editors-blog-entry3Thanks to absurdly low oil prices ($30 per barrel or less), one of the primary arguments in favor of electric cars — that they are cheaper to fuel — is losing its luster.

As a long-time electric car advocate, and as someone who’s driven a 2014 Nissan LEAF for the past two years, including 20 months during which my LEAF was solar-charged, that’s not what I want to be saying right now, and certainly not what I would have hoped for when I leased my LEAF two years ago.

But, it is the reality, at least in my case — which is admittedly somewhat unusual.

My case is unusual because I’m one of the comparatively few people with a pure electric car in a single-family household. This, thanks to a divorce that hit me mid-way through my two-year LEAF lease.

I love my 2014 LEAF, but, with 84 miles of EPA rated range, it DOES NOT HAVE ENOUGH RANGE for it to work effectively or satisfactorily as an only car. Believe me, I know, having twice run out of charge in my LEAF, both times in temperatures below 15 degrees and both times with my two daughters in the car.

Over the past two years, despite the fact that I live in Denver, Colo., where the Rocky Mountains start, I have not once gone camping, or hiking in the mountains, two of my favorite things to do.

The LEAF just won’t get me to where I want to go and back, and the EV charging infrastructure in the Colorado mountains is P-A-T-H-E-T-I-C, existing really only along the Interstate 70 corridor, a route I much prefer NOT to use to head into the Rockies thanks to the traffic volume it carries.

The 2016 LEAF represents an improvement over the 2014 LEAF, but 107 miles of EPA range is STILL not enough for it to be a practical and viable only car, at least not for me and what I want to use my car for — and, yes, this includes getting from Denver into the mountains and back. Of course, if I don’t lease from Nissan, I owe $400 extra dollars at the end of my lease.

Since my 2014 LEAF lease ends Feb. 22, 2016, I need to find alternative transportation. I absolutely loathe the idea of hopping into a gas car, especially at a time when EVs need as much support as they can get. From an economic perspective, however, it makes much more sense to switch back to an ICE. From an emotional/psychological perspective, it’s a very different story.

So, basically, my EV idealism (maybe also my EV ‘elitism’) is running up against the imperative of money. And, given my extremely modest journalism professor’s salary and the fact that I am in a single-income household still responsible for carrying half of the economic weight for my two daughters — the money imperative is quite pressing.

Long term,  I really want to get into an affordable 200-mile electric car. The Chevy Bolt, allegedly coming in early 2017, looks like it’s going to beat the Tesla Model 3 to market by quite a lot. This is not to mention the fact that I’m pretty skeptical the Model 3 will really be “affordable”, unless stripped to a bare bones car that I wouldn’t want, for instance, stripped down to a rear-wheel drive version that would be virtually useless in Colorado winters.

I need to cover one or two years to get to the Bolt or a Model 3.

Here’s where I’m at in my decision process, with my Feb. 22, 2016 LEAF lease end looming (Nissan is no longer offering lease extensions on ANY of its models, BTW):

