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

How do fuel costs compare?

The DOE estimates that conventional ICE vehicles cost 10 to 15 cents per mile in fuel (gasoline or diesel). EV’s typically cost 2 to 4 cents per mile for fuel (electricity). A PHEV’s fuel costs usually fall somewhere between the two, depending on how much the gasoline engine is used to supplement the electric motor.

In June 2012, the national average price of regular gasoline was $3.60 per gallon. Gasoline prices are generally expected to rise as demand increases in the developing world and supplies tighten due to availability.

In 2010, the average residential cost of electricity was 11.6 cents per kWh. It varies quite a bit by state and between locales (compare Wyoming’s average of 6.2 cents to Hawaii’s average of 25.1 cents), depending upon the utility.

The graph (upper right) can help you compare costs for an EV that gets 2, 3, or 4 miles per kWh versus an ICE vehicle that gets 18, 22, or 45 miles per gallon (the latter is an HEV). Whether EV or ICE, a vehicle’s operating cost has two variables: the fuel cost (cents per kWh or dollars per gallon), and the vehicle’s efficiency (miles per kWh or miles per gallon). You can determine the energy cost per mile for either kind of fuel if you know the fuel cost. How much less an EV will cost to operate compared to a gasoline vehicle depends on the vehicle‘s efficiency and your fuel costs.

Any last thoughts?

Do your homework before you buy: Regardless of the propulsion technology, a car is a car is a car. Is it reliable?  Does it have enough cup holders to satisfy you? Check out traditional sources of new car information and evaluation such as Consumer Reports, Car and Driver magazine, and Edmunds.

An electric car is not (yet) for everyone. But as gasoline prices continue to rise, EVs and PHEVs are bound to become a more attractive and affordable option. 


Andy Kerr writes about renewable energy and energy efficiency from the dual perspectives of a net-zero energy homeowner in Ashland, Oregon, and is a policy wonk and advocate in Washington, D.C.

Other Resources:

Consumer Reports •

Car and Driver magazine •

Edmunds •


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

Show or Hide All Comments