more in our most in-depth Tesla research available. Get instant access by clicking here now.


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  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:06 AM, duclha wrote:

    The problem with electric cars is the diminishing supply of adequate electric power, rapidly approaching are shortages of electric power due to increasing environmental regulations that power companies can't accomodate, no national push to start building many nuclear power plants, and if power is available, huge price increases with have to be charged. We're probably looking at a struggle just to keep the light bulbs on. The swing of American voters to vote democrat will insure no rational method of working with the power companies to accomodate the environmental regulations, so everybody look forward to the lights going out.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:19 AM, sampsondiane wrote:

    Duciha, your position is not supported by the facts as they exist today. There has been for some time a glut of electricity to the extent that many of the alternate sources (peaker plants, wind turbines, etc.) have taken big financial hits. The glut has resulted in electricity rates that are relatively low right now.

    Of course, no one can predict the future, but your commentary is little more than fear-mongering.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:22 AM, CCnTx wrote:

    diminishing supply of adequate electric power? in solar power alone the US produces 1800 Million Kilowatt hours as of 2010. thats not counting the current coal generated elec power, nor solar heating elec power, or concentrated solar power, or the 5224 Mw planned for this yea's construction, and another 5,140 MW total photovoltaics will come online in 2013.

    add to all of that the under construction (current) and more planned installations such as:

    Under construction[edit]As of March 29, 2013, a total of 3,007 MW of utility scale photovoltaic power plants are under construction in the United States.[25]

    The Desert Sunlight Solar Farm is a 550 MW solar power plant under construction in Riverside County, California, that will use thin-film solar photovoltaic modules made by First Solar.[3]

    The Topaz Solar Farm is a 550 MW photovoltaic power plant, being built in San Luis Obispo County, California.[4]

    The Blythe Solar Power Project is a 500 MW photovoltaic station under construction in Riverside County, California.

    The Agua Caliente Solar Project is a 290 megawatt (AC) photovoltaic solar generating facility being built in Yuma County, Arizona. 250 MW (AC) is operational, making it the largest operating photovoltaic power plant in the world.

    The California Valley Solar Ranch (CVSR) is a 250 megawatt (MW) solar photovoltaic power plant, which is being built by SunPower in the Carrizo Plain, northeast of California Valley.[6]

    The 230 MW (AC) Antelope Valley Solar Ranch is a First Solar photovoltaic project which is under construction in the Antelope Valley area of the Western Mojave Desert, and due to be completed in 2013.[49]

    The Mesquite Solar project is a 700 MW photovoltaic solar power plant being built in Arlington, Maricopa County, Arizona, owned by Sempra Generation.[50] Phase 1 has a nameplate capacity of 150 megawatts,[51] and was completed in January 2013.[1]

    The 60 MW Pflugerville Solar Farm is under construction and will use 400,000 solar panels.[52]

    Planned PV plants[edit]A total of 20,682 MW of large-scale photovoltaic power plants are under development in the United States. The largest is the 2,700 MW Westlands Solar Park, in Kings County, California.[25]

    The Amargosa Farm Road Solar Project is a proposed 500 megawatt (MW) solar power plant in Nye County, Nevada. The plant is expected online by 2014.[53]

    The 300 MW Sonoran Solar Project in Arizona, is a photovoltaic solar power plant that is being planned by a subsidiary of NextEra Energy Resources. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar granted approval for the project in December 2011.[54]

    The Centinela Solar Energy Project is an approved 275 megawatt solar power plant to be located on 2,067 acres of previously disturbed private land near El Centro, California. The project would support at least 367 jobs, generate more than $30 million in tax revenue over the life of the project, and deliver enough electricity to power about 82,500 homes.[55] Creative financing has increased the boom in home solar installation into 2012.[56]

    SolarStrong is SolarCity's five-year plan to build more than $1 billion in solar photovoltaic projects for privatized military housing communities across the United States. SolarCity plans to work with the country's leading privatized military housing developers to install, own and operate rooftop solar installations and provide solar electricity at a lower cost than utility power. SolarStrong is ultimately expected to create up to 300 megawatts of solar generation capacity that could provide power to as many as 120,000 military housing units, making it the largest residential photovoltaic project in American history. In November 2011, SolarCity and Bank of America Merrill Lynch announced that they have agreed to terms on financing for SolarStrong.[57]

    so lights going out. not a chance in a trillion. with the fall of panel prices even though cheaply made in china, both the US and all of europe are well set to install billions of gigawatts worth of solar alone in the next few years.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:26 AM, johnbruk wrote:

    What a Let down. There is HARDLY any real comparison here. FACT: at $1.15 "savings" per gal with electric on a 28mpg car, that equates to about $600/yr @14000 miles per year. Electric vehicles EASILY cost $10,000 more than their Petrol counterparts, so it would take over 12 YEARS to BREAK EVEN! Is it worth it?

