A Year of Driving Only Electric

Last October we took the plunge and sold our gas sipping hybrid to make way for a fancy new electric car. With the federal and state incentives combined, we actually determined it would be the absolute cheapest form of automobile transportation possible for our family (12c per mile thus far). The transition was slight but we adapted rather quickly. Overall, we have been more than pleased with our Nissan Leaf over the last year and I’m convinced that electric cars are the future. The quick verdict: Success.

20141029_124030011_iOSOur family lives in a smaller college town and almost everything we need is less than five miles away from our home. I walk or ride my bike to work everyday and Ms. SE often uses the car to take the kiddos around and run errands during the day. We make occasional day trips around the state, and for longer trips, the Atlanta airport is about 70 miles from our home. Overall, we make good candidates for the first gen electric vehicle. Despite the hesitation about only being able to drive about 80-100 miles a day conveniently, range anxiety has been a surprisingly small issue. We have literally done zero maintenance and the car drives as well today as it did off the lot.

The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
(The Bad) Ironically, I start with the downsides for electric vehicles. The basic challenge to low cost (ie, not Teslas) EVs is that the batteries charge rather slowly and the range is limited to about 100 miles per charge. Fast chargers (80% in 30mins) do exist, but we currently drive the base model that suits our needs. There are still questions about owning current gen EVs due to the fact that they are still relatively new and the battery longevity is unproven. Secondly, the level and pace of technological innovation is happening so fast that new models are vastly superior to previous generations models, causing faster depreciation. This actually provides really cool opportunity for used deals but is a challenge for new purchase considerations. The technology is on the cusp of meeting the average consumer’s needs but may still be 3-5 years away. I won’t really discuss the quirks and caveat of the Leaf specifically, as I prefer to talk conceptually about the broader EV model.

The Ugly
Most of the debate we are having about the pros and cons of electric vehicles will seem foolish ten years from now. Gasoline engines have been around for decades and the ability to eke out improvement is marginal. Technologically, especially around the drive train, there are very few differences between a 2016 and a 2006 Toyota Camry. They will both run a long time, take similar forms of maintaining, and both get around 30 mpg. The good news is that since there is little innovation, they depreciate at a modest pace. I would expect ten years from now, competitively priced electric vehicles will easily drive 300 miles, charge within ten minutes, and require far less maintenance than traditional vehicles. If infrastructure is still needed, it will be readily available and ubiquitous. In fact, the small act of plugging your car in at night will be automated (by wireless/robotics) if needed.

The Good
Electric Vehicles are the future. They run silently, produce no tailpipe emissions, require less complicated drive trains, and can be charged at home. Instant torque is actually quite hard to describe but once you’ve driven an EV you will certainly understand it’s advantage. The current electric vehicle market is useful for a large portion of families, and most could see significant savings utilizing a used EV for most trips. One of the greatest advantages of owning an electric car is the cost of operation. In addition to minimal maintenance, it only takes about $28 in electricity to drive our vehicle 1,000 miles vs about about $90 (33mpg & $3 gal) in a conventional car. The good part for us is that the electric vehicle works really well for our situation. It provides the cheapest operational cost per mile of any vehicle available and is quite fun to drive. I’m looking forward to the technological advancements in the next few years as the industry continues to evolve and develop. There are still a few trade-offs that make electric vehicles impractical for some families but the barriers are diminishing.

The Pickup Truck Dilemma
There are a few occasions where we need to travel more than 100 miles in a day. I call this the pickup dilemma. There are about five days a year where I need a pickup truck but it would be overkill the other 360. For us, over the last year, there were three occasions where we needed to drive 100+ miles in a single day. So, how did we deal with the challenges? To start, renting a gas powered car is about $12 a day in our town. The total 3-Day weekend rental cost for the gas vehicles was $38 after taxes and fees. Not bad. In addition, we took a week long trip to the beach and I just posted a simple message online to see if anyone wanted to trade cars for a week (and try out an EV). Within minutes we had several friends that were wanting to give the ole Leaf a shot. Technology makes it easier to adapt when needed.

The Future and Going Back to Gas?
The next question we will need to answer next year will be: Do we keep this car? Do we turn it back in? Do we buy a gas car? Sadly, I’m not sure the economics will work in our exact favor this time next year. We might end up driving a gas car as a bridge until the car that meets our exact (and future needs) is consistently available at a price we are willing to pay. I’m just not sure the technology will be exactly at the point where we can justify keeping the vehicle long term. It will be very close, but I’ll be interested to see what is in the product pipeline at that point. Overall, I’m excited at the prospects of electric vehicles in the coming years. By 2025, I expect to see affordable (and used) electric vehicles with the following specs:

  • 300 mile range
  • 10 minute charge
  • Some level of autonomous driving
  • Total operating cost of $300 a month for 1000 miles

Our year of driving electricity was a successful experience. First generation mass market priced EVs have their limitations, but the technology is incredibly exciting. I’m sold on the concept of driving electric and I’m looking forward to where the technology will be in the coming years as we re-enter the market for an automobile. Would you drive an EV? What would keep you from not driving one? If you could change one thing about the current generation of electric vehicles, what could you do that would make it viable for your situation?

5 thoughts on “A Year of Driving Only Electric

  1. I have always wondered about how economical the electric cars truly are vs. their gas powered alternatives. Certainly the lack of gas is in its favor, but like you said, the depreciation can be tough to swallow.

    I am curious if you were able to determine the monthly cost of charging up the battery in the car, as that cost will relate to the gas alternative most closely. Of course, just like gas, the more miles that you drive, the more money you’ll pay to maintain the car’s charge.

    Thanks for the write-up!

  2. I bought my 2013 Nissan Leaf about 5 months ago and have put 3000 miles on it so far. It cost me 13,500 (taxes included) for the mid level model, with 25k on the odometer. I traded in my 350z for 10,000 so net cost to go electric was around 3,500. The Z used to get 23 MPGs on premium gas, the Leaf I can mostly charge at work so I rarely use my own electric. I think I’ll recoup my 3,500 at around 20,000 miles. But the real upside is having more space in the car and being an all weather driver. It is surprising zippy off the line. I really doubt that I’d ever go back to gas after owning this car.

  3. Great write up SE!

    I’ve never read anything about EVs from the horses mouth before so very interesting to hear your take on it.

    I am also optimistic about EVs for the future but think for now they aren’t quite there, your thoughts on possibly going back to a combustion engine are telling on this front.

    I would love to own an EV but for now my car budget is around £1000 (I guess $1800ish?) so that puts me way out of the picture. I need to wait for that harsh depreciation to kick in and maybe pick up an old model in about 5 years time, by the sounds of it they will still be running totally fine at that point.

    The main drawback for us is we don’t have a garage or driveway so not really sure where we’d charge the thing?!

    What are your thoughts on the lifecycle of EVs? i.e. all the carbon emissions that are generated when making the things, along with the big batteries which also are made of heavy metals and produce lot’s of pollution in manufacturing (I am going on hearsay there really, haven’t researched it all that much). Either way they are surely better than gas powered cars but there are still environmental impacts to consider… Have you done any research into that and if so can you point me in the direction of any decent studies/links to read about?


      • Amy that’s great thanks! I since did a bit more research myself and saw that others had come to the same conclusion (or maybe it was even based on the same studies). One key point however was that it was highly dependent on how the electricity’s generated in the first place so for EVs to make a real impact renewable energy needs to make big strides in coal based countries like China and India. Obvious really when you think about it but still worth thinking about. Off to watch the vid now, cheers 🙂