Plug-In Vehicles—Ready for Prime Time?: Page 3 of 4


Inside this Article

Nissan Leaf
The all-electric Nissan Leaf is one of the few EVs on the market.
Chevrolet Volt
The Chevrolet Volt is a plug-in EV paired with a gasoline engine for extended range.
J1772 standard charging connector
Toyota’s Prius Plug-in uses the J1772 standard for its charging connectors.
Five-pin connector
The J1772 standard specifies a five-pin connector for delivering 120 or 240 VAC to an EV. Pins include AC Line 1 and Line 2, ground, controller pilot, and a proximity detector.
Ford Focus Electric
Ford’s Focus Electric has a maximum range of 76 miles before its batteries need to be recharged.
Toyota Prius Plug-in
The Toyota Prius Plug-in costs about $3,000 more than a comparable Camry, and about $8,000 more than the Prius without plug-in capability.
EPA New-Car Label for Electric Vehicles
The EPA’s new-car label for EVs includes both fuel and environmental information for easier comparisons.
Nissan Leaf
Chevrolet Volt
J1772 standard charging connector
Five-pin connector
Ford Focus Electric
Toyota Prius Plug-in
EPA New-Car Label for Electric Vehicles

Using the national average of about 70% fossil-fuel-based electricity in a state’s energy mix, a PHEV has slightly more greenhouse gas emissions than an HEV. In states less reliant on fossil fuels for electricity, PHEVs pollute less than HEVs. In states more reliant on fossil fuel, PHEVs pollute far more than HEVs (see table below).

Because they are much more efficient users of energy—no matter the electricity source—EVs and PHEVs always have fewer greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional gasoline vehicles. You can learn about your state’s carbon emissions at the Department of Energy’s Emissions from Hybrid and Plug-In Electric Vehicles website (

The Union of Concerned Scientists report, State of Charge: Electric Vehicles’ Global Warming Emissions and Fuel-Cost Savings Across the United States, found that EVs fueled from the dirtiest of utilities emit less CO2 than a new ICE compact car that averages 27 mpg. If powered by the cleanest grid, EVs beat the best HEV. If powered by wind- or solar-generated electricity, an EV will have no CO2 emissions.

Will saved operating costs offset an EV’s higher purchase price?

This depends partly on how much you drive—the more you drive, the more you will save. It also depends on the initial purchase price of the EV or PHEV compared to an ICE vehicle. In general, the higher the upfront capital cost of a plug-in car, the lower the per-mile operating cost.

Cost recovery depends upon how much you paid for the vehicle’s “EV-ness.” To determine that, you must compare what you will pay for a PHEV or EV to the most similar ICE model. For example:

  • The Chevrolet Volt ($32,780 MSRP, after $7,500 federal income tax credit) costs $9,590 more than its closest ICE equivalent, the well-accessorized Chevrolet Cruze Eco.
  • The Toyota Prius Plug-in (starting at $25,000 MSRP, after the credit) costs $2,945 more than a Toyota Camry.
  • The Nissan Leaf (starting at $27,700 MSRP, after credit) costs $16,710 more than a Nissan Versa sedan.
  • The Ford Focus Electric ($31,500 MSRP, after credit) costs $13,200 more than an ICE Ford Focus.

The generally useful Department of Energy’s vehicle cost calculator ( uses the miles you drive and the cost of gasoline. But it bases its calculations on the regional average price of electricity, assumes maintenance costs per mile are the same for both EVs and ICE vehicles, and presumes a five-year car loan at 10% interest. If the calculator allowed users to change these parameters, it would be provide a more accurate result.

What government and other incentives are available?

EVs and PHEVs qualify for up to $7,500 in federal income tax credits. Many states offer other incentives as well. For example, Californians can get a $2,500 rebate on qualifying vehicles; Oregonians can take an income tax credit equal to 25% of the cost of an at-home charging station ($750 maximum) or 35% of the cost of a business charging station. District of Columbia residents receive reduced registration fees for the first two years of the car’s ownership; plus, the sales tax is waived on the vehicle purchase. You may also be able to get time-of-use (TOU) utility pricing so you can coordinate recharging your vehicle when electricity demand (and rates) are low.

There are also private and utility incentives, including free at-home charging stations. The DOE’s Federal and State Incentives and Law website ( can help you determine your eligibility. For example, in portions of California, you can take a state tax credit after installing a charging station at your home. San Diego Gas & Electric offers customers lower rates for EV charging.