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:36 AM, QQ007 wrote:

    An average mid-sized vehicle made in 2013 gets between17-18 mpg, and then you factor in NO oil changes and virtually NO with car service since there is no ICE, free charging at charging stations across the country, low pollution, I'd say yes, it is definitely worth it. It's a no brainer.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:39 AM, gjsuhr wrote:

    So I followed the link in this story where it said battery technology is rapidly improving and I found this:

    "The pressure to reduce the cost of electric vehicles is high, and the cost of the battery pack is the most important factor in determining the premium cost of EVs. Large R&D funds have been invested, but only small incremental improvements have been achieved so far. One challenge is that volumes remain small in automotive terms. The cost of the battery pack will come down to about $447 per kilowatt-hour by the year 2020 at scaled production, according to the report."

    So if your Tesla has an 80kw battery pack @ $447 per kilowatt hr you can expect to pay $35,760 for your battery in 2020...car not included.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:45 AM, QQ007 wrote:

    Batteries now cost between $8000-$12,000, and are slated to last up to 8 years. So the above number for a battery at $35,760, doesn't add up, especially when you consider that more electric vehicles will be on the road in 2020.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 9:57 AM, Soakee wrote:

    It amuses me when people talk about the replacement costs of EV batteries and that they need to be replaced after X number of years (though mileage is never mentioned). Here's a newsflash: internal combustion engines and/or transmissions don't last forever either. What about theie replacement costs after X number of miles? While I'm no fan of electric vehicles (they really are an early 20th century idea), cost comparisons need to include ALL factors and not just those which are most convenient.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 10:03 AM, QQ007 wrote:

    The $8,000-10,000 figure and 8 year battery life are from Teslas estimates. Internal combustion engines require regular servicing, while the Electric vehicle does not. This results in a great deal of savings. Imagine not having to deal with shady car servicing companies.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 11:05 AM, StanO6 wrote:

    Don't forget, the S eats BMWs for kicks!

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 12:32 PM, vlstrade wrote:

    I'm running about 370Wh/Mi driving spiritedly with the AC on full blast and pre-cooling the car for about 40 minutes a day (in AZ summer). So that means I'm using a little over 460kW per month to charge my Tesla. Factor in a 85% charging efficiency and that rises to 544kW for about 1250 miles a month. Electricity at night when I charge is under 7c/kWh, so that adds about $37 to my electric bill. My old car was a G37 that got 19MPG premium at $3.75 per gallon. Those same 1250 miles would have cost $246 in gas. That a monthly difference of $210. I also pay $45 a year in registration on the Tesla instead of over $500 on the Infiniti. No service on the Tesla means another $100 a year in synthetic oil changes can be avoided. The G37 was $40k, and had a 0-60s time about the same as my version of the Tesla, which I paid $59k. Just taking into consideration the savings above, the break even point is about 6 years, all the while driving a MUCH nicer car and never having to worry about heading down to Costco to wait in line for a little cheaper gas. Plus I get carpool lane, and my employer is adding a free charging station, so my savings will only increase. So does an electric car work for everyone? No, but it makes enough sense for me.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 12:35 PM, vlstrade wrote:

    I should also mention the battery has an 8 year warranty, but should be useful for nearly double that. At which point batteries will be significantly cheaper, and I will probably have a different car. Depreciation floor has been set by Elon's personal guarantee...not that any car has much value after 10 years anyways.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 1:39 PM, tigerade wrote:

    Good article. I have read studies in the past that showed that gasoline needs to be around $1 a gallon to be competitive with EV's. This story matches up.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 1:59 PM, SLTom992 wrote:

    Again I have seen the figure of 8 years lifespan for batteries. That is completely incorrect.

