By on October 25, 2010

My initial self-appointed assignment was to come up with a comprehensive cost analysis of the Volt in comparison to the Prius and other vehicles. I first took this on two and a half years ago, and the results from that gazing-into-the crystal-ball exercise are actually still remarkably accurate, except for the Volt failing to meet its then-promised 50mpg fuel economy. The task, given the infinite variables, is essentially impossible, and thankfully, I was forwarded a link to this Electric Car Calculator. It’s far from perfect, given that it doesn’t account for depreciation, finance costs, leasing, maintenance, etc. What it does do is allow you to input your driving regime, both weekdays and weekends, electric and gas costs, and come up with a comparison for overall fuel costs with your choice of another vehicle; a good start:

I gave it a try, and decided to use my old driving pattern back in CA when I had a real job and commute; my current driving patterns would be totally wasted on a Volt. I compared the Volt to a Prius, but I did adjust some of the numbers manually. The Calculator uses EPA numbers; I brought the Prius number down to a real-world average of 44 mpg. And I lowered the Volt’s 40 mile electric range to 35, based on the many reviews. Even that might be too much, since my commute was almost all freeway. I also assumed the Volt’s gas mileage at 35mpg, and then lowered it to 32, to compensate for the higher price of premium fuel. Here’s how it came out:

In this comparison, the total fuel costs are almost identical for both the Volt and Prius. Note that “fuel cost” is a combination of electric and gas costs. My driving habits back then included several longer business and personal trips per week, which I factored into “weekend driving”.

I also used a 15.2 cents per Kwh electric rate, which is the average in CA. But that may be way too low, since tiered rates in CA go up to 40 cents.

Obviously, in this scenario, the Volt never begins to pay back its much higher purchase cost. It will probably take a pretty optimum driving regime to do that, or substantially higher fuel costs.

Try it out for yourself, and if anyone finds or comes up with something better, let us know.

Electric Car Calculator

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39 Comments on “Voltonomics 101: Your Costs Will Vary – Calculate Them Yourself Here...”


  • avatar
    TrailerTrash

    Thank YOU, Paul!
    Finally.
    I must have missed your work earlier. But have repeatedly asked for something like this so we could at least try to discuss these new techs and true comparisons.
    I wish this was done with several other cars so we could with the cost variations.
    Isn’t the cost for electricity rather low?
    I have significantly high charges in Chicago and Florida.
    Someone here on TTAC had the California rate near 45.

    Is this available for others to use?

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Of course; just click on the link, and help yourself.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Thanks, Paul.
      I tried but a new page opens with just documents.
      I will stay with it.
      I am not computer bright.

      OK..got it!!!!
      Great!

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Click this:
      http://www.befrugal.com/tools/electric-car-calculator/

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      psarhjinian

      No…I get your point and you are right…sort of.
      You shouldn’t have to justify your car choices.
      Freedom of choice and all that.
      If I did, the MKS wouldn’t be in my garage and some sort of rock solid proletariat transportation would be.

      I explained before, however, that this is NOT the reason for the Volt, or why most buy hybrids.
      If they did, this is a hard decision to justify financially.

      You buy for social statements, then great. I think we all do to a point.  So go for it.
      But be ready for a counter point.
      But I feel the need to say, whoa…and help point out the fallacy of the statement. Their shout out implies I am doing something wrong.
      That is the reason for my opposition.
      Samo for Ed, Paul and others.

      To me it’s like any other religious fanaticism.
       

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      I explained before, however, that this is NOT the reason for the Volt, or why most buy hybrids.
      If they did, this is a hard decision to justify financially.

      This is true.  If you’re trying to be green, or strike a blow for energy independence, or just think the concept is cool, well, more power to you. If you’re trying to save money, well, not so much.

      Most people aren’t buying hybrids to save on fuel unless their usage meets a very particular pattern.**  I think hybrid detractors aren’t really realizing that.

      ** I know a guy who owns an LS600hL for this reason.  He drives a lot in urban stop-n-go but owns the car because of, and I quote, “requirements of his station in life”.