Comments (4)

Mark Smith W4CHL's picture

The lease options for the Smart Fortwo ED proved so tempting, our 2002 Prius is being replaced by a Fortwo ED. The Fortwo ED isn't for everyone, it is our 2nd EV/Hybrid (the aforementioned OT ELF is the 3rd EV).

Interesting the article omitted the Smart Fortwo ED. It's worth a test drive with the incentives (at least until end of Jan 2014) offering a $149/mo for 2-3 yr lease. Interesting that $80 of that is the "Battery Assurance Plan" - time will tell if that is a good idea!

As a "world car" certainly the Fortwo ED has promise as a light weight car for 2 + some storage.

Mark Smith W4CHL's picture

Many of us are still excited about Lightweight EVs (LEVs) such as the Organic Transit ELF from North Carolina, the Bluevelo models from Canada, and the Tripod from Oregon. We believe these are more than just niche vehicles and are making a real change in attitudes among people who would otherwise never dream of riding a bicycle, even an electric bike, in potentially inclement weather!

These LEVs are 10x (or more) energy efficient, and in the case of the ELF and the Tripod, VERY visible in urban or suburban traffic.

We believe that a focus on direct replacement of a bloated vehicle with another bloated vehicle is a stop gap. Rethinking our urban and suburban roadways so that they are friendlier to the far more efficient LEVs and just plain bicycles needs to be mentioned in every article that reviews PHEVs. Yes, my family's "other" vehicle is one of the 1st year Prius models.

jozegovich's picture

As a 2012 Nissan Leaf owner with 13 months of operation, I would like to provide some feedback to your thoughtful article.
These factors should be measured before your purchase:
- As the battery ages, the range will decrease. How much depends on many factors, such as do you charge to 100% or 80% (80% better), less frequent charges (more frequent better), and temperature (West coast better, Arizona, in particular for high temp, and of course extreme cold temps (sub freezing temps). After an initial loss of about 10% after the first year, the loss is not as dramatic. The range loss can can add up to 30% by the end of its life.
Note: I have not seen a noticeable loss after 13 months of operation in the state of TN.
I suggest you calculate your range to/from work, allow for a lunch drive, and an after work drive (shopping). My calculation was 42 miles. I then went to the Nissan dealership to test drive that range, using a mix of city and interstate (75 MPH) driving. My results left me with a 37 mile range on my indicator (4 bars left out of 12).
- More frequent charges are healthier for the battery. Best to not have more than three bars of charge. The life of the battery will decease when near empty and fully charging.
- Use the 80% charge to increase the life by several years. The owners manual does not recommend more than one Fast Charge per day (too much, too fast)
Important note: I average 4.8 M/kWh(160 MPGe) summer/ 4.3 M/kWh (134 MPGe) winter. I used 34.02 kWh per gallon of gasoline in my calculations.

- A comparison of the Leaf to the Versa, is not a fair comparison. While the look of the body is similar, that is about it. The Leaf drives and handles like a premium car, ie Altima. The interior space of the Leaf, is far more than the Versa. However, the interior is smaller than the Altima in leg room and hip room.
I would suggest the comparison be more towards the Altima 2.5 SV, fully loaded at $25,000. A comparison to an economy car is not appropriate, as the Leaf is designed as a premium car, with all the bells and whistles. So the difference, after the incentives in my state, TN, is about $2,000. $4,000. in a state which offers no cash incentive. Not even close to $16,000. stated Test drive the Versa, then the Leaf, and you will see.

- Your article states a "maximum" range of 75 miles for the Leaf. This is not correct. Nissan touts 100 miles "average", and a "maximum" of 138 miles assuming all the best conditions; 38 MPH, temperature 70F, road condition level, no air conditioning or heat, and minimal accessories. The EPA provides a 75 mile "average" economy. This would be more accurate when using the AC or heat, and driving at interstate speeds. I see the 75 miles in range when using the interstate and AC for my commute. When I take the 40 MPH roads, my range increases significantly, due to less drag and more regenerative energy. As one would expect, my commute time increases by 5-10 minutes.

BTW, Nissan offers two years of free towing if you run out of juice, to help reduce range anxiety. They also provide two years of "Carwings" Satellite service where you can see details of your car's efficiency and use, and remote controls.
I have a Prius, in case of operating long distances. Guess how many times, in the last year, I have used the Prius to go to a location outside the range of the Leaf? A whopping "0" times!


Michael Welch's picture

Hi Joe. Thanks so much for giving us your personal experience with your Leaf, and for the corrections. Michael - Home Power

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