New York Times Calculates ROI on LEAF and Volt
From the first day that hybrid gas-electric cars arrived on US streets, journalists have tried to calculate the “premium” for electric-drive vehicles by comparing them with supposedly similar pure gas vehicles. Invariably, the conclusion is that a hybrid or electric car doesn’t pencil out.
After record sales of hybrids and EVs in March, The New York Times revisits the subject today—and comes to the conclusion that buyers of a $28,421 Nissan LEAF will take 8.7 years to “break even” compared to $18,640 Nissan Versa. The calculation is based on $3.85 a gallon gas, but that even at $5 a gallon, it would take six years before hitting break-even.
A $31,767 Chevrolet Volt’s compared to a $19,925 Chevy Cruze Eco fared even worse. According to The New York Times, which relied on TrueCar.com to crunch the numbers, it would take 26.6 years to recoup the extra cost.
The theme of the article is that people are buying these cars simply to “feel good.” This argument—that green car buyers are self-delusional, self-righteous or experience cognitive dissonance has been aimed at the Toyota Prius hybrid for about a decade. Yet, in today’s article, the Prius compared to a Camry is shown to have a 1.8-year payback period. The payback for the TDI version of the VW Jetta, versus the gas Jetta, is even quicker at 1.1 years.
The implication is that some hybrids and diesels now make economic sense—but plug-in cars like the LEAF and Volt are now only for people who care more about the environment than making a smart economic purchase.
While the NYT article mentions resale value in passing, it doesn’t include what these plug-ins might fetch as a used vehicle after several years of ownership—a major omission if you’re trying to figure out the cost of driving at the conclusion of an ownership period.
Moreover, I wonder if owners of the Nissan LEAF feel like a comparison with the Nissan Versa is fair. Or if Volt drivers believe the car essentially offers the same driving experience as a Cruze Eco?
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