  • avatar

    Even though I’m paying $40 a week for 93 Octane to take me roughly 110 miles, the fact my SRT8 300C only cost me $26,000 means over the life of my car I’ll have spent less to drive my gas guzzler than to buy into a Volt.  Cause I’m switching up in 3 years to the new 300C SRT8 2011

    The biggest problem with the VOLT is geopolitical unscertainty. If oil prices/energy prices per KWh go up, the entire cost benefit of the VOLT needs to be recalculated.  Of course, that’s not the only problem since the VOLT also requires batteries. Didn’t TTAC have an article about the Chinese threatening mining strikes in the supplying of the minerals needed for EV batteries?

    Things like that could seriously throw a monkey wrench into the VOLT’S cost benefits.

    Personally, I think you’re probably better off just spending less than $30,000 (or less than $20,000) on a Hyundai, Ford or  GM small car.

    • 0 avatar
      TrailerTrash

      Exactly!
      This is what I am seeing with my Mazda6 S.  Gotten at 30K, the car blows away the Volt.

      This is where we start seeing the Volt true believers start telling us the electric cars have less maintenance.

      And I think Paul’s electric cost are very generous. I would like to see cost throughout the US cities.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      And someone who bought a used Civic paid less than you did for your 300C gets to work about the same time, so why did you pay an extra $x for the engine that provides you with no real benefits?
       
      I made this point in another thread: if every vehicle had to pass the same financial and functional reasonablility test the Volt et al do we’d all be driving Toyota Tercel wagons.

    • 0 avatar

      TRAILER TRASH

      If I spent $50 a week,(i spend slightly less)  that would be $200 a month in Super Premium Unleaded 93 Octane.   Which equals, $2400 a year.  I DON’T DRIVE THAT MUCH but lets say I do.

      My electric bill is already roughly $150 a month   or 10.8126 cents per kWh.
      That’s $1800 a year.  

      I take 0 road trips; get 10 MPG; do 85% of my weekly driving in CITY conditions and about 85% of my weekend driving in HIGHWAY conditions.

      The Electric Car Calculator claimed it would take me 5 years for my VOLT to break even with my SRT8. And that’s only because its a gas guzzler.

      I’m not even gonna have my 300C SRT8 for 5 years. In 3 years its adios !!!

    • 0 avatar

      psarhjinian
      October 25th, 2010 at 5:19 pm  

       

      And someone who bought a used Civic paid less than you did for your 300C gets to work about the same time, so why did you pay an extra $x for the engine that provides you with no real benefits?

      psarhjinian
      And someone who bought a used Civic paid less than you did for your 300C gets to work about the same time, so why did you pay an extra $x for the engine that provides you with no real benefits?

      Because when I die I want to brag to St Peter about how many Civics I BLEW AWAY. 

  • avatar
    jkross22

    These results are shocking.  Nissan should be all over this with marketing the LEAF.

  • avatar
    ash78

    Fantastic work, Paul!
     
    Coming from a guy who builds financial models for his job, I hate that the exclusion of depreciation makes it very incomplete…however, it looks like you covered most of the “variable operating costs” very well. The downside is that, for most people, those costs pale against depreciation, especially if buying the car new.
     
    But from a vehicle marketing POV, selling fuel economy (and greenness) has always been the most important angle.

  • avatar
    HerrKaLeun

    the one thing missing is the difference in interest payment for the price difference (either the loan, or if i had cash the investment).
     
    Assuming no government/GMAC subsidized 5% interest rate the over $ 10,000 difference in purchase price after $ 7,500 tax credit yields quite some interest.
     
    Nevertheless, a good link..
     
    As I said before, if someone buys an (economically completely useless) 3rd car just for driving around in summer or on weekends – no one questiosn the economics. but the Volt at least hypothetically could replace my (costly and needed) second car in my family (unlike a Porsche convertible :-)
     
     

    • 0 avatar

      Good point…I was wondering that too. Of course, even if you qualified for an 8% loan on your cheaper car, you have no idea what you’d get on the Volt.  So they are probably better off just giving energy consumption costs.

