Posted by: George | June 17, 2011

Some expense calculations about the Nissan Leaf

I just looked at some specs that Nissan has released about their new car, the Leaf, which I find very exciting. Of course, people don’t take the car seriously because they can’t drive it from Miami to Los Angeles the way they could a gas-powered car. However, I can still think of one or two ways in which this car can be a great addition to modern city life. I thought it would be interesting to compare the cost of driving the same distance with a conventional car and the Leaf. After all you can’t assign an mpg rating to it since there are no gallons involved, but you can set a price on miles traveled based on electricity rates.

The Leaf has a 24 kWh battery. Where I live electricity costs about $.10 per kWh, but this sum varies wildly across the United States. In some places it might be double this amount. Unfortunately, the specs don’t indicate what kind of efficiency we can expect with regard to energy required to charge the battery. They do say that it’s a lithium-ion battery though, and a quick search indicates that we can expect an efficiency of about 97%. Thus, charging the battery at home will cost you about $2.47.

Now the specs say that the battery is rated to allow for a 100 mile range, but the fine print indicates that someone else rated it to be more like 73 miles. I’ll take the worst-case scenario of 73 miles. Now what would it take for a gas-powered car to travel 73 miles? Assuming a generous rating of 40 mpg, something that’s still somewhat of a rarity in the United States, it would cost $6.47 to travel 73 miles assuming a gas price of $3.70. That’s what gas costs where I live. This varies a bit throughout the States, but it seems to be about average.

As a conclusion: traveling 73 miles requires

Leaf: $2.47
40 mpg car: $6.47.

It would seem there’s a pretty good incentive in place already to adopt electric vehicles. Do keep in mind all the margins that I have assumed above. In some places electricity is twice as expensive, which still puts the Leaf at an advantage. On the other hand, gas doesn’t come much cheaper than $3.50. In addition, it’s possible that you could actually get 100 miles out of a single battery charge. All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by my own calculations. Perhaps they are wrong? As a final thought, I think 73 miles is a pretty good range when it comes to city driving. If your one-way commute is longer than 36 miles, I would say you have something of a problem on your hands.

Disclaimer: I don’t even drive and am not in the market for buying cars. It’s perfectly possible that figuring the expense of buying and owning a Leaf into the above calculation will show it to be a poor investment, environmental issues aside.



  1. “the expense of buying and owning a Leaf into the above calculation will show it to be a poor investment”

    This has been the problem with most electric cars (well, that plus the weight of batteries).
    The Leaf starts at around $33k in the US. Nissan’s Versa is a roughly comparable gas-powered option; the big difference is that the Leaf costs $22k more. Over a 100,000-mile lifetime, you basically won’t make up the difference in costs unless gas prices go up above $6/gallon. It gets worse if you consider earning interest on that $22k in the meantime.

  2. Hopefully, in a couple years, the tech will be such that the costs for the battery and electric engine will be more comparable (plus gas will likely be more expensive (but, then again, so will electricity)) to the combustion engine that MM’s concern would be addressed. Right now, cars like the Leaf and the Volt are being marketed to the kinds of people who will eat the price differential for social/environmental reasons.

    Another consideration, as they try to push these things mainstream, is that the average person who lives in cities or other densely packed areas (i.e. the future intended consumer base of electric cars) do not usually have easy access to a place to park and recharge their cars nightly. Right now, my car is parked about a block away next to some bushes and other peoples’ homes. Even if I could tote out an extension cord without upsetting the block, it would be an amazing hassle (and expense) to wind them from my kitchen to the car a block away.

    Basically, my point is that, before purely electric cars can penetrate outside of the concerned rich, there needs to be a sizable widespread, infrastructure investment, which I cannot imagine happening anytime soon. We have dedicated decades to petrol-powered transport, so there is a gas station on every corner and a network of trucks and tankers to supply them. A similarly pervasive scheme would need to be in place for the electric car to compete effectively, and there is not the will, the money, or the need to construct something along those lines right now and into the foreseeable future. This, more than anything else, will retard the spread of the electric car.

    Also, MM, I am not sure what kind of car you’re driving, but my sense is that 100,000 miles is a bit low for a car’s lifetime. Doesn’t change the calculation much, though. Even at 200,000 miles, you would only save about $10K in fueling costs based on George’s numbers.

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