An electric car doesn’t make economic sense anymore


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?