  • avatar
    K5ING

    Very good work, Paul.  One request, however.  Can you add a couple of diesel cars into the comparison list?  I did some figuring with numbers from my ’01 Golf GL TDI, and it came out cheaper than the Volt.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      This is not my doing; the TDI being missing is a bummer, but you should be able to just input the relevant numbers manually.

    • 0 avatar
      K5ING

      My apologies, Paul.  Let me downgrade my “good work” comment into a “thanks for bring this to our attention”.  :)
       
      I already did what you suggested, and wrote the comment when I found that my Golf was more “monetarily efficient” than the Volt.  I later did comparisons to the other cars, gas cars included, in the list and found that most ALL of them were cheaper to own than the Volt.
       
      I think a better way to go would be to get a Nissan Leaf or similar pure electric car, then have dealers (and later gas stations if a connection standard is created) maintain “battery trailers” to tow behind the cars for long trips.  Pull into a dealer or station, swap trailers, and continue on your way.
       

  • avatar
    Monty

    Awesome. Unfortunately it deosn’t take into account insurance and depreciation, but even so, against my present vehicle (9 year old GMC Sierra) it would take me less than 8 years to break even. When I compared against the vehicle we’re considering to replace my wifes car, it’s less than 4 years to break even. For my matrix of driving, the Volt makes economic sense. I’m almost 100% city driving, usually less than 25 miles per day, and I could charge the car either at home or at work.

    This car may be the answer to a question nobody was asking, but it is a viable alternative for my type of driving. Of course, I’m only paying 6.25 cents per Kw/h, and our gas is usually around the $1.00 per liter ($4.50 per gallon). YMMV!

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      If you’re driving a pickup truck and you don’t need its utility, of course you can save money driving a car. Try pretty much any sedan with a 4 cylinder engine. The vast majority of them will make more economic sense than a Volt.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      I’m driving a pick-up because it was incredibly cheap to buy. Many cars make economic sense, and if that was the deciding factor for everybody buying a car, we’d all be driving a ten year Echo – but most car purchases aren’t governed by logic.

  • avatar
    th009

    How can you do this without considering resale price — effectively you are assuming that both cars are worth zero at the end of the comparison, which surely will not be correct.  Even a basic rough guess would be better.
     
    Or use leasing costs rather than purchase price for the comparison.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I didn’t build this; anyway, calculating the Volt’s resale may be tough for a while.
      If a more detailed calculator comes my way; we’ll post it.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      Assuming many people lease and the Volt lease deals seem attractive, one could compare monthly lease payments. that way we get rid of all the interest, depreciation etc.
       
      With this you only compare the first 3 years where maintenance and repair is unimportant. you also don’t have the technology risk when leasing the Volt.
       
      I know the leasing of the volt if artificially subsidized to make the car a success… but as a private buyer I take the best offer no matter if it was subsidized or not (assuming I’ll pay tax either way)

  • avatar
    JonL

    Paul – Very nice to see that our calculator met TTAC standards for a mention. Thank you.

    Re: Depreciation and Maintainence. With regard to electric cars, both depreciation and maintainence are not well known. We are looking into a better way to do this.

    Re: Diesel Cars. Agreed completely. We will have to add that soon. In the meantime, please fill in the values when using the calculator.

    Thanks everyone
    – Jon from Befrugal.com

  • avatar
    savuporo

    Also missing even a rough guesses on maintenance costs
    ( and insurance costs obviously, but that doesnt have anything to do with drivetrain, does it ? )

  • avatar
    Quentin

    I made an excel sheet sometime last year that basically did the same thing.  Time after time, it was “gas is too cheap, EVs are too expensive.”  The up front cost and the likely severe depreciation of EVs just makes it hard for the numbers to work out.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      to make it even more interesting:
      if oil is cheap then fuel cost and depreciation are in favor of IC cars.
      if oil is expensive fuel cost AND depreciation will  be in favor of EV.
      If gas cost $ 5 everyone wants an EV and everyone will sell their guzzler for cheap.