  1. Buy an old Chevy Volt. I thought about buying a 2012-13 used Chevy Volt, which can be had for between $14-$17k here in the Denver area. But when I drove one in 20-degree weather and the already limited electric range dropped like a brick, I changed my mind: Why pay a premium for a car from which I would get comparatively minimal electric driving (at least compared to what I was getting in my Nissan LEAF)
  2. Buy a used ICE car. I thought about buying a used gasser for around $10-$12k. But I hate Big Oil with a passion, and I thus have no real interest in sinking a lot of money into a gas car — no matter how efficient. Plus, if I really need to go with an ICE, I could lease one for half that price across two years, which leads me to my next option.
  3. Lease a Chevy Cruze or Nissan Sentra. I could lease a 2015 Chevy Cruze for $2,000 down and about $115 a month or a 2015 Nissan Sentra for about the same, each with 12,000 miles per year, for two years, and likely be able to pull out of the 24-month lease after 21 months in order to get into a 2018 Bolt or LEAF (though if the 2018 LEAF is going to offer 150-180 miles of range, rather than 200 miles, the Bolt is WAY more attractive to me; sorry, Nissan!).  For less than $5,000 + gasoline, which at today’s price of $1.75 per gallon would add up to $1,400,  or total of $6,400, I could drive a brand new car for 24 months while waiting for that affordable 200-mile EV.
  4. Lease a BMW i3 REx. Meanwhile, I could lease a BMW i3 REx at Schomp BMW in Littleton, Colo. for about $3,400 down and $279 per month, or a total of about $10,000, plus $840 in electricity costs (I pay extra for Windsource energy with Xcel energy which means my per kwh cost = 14 cents, rather than 11 cents). That’s TWICE as much money as it would cost me to lease and fuel a Cruze or Sentra for two years.
  5. Lease a 2017 Chevy Volt. I’m thinking of borrowing a car for two months to try and give myself a chance to test drive and explore the 2017 Chevy Volt, allegedly scheduled to become available here in Colorado in March 2016. The 2017 Volt has a respectable 53 miles of all-electric range, considerably more than the 35 all-electric mile range of the 2012-13 Volt. I don’t know exactly what 2017 Volt lease terms would be at this point, but my guess is leasing the 2017 Volt will be equally as expensive as leasing an i3 REx, meaning it’s likely to cost me twice as much as leasing, and fueling, a Chevy Cruze. Plus, Chevy doesn’t seem to like to do two-year leases on the Volt, preferring 39-month terms. That means I’d have to wait three years to get into my dream 200-mile all-electric EV.

Pre-divorce, I lived in a house with a 5.6 kW solar system we bought outright in 2010, so my auto fueling was free! This provided extra incentive/justification to drive electric. Post-divorce, and post-home-sale (our home sold in November 2015), I’m living in a small two-bedroom apartment in Denver. I have to pay for all of my car fueling, whether I drive electric or hop into an ICE stinker — or, with the Volt, decide on something in between.

Emotionally, I really want to stay electric — I love the EV quickness, the quietness, the fact that I can, and have, powered my electric car 100 percent with renewable energy, and I hate Big Oil, OPEC, and, frankly, low oil prices, which pose a threat not only to electric cars, but to the future of global humanity, thanks to global warming.

Money-wise, paying $5,000 EXTRA to drive electric — exactly the opposite of what EVs, at least BLOP (Before Low Oil Prices) allegedly could offer — makes absolutely no sense, especially given that I need to save money so that I can buy a home onto whose roof I can eventually put another solar system to power a future 200-mile electric car.

So, what do you think: Should I go with emotion and be a lot happier, at least for the next two years, or go with saving money — which, again, means a gas car NOT an electric car — and be considerably more unhappy, at least in the short term?

Put differently, can I justify spending an extra $5,000 to drive electric for the next two years? Would you be able to justify this extra cost if it was you?

12 Responses

  1. Yanquetino

    Sorry, Cristof, but you didn’t complete the title of your post. You need to add: “…FOR ME.” Please don’t make blanket statements as though they applied to all consumers’ driving needs. And please don’t assume that they only drive electric to save money. There are numerous reasons to stop burning fossil fuels –no matter how cheap they currently are.

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      I agree there are many good reasons to drive an electric car, but the economics don’t work right now — unless you buy a used LEAF for, say $10k. I can’t think of a single EV lease for a new EV right now that would be cheaper, overall, than the Cruze/Sentra deals I found here. Boulder Nissan wanted $415 a month for a 2-year lease of a LEAF 2016, and $300 for 4-year lease, both with $2,000. Yes, that’s right — a four-year lease. I’m guessing Nissan knows it’s screwed for any 2015 and 2016 LEAFs with the longer range 2017 LEAF coming out, which is why it wants to push people to lease, for four years, an EV that’s going to be thoroughly outdated after just one year. True, 107 EV miles is fine if it’s a second car, for most people (although some two-car households have two big commutes). A 2017 Volt is going to be around $300, or more, per month, with $2,000 or more down, to lease here in Colorado, I’m sure.