    Firstly the batteries achieve maximum lifespan by charging between 1/4th and 3/4ths of a full charge. This therefore sets the normal range of these electric cars to half the stated distance.

    Secondly the battery manufacturers state that the lifespan of the battery is between 300 and 500 full charges. With a maximum full charge distance of 120 miles in the Tesla S and a yearly mileage of 15,000 miles that equates to less than four years per battery set maximum. And driving at full discharge rate on a freeway it is likely closer to the lower figure.

    There is a vast difference between the unused lifespan of a battery and the used lifespan.

    What's more, the more you investigate these things the much worse they appear. Again - where do you recharge on a trip? At these fictitious fast-recharge stations? What if you just bought a new set of batteries which presently cost $12,000/set (and much more in the future) - are you willing to trade your new set for some set you know absolutely nothing about? Someone else's old worn out set that was just charged?

    Who exactly pays for the immense increase in the power infra-structure? What does the government do when they start losing all of these gas taxes? How can Tesla possibly handle mass production of those vehicles AND manage the massive maintenance structure as they presently do?

    Ecars are simply a silly idea.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 2:10 PM, SLTom992 wrote:

    As to the silly figures I'm seeing for gas mileage. I presently have a 1999 Ford Taurus SE with 145 hp and can get out of it's own way and enter a freeway without having approaching traffic slamming on their brakes.

    I get slightly less than 20 mpg in the stop and go driving and 25 on the cruise control.

    Why are people telling us that they're making 19 mpg on a 2012 car?

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 4:49 PM, williamfrantz wrote:

    It is not about the cost of fuel. It's about stopping for fuel! Thanks to my Volt, I barely remember what a gas station looks like. I just plug in at night and I'm good for another day. It's GREAT! The Volt is also blissfully quiet on batteries. Not sure a gas car would be cheaper, but I know it wouldn't be better.

    Let me know when Shell hires elves to top off your tank at night.

  • Report this Comment On June 21, 2013, at 5:42 PM, ChrisConklinHI wrote:

    Pretty cool little tool....though I don't know where the $3.69/gallon in Hawaii gas price comes from...hasn't been below $4.00 gallon in quite a while. And it doesn't talk about the other piece of the economic equation for driving an electric vehicle....use of solar PV to charge the car at home at night. Some states have consumer friendly net-metering or feed-in-tariff programs for distributed PV that allow a properly sized home solar array to eliminate the monthly electric bill. Hawaii has the nation's highest electric rates (and gas prices, for that matter), which are now near $0.36 KwH and unlike the rest of the country, are trending up because nearly all power is still generated by burning low-sulphur fuel.

    With a Nissan LEAF as a commuter car being driven 9,000 miles annually, I added 4 solar panels to my home array to provide all the charging power that the car needs.

    A lot of the "early adopters" for electric vehicles tend to be in the same mode for using solar power at home. In particular you'll see use of PV to meet the KwH load for the vehicle in places where electrical power is expensive meaning they'll get better economics from the electric plug-in car than what the calculator provides.

    Also, some of the statements regarding battery life and the need to undercharge thus reducing available range just don't match reality, they aren't supported by the early data available from Leaf, Volt, Tesla owners, who are pretty anal as a group in tracking wall-to-wheel Mi/KwH, range and the like.

    chris conklin

    honolulu

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2013, at 2:45 PM, MarineBioKen wrote:

    I'm a 21-month Nissan LEAF owner and have accumulated over 21,000 miles - I live in a rural area and commute to town.

    Curious about my fuel savings, I recently did an experiment which anybody can reproduce: I used 3 of our extended family cars (a gasoline-powered Pathfinder, a gasoline-hybrid Highlander, and my Dodge 3/4-ton 4x4 diesel pickup) and did the identical trip as my LEAF, doing 5 errands (stop/restart cycles) in town.

    I topped-off the petro-vehicles at the same pump before and after the trips to determine exactly how much fuel was used and a "kill-a-watt" meter at 120 V for the exact KWh needed to recharge the LEAF. Prices at the time were $3.90 for gas, $3.95 for diesel, and .10 /kWh for electricity under PSE's Green Power program. I standardized everything to 60 miles. The air temperature - of interest because of the LEAF - averaged 59 degrees.