    • 0 avatar
      Quentin

      The problem is that EVs batteries will get worse and worse as they age (Nissan has said as much) which degrades their efficiency “value” in the equation.  The efficiency degradation has a steeper slope with EVs than IC or a hybrid that relies less on battery power.  If you buy a 4 year old Volt or Leaf, you have 4 years, maximum, of the battery working pretty good.  What is the car worth to the 2nd owner when they go to sell it?  If you know you are buying something that will be worthless when you go to sell it, why pay a premium?
       
      I’ve run $4.00/gal numbers and it isn’t much prettier.

    • 0 avatar
      HerrKaLeun

      Good points, especially when I look at my 5 year old laptop and even whne plugged in it tells me to replace the battery.
       
      I think there is a reason why Toyota, with the most experience in batteries on the road, doesn’t have an EV yet. They also stick with the “old” (but proven) NiMh for the near future. Unlike EVs, the hybrid battery is kept at 70-80% charge, which is optimum for its life. the EV batteries will get drained to near zero frequently.
       
      Maybe the chemistry in lead acid batteries is different, but when your regular IC car stands for a while and the battery is “empty”, you don’t only need to recharge it, you also often need to replace the battery because when discharged the acid eats the lead.
       
      Therefore I’m really curious on what the range of the EVs will be after some years of driving. I think Nissan said they lose 20% after 10 years. If that holds true, I’m really impressed. for the obvious reasons they haven’t tested that for 10 years yet.

  • avatar
    pleiter

    Calculation reveals I should stay with what I have now (Mazda6 4-bang); payout break over is beyond 15 years.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    I worked the yearly fuel cost numbers for my situation and got $667 for the Volt versus $857 for the smart. Volt seems like a winner in that department, but I could run a 55 mpg smart diesel that is banned from these United States for $655 a year.

  • avatar
    gslippy

    Nice tool.  For my 10k miles/yr, mostly commuting, the Volt beats the Leaf in both annual cost and first cost.
     
    But the Leaf still has a 16-year payback vs. a mythical car (like my current xB) that gets 30 mpg city and costs $15k new.
     
    I didn’t buy a Prius in 2005 because it had a 12-year payback for the hybrid premium.  I’m not green enough to care, although the government wants me to be.

  • avatar

    It all depends on the cost of oil – since Volt consumes about half of what Prius consumes.

    As long as oil is highly subsidized, ofcourse Prius will continue to win. But if the oil subsidies are removed then we will get a different picture.

    But I guess, “truth” about cars doesn’t want to talk about “truth” about oil. Does it ?

    BTW, here is my calculation. This compares couple of ICE cars, Hybrids, PHEVs and Leaf.

    http://www.mynissanleaf.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=1595

  • avatar
    dhanson865

    fwiw I bought a used 2005 Prius during the UA crises for about 10K so a certified used volt after a resale value crash is about the only way I’d consider it.
    On the flip side my cost for electricity is under 10c so the usage of an electric car would be cheaper for me even though gas is not similarly cheap in my city.

    My last 12 electric bills show costs of electricity per kWh at
    $0.0844
    $0.0799
    $0.0765
    $0.0764
    $0.0805
    $0.0864
    $0.0881
    $0.0895
    $0.0964
    $0.0951
    $0.0968
    $0.1032
    (includes $8 monthly fee + actual usage)

    The actual cost of electricity is lower than shown by my after charges math. A Plug in Hybrid or pure electric vehicle would be eating kWh after my base usage at the minimum rate. Currently that is 9.387 Cents per Kilowatt Hour.

  • avatar
    redbeard

    Compared to my current vehicle (1990 Volvo 740 Turbo, 21 mpg), it will take over 15 years to break even. That’s not including the aforementioned shortcomings in depreciation etc. And my Volvo is more fun to drive anyway (~300 hp @ 3000 lbs).

  • avatar
    JonL

    Thank you for your incredible response and feedback. We have updated the Electric Car Calculator with the following new features…in addition to calculating breakeven, we now calculate Cost Equivalent MPG for electric cars, tailpipe and upstream CO2 emissions, and also allow for diesel cars.

    The Electric Car Calculator is available here:
    http://www.befrugal.com/tools/electric-car-calculator

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