      I’m on your side, and am frustrated by low oil prices. But show me what (new) EV right now would save you money over a mid-price gas car such as a Cruze or a Sentra?

  2. David Moore

    You have come to the realization that the range of a Leaf is a limiting factor for your lifestyle. You want to buy a Bolt in a couple of years, but would the range of a Bolt always be sufficient for your ideal needs, or would you still find yourself restricting your travel due to range anxiety? On a typical day, would a Volt’s 35 miles be sufficient for your travel needs? The advantage of the Volt is it’s ability to run exclusively as an electric car to the extent of the battery, then switch to a hybrid mode, with no range limitation beyond the gas tank. In that way, it is the perfect single car for someone looking to drive on electric power. The i3 REX has a tiny gas tank that is almost as limiting as a pure electric car. And if your goal is financial, leasing is inferior to purchasing a used Volt. With the purchase of a Volt, at the end of three years, you own a car. Regarding the drain of the battery on a Volt when heating the cabin, the engine can be used to provide heat when desired (Hold mode) which heats the cabin quickly and preserves the battery. Once the cabin is heated, use Eco mode on the HVAC for minimal electric drain. I had a similar quandary and went for the used Volt. I like the car a lot. I think a used Volt would suit your needs well and you may never switch back to a BEV.

    • SolarChargedDriving (@solarcharge_it)

      Thank you for your feedback. Excellent points. After driving all-electric for two years, I’ll admit to having become an EV purist or ‘elitist’, and it’s painful for me to think about going back to gas. That’s why a used Volt isn’t that attractive to me. I regularly drive 40 to 50 miles per day because I have to pick up my kids from my ex-wife’s and cart them to soccer, swimming, music, etc. etc. I would not have a chance to re-plug the Volt in, thanks to very limited charging stations still — that’s the real problem right now, not range! Thus, virtually every day, I would push over into using gas, especially in the winter. That’s not very satisfying to me.

      In terms of lease vs. buying: I wonder what the value of a 2012 Volt, which would cost me 14-16k in Colorado right now, will be in three years. If gas prices go up again, the Volt will be attractive — sort of, newer Volts/Bolts/LEAFs will all have lots more electric range than the older ones. If gas prices stay low, I’m not so sure. It wouldn’t surprise me if 16k drops to 8k in three years. That’s 8k lost to depreciation, more than the 5k I’d pay to lease a Cruze or Sentra for two years.

      I’m leaning toward trying to borrow a car (my brother’s or my dad’s) and waiting for the 2017 Volt, which has almost 20 miles more EV range than the 2012/13, and looking at a lease — because I want to end up in a pure 200-mile EV.

      At 200 miles of range, maybe 165 in the winter, I’d be all set in a Bolt, or a Tesla Model 3 — if it ever actually rolls off a production line.

  3. indio22

    The low gasoline prices do put a dent in the economic equation. And having lived in Fort Collins and done a lot of driving due to the open spaces and in the mountains, a single electric car would not have worked for my family. It would have put a serious crimp in our lifestyle – exploring and camping in the mountains not to mention off-roading.

    Living now in Chicagoland, I would like to get an all-electric, something like the upcoming GM Bolt. It would work fine as my family primary vehicle due to the amount of miles we put on and my train commute. I envision rarely having to drive the second gasoline car. On the other hand, wanting to eventually move back to Colorado, highlights a problem with all-electric cars. A gasoline car can run anywhere due to range and available fuel. But while an all-electric might be a great fit in one location/scenario, it could be a problem in another.

