By Earl J. Ritchie, Lecturer, Department of Construction Management
Like most Americans, I think of myself as environmentally conscious, and I like the idea of electric cars. They can potentially save money and reduce pollution. Nonetheless, I haven’t bought one or even seriously considered the purchase. The reasons I have not done so are the same ones that keep the vast majority of the public from buying one: they wouldn’t actually save money and have disadvantages which outweigh the benefits.
My wife and I are low mileage drivers, putting less than 5,000 miles per year on each of our vehicles, so there is little potential for fuel savings. My annual gas savings between the battery electric Chevrolet Bolt and the gasoline powered Honda CR-V is about $250 per year. The cost difference, including the $7,500 tax credit and sales tax, is about $6,000. The payback period is 24 years, obviously not economic.
Numerous studies have shown that poor economics is true for most drivers. Calculations by FleetCarma showed that, except when comparing luxury models to Teslas, mileage to payback was between 50,000 and nearly 120,000 miles. Furthermore, most consumers give lip service to fuel economy but don’t actually give it much weight.
Of course, if you drive a lot or live where gasoline is expensive or subsidies are high, you can potentially save money. None of these apply to me.
Some benefits and disadvantages are subjective. I like the convenience of owning a pickup and I like large cars. There are no electric pickups currently available. Until recently, all of the available electrics and plug-in hybrids were either small or very expensive.
In the battery electrics I have driven, back seat headroom was tight. The interiors were very basic, perhaps no worse than comparable economy cars, but lacking compared to larger cars. The Prius plug-in hybrid had a very loud engine, a criticism reported for other plug-in hybrids.
One might reasonably argue that I don’t need a pickup truck. After all, I use the pickup bed only infrequently to haul garden supplies and do-it-yourself materials. Similar considerations likely apply to most pickup truck owners, yet models of full-size pickup are the No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 best-selling vehicles in America. The majority of these are used primarily for general transportation, rather than hauling.
One might also reasonably argue that I don’t need a large car. I rarely drive with more than one passenger. However, on the occasions when I do have two or three passengers, it is convenient to be able to take them in one car. I also like the spaciousness and comfort. It’s a question of how much you’re willing to sacrifice for the sake of the environment.