Electric vehicles and gas cars have always come with a tradeoff. Fully electric vehicles are more expensive to buy, but they’re cheaper to own because they’re cheaper to fuel and maintain — and they produce zero emissions. Traditional cars cost less up front, but you pay more in the long run thanks to the high cost of dirty gas.
That dynamic is still widely accepted as true, but compelling new evidence reveals a disconnect between the metrics used to analyze fuel costs and the realities that EV drivers face on the ground.
So, are EVs really cheaper to power than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles? Well, that depends on the yardstick you use when measuring.
It’s Cheaper To Charge Than To Pump
In 2020, the Department of Energy (DOE) released a study that was more comprehensive than those that had come before. Using a state-level assessment of EV charging costs, the study’s results were much more granular than what came out of previous studies, which assumed a singular value.
It found that the national average to charge an EV is $0.15 per kWh, which DOE determined translated into savings of as much as $14,500 over 15 years on fuel costs alone.
On top of that, EVs are cheaper to maintain — $0.04 cheaper per mile, according to the DOE — which adds another $8,000 in savings for EV drivers over the course of 200,000 miles.
The jury had returned a verdict.
Yes, EVs cost more to buy, but they paid their owners back for the difference and then some over the life of the car — plus the whole zero-emissions thing — and that’s not even counting state and federal tax credits and other incentives.
But a different study was about to get even more granular.
Study Reveals Different Findings
On Oct. 21, 2021, the Anderson Economic Group — a respected economic consulting firm with decades of auto industry experience — released the results of its own study, which was six months in the making. It was the first installation in a larger economic research series that is still being conducted.
Anderson parsed the costs of EV charging much more finely, going beyond just a state-by-state breakdown to examine rural/urban variations. The new methodology also separated vehicles by segment, use and cost.
Titled “Comparison: Real World Cost of Fueling EVs and ICE Vehicles,” the report’s startling results were summarized in its official synopsis: “Electric vehicles can be more expensive to fuel than their internal combustion engine counterparts.”
There’s More to It Than Just Gas and Electricity
DOE says that the average cost of electricity for an EV is $0.04 per mile, which means it costs $9 to fully charge a battery with a 200-mile range. By comparison, it costs between $0.07 and $0.10 per mile to fuel a gas car, according to AAA.
The Anderson study, however, challenged the presumption that EVs are cheaper to drive — or even cheaper to fuel. It found that powering EVs comes with four hidden costs: the purchase of a home charger, the greatly inflated price of commercial charging at public stations, “deadhead miles” spent driving to find far-flung charging stations and registration taxes that states slap on EV drivers to make up for the fact that they don’t pay gas taxes. The study also factored in the cost of time spent searching for reliable charging stations, which — even when located — can take a half-hour for a charge of 20% to 80%.
Traditional research — like the industry standard provided by DOE — doesn’t take any of that into account. It also presumes a heavily lopsided reliance on cheap, at-home charging instead of expensive commercial charging.
The More You Consider, the Worse EVs Look
Again, the new research is just the first installment in a larger series, but its results are undeniably head-turning. The study found that:
- Commercial charging rates are two to four times higher than residential rates.
- Level 1 chargers cost an average of $600 to install and can take 20 hours to fully charge an EV.
- Level 2 chargers are much faster but cost $1,600.
- “Full charge” is a misleading term because charging past 90% is slow, difficult and unadvised, which means you get far fewer miles than the advertised ranges would have you believe. Gas vehicles, on the other hand, are good for 300-400 miles per tank.
- Considering all of those factors, and presuming a greater reliance on commercial charging, it would cost $8.58 to fuel a mid-priced gas car that gets 33 mpg for 100 miles at $2.81 a gallon. Comparatively, a mid-priced EV — Tesla Model 3, Nissan Leaf or Chevy Bolt — would cost $12.95 per 100 miles.
- Annually, presuming 12,000 miles driven, it would cost $1,030 to drive a gas car versus $1,554 for an EV.
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