    Regardless I am hanging onto my old 1972 Series III gasoline Land Rover like grim death, especially now that the Defender is no more. There is a guy who converted a Series Land Rover to electric, and due to the nice torque, it performed great off-road around Moab. Problem is the vehicle needed to be towed to the trail head. Maybe some day when the battery tech is improved, we will see more electric powered vehicles on the trails.

    • SolarChargedDriving (@solarcharge_it)

      I agree that low gasoline prices are undercutting EVs right now. However, I read an article in USA Today two days ago in which a oil industry analyst predicted the price per barrel of oil will go from today’s $35 to $85 by the summer. I hope he’s right.

      The Bolt gets me really excited, and I’m going to get one as soon as they come out. 200 miles of all-electric range would get me into the mountains, and back, here in Colorado, from Denver.

      It sure would be nice, though, if GM and others would invest in a long-distance charging network like Tesla did for the Superchargers so that I could use my Bolt for long-distance road trips all across America. Obviously, GM isn’t invested in electric cars nearly as much as Tesla — which is why I’m glad we have Tesla.

  4. Mike

    My advice is to defer your gratification. Bite the bullet and buy a used, fuel efficient ice. Drive it until you are in better shape financially. Use it to take your daughters on adventures in the mountains. They won’t be young forever and money cannot buy the memories you will create for them and yourself. Your dedication to solar driving is admirable and I share your interest. But put your daughters into your analysis calculations and I think you will find your decision to be not so difficult to make. Best wishes.

  5. Jonathan

    Hi Christof thanks for sharing your experiences and letting us chime in on the decision process.

    I too am in a similar situation, and have unfortunately realized a few things.

    The fact of the matter is, if you need a vehicle at this point in time and don’t have a large chuck of capital to dish out on a new vehicle then a used ICE or a sound lease will be the most sound choice. Looking for a cheaper hybrid or EV is an option but don’t force the numbers to work if they don’t. I have a feeling if you can wait a while Nissan may offer a large chunk off the MSRP of the 2015/2016 Leaf once the 2017 with its improved range hits the road and everyone takes their eyes off those models. This along with any government rebates might make it a cheap EV on the road.

    The combination of low oil prices, possible changes in government rebates, more fuel-efficient ICE’s and relatively high EV prices don’t make all that much sense for those who want an EV at this exact moment. Look at how much the landscape has changed, we are getting several competitors making sub 40k EV’s and the technology will only continue to improve and become more economically scalable. Also once these cars are on the road and people begin seeing the value of the EV naturally the infrastructure for charging stations will improve.

    I would say tap out for a few years, save the cash you would have spent and see what happens, who knows maybe in 2020 there will be a $25,000 EV with a 200 mile range;).

    • Christof Demont-Heinrich

      Hi George,
      Nissan called me at the last minute and asked me if I wanted to extend the lease on my 2014 LEAF — and that is what I’ve done. That will take me to Feb. 2017. Then, I’m hoping I’ll have a Model 3, or be fairly close to one. My brother, who has had a Model S P85 since December 2012, signed up for a Model 3 for me. I’ll pay for it, of course. But I’m hoping his signing up as a current Tesla owner will get me into a Model 3 a lot earlier than if I’d done it on my own. We’ll see.

      • Lester Burnham (@paymeinbeahhh)

        Best wishes christof — assume this is still your plan — tesla vs uncertain chevy bolt (delivery eta)? And sorry about the divorce — i got mine out of the way when i was young, had no kids and no money so it was just an emotional trainwreck not the other stuff. Sigh. Glad it was done though but i digress. And nevermind my tesla=elitist douche dig — i would luv to be able to afford a preowned tesla roadster — damn the range anxiety its just rare and so damn cool imho. So there!

      • Christof Demont-Heinrich

        Thank you Lester 🙂 Trying to get back on the web site more often. I was really, really into it, publishing a ton of stuff for four years – until the divorce, family break-up storm, etc. hit. But I’m slowly climbing back on the solar-charged express 🙂

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