    Costs (and mpg) for the same identical trip were: Pathfinder $10.96, (21 mpg), Highlander $8.70 (27 mpg), Dodge pickup $13.75 (17 mpg), and LEAF $1.61 (no mpg calculated).

    I often see mileage as in this article, but I'll bet the stop/restart cycles affect the actual fuel use in real life, especially the diesel pickup. BTW, it was interesting that the pickup's onboard economy meter read 20.6 mpg instead of the observed 17.4.

    By the way, I have not experienced any battery degradation. Maybe I have, but I can't be sure if I have actually lost a couple of miles of capacity.

    It will be very, very interesting to see the longevity of these cars after 10 to 15 years. Without the need for sometimes-forgotten oil changes, a gearless transmission, and no need for a break-in when new, there is very little opportunity for abuse (except for attempting to drive through flooded areas). Petroleum-powered cars, including the GM Volt, may have a much shorter lifetime.

  • Report this Comment On June 22, 2013, at 6:56 PM, Threemagisteria wrote:

    "Again I have seen the figure of 8 years lifespan for batteries. That is completely incorrect."

    True. It's five years obsolete.

    "Firstly the batteries achieve maximum lifespan by charging between 1/4th and 3/4ths of a full charge. This therefore sets the normal range of these electric cars to half the stated distance."

    Keeping the charge between 20% and 80% is the only way you will ever get your battery to last the 180,000 miles which is touted as maximum lifestyle. If you charge to max every night and drain to nearly nothing every day, you can expect to see a 10% max capacity loss by 90,0000, with replacement necessary by 120,000.

    "Secondly the battery manufacturers state that the lifespan of the battery is between 300 and 500 full charges."

    2000 cycles was reached in 2008, although the conservative practical estimate is 1200 cycles without loss of capacity.

    "With a maximum full charge distance of 120 miles in the Tesla S"

    Give or take 180 miles.

    " Again - where do you recharge on a trip? At these fictitious fast-recharge stations?"

    I don't see how that could work. It's probably better to use the actual fast-recharge stations. Which are free.

    " What if you just bought a new set of batteries which presently cost $12,000/set (and much more in the future)"

    No, batteries go down every year. Gas goes up, batteries go down. And last longer.

    "are you willing to trade your new set for some set you know absolutely nothing about? Someone else's old worn out set that was just charged?"

    On a round trip, you return the loaner pack and get your old pack back. Or you can keep the new pack and it's covered by the old warranty, which is Tesla's disincentive to swap older packs into people's cars.

  • Report this Comment On June 23, 2013, at 9:37 AM, TMFBreakerRob wrote:

    From the article: "But battery technology is rapidly improving, and a new power pack eight years from now may provide magnitudes more of power at a fraction of the cost."

    A "magnitude" is a factor of 10. "Magnitudes" would be a factor of at least 100.

    Nobody is predicting anything like that rate of improvement. I would suggest more careful writing, instead of what comes across as careless hype.

  • Report this Comment On June 24, 2013, at 2:10 PM, williamfrantz wrote:

    Just bought another EV yesterday. This time for my mother who was spending $200/mo on gas at 20 MPG.

    Add up the lease payments, down payment, taxes, fees, subtract the rebate and divide by 36 months; the Leaf SV with a few nice options nets out to $286/mo. Subtract fuel savings and it's $86/mo. NO-BRAIN-ER. Cost to refuel? Zero, thanks to free chargers at work. Cost to replace the battery? Zero, thanks to the lease. Oil, tires, maintenance... zero, zero, zero. Insurance is going up, but we get an HOV sticker (albeit in political flux).

    Don't be fooled. On a level playing field, gas would be cheaper but tax incentives tip heavily in favor of EV right now. Battery costs would also give a gas car a lower total cost over 10 years but a 3 year lease wipes that out too.

    Considering fuel is $100/mo even at 40 MPG, a comparably equipped gas car would have to be less than $186/mo to beat this Leaf and you'd still have to deal with gas stations.

  • Report this Comment On November 21, 2013, at 3:29 PM, henrybroder wrote:

    OK, is there a way to figure how many miles per $1 you get from an electric car or maybe how many miles per Kw? Just a simple rating like the miles per gallon on gasoline cars?

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