Should You Go Electric in 2018?

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2018 is shaping up to be the year of the electric car. With affordable options like the Tesla Model 3, Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf all on the market, fully electric vehicles (EVs) are phasing out of being just a novelty and joining the mainstream.

In December, BMW announced goals of selling half a million EVs by the end of 2019. Ford followed in January with an $11 billion commitment to develop forty EVs.

And, in an interview with Bloomberg, Fiat Chrysler CEO Sergio Marchionne cautioned that carmakers have less than a decade to adapt to widespread electrification–or be left behind.

So we know the industry is going in that direction. But if you’re in the market for a new car, is now the time to go electric?

“A few years ago, going electric wasn’t the best idea for everybody,” says Rebecca Lindland, Executive Analyst at Kelley Blue Book. “Now we are starting to get to the point where some of the challenges and misconceptions are getting updated.” Here’s why buying an EV may be the right move the next time you’re in the market for a car.

“Range Anxiety” is no longer an excuse.

One of the biggest concerns for consumers when it comes to EVs is what is called range anxiety — what happens if you’re driving somewhere not in range of a charging station? It’s true that charging stations aren't as ubiquitous as gas stations, but Lindland says this anxiety is overblown.

“The reality is you can go into any 120-volt outlet hub and fill up, like [you do] at home, not just designated public charging stations.” The downside? The lower the voltage, the longer it’ll take to charge. Charging at 120-volts can take over twelve hours depending on the model. That may be fine if you’re parked in your garage overnight, but not if you’re trying to charge while you grab a quick bite.

There are about 16,300 publicly accessible, standard charging stations today with an average of three outlets each, according to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center. Most are Level 2 chargers, meaning your EV will be charged up in anywhere from 30 minutes to a couple of hours. (Life hack: Many grocery and department stores have charging stations in their parking lots, so you can shop and charge up at the same time.)

Americans aren’t quite the road warriors we expect.

According to Consumer Reports, 78 percent of American drivers travel less than 40 miles a day, and 90 percent drive less than 50 miles a day. What that means is that whether you’re driving to work, school or practice, chances are good that EVs will sufficiently cover your commute. The Chevrolet Bolt and Tesla Model 3 are able to run for well over 200 miles on a charge, and the 2018 Nissan Leaf goes for about 150 miles. But if you regularly travel much further distances, an EV may not be the answer for you.

It’s cheaper (and safer) than you think.

Running on electricity in most parts of the country costs about half of as much as running on gasoline. On average, it currently costs $2.61 per gallon to fill your car with gas and $1.18 per gallon to run on electricity.

  If you were to buy a Nissan Leaf (about $30,000), you’d likely save about $900 a year on fuel if you drove 13,000 miles annually. Even more cost savings can be had if you can take advantage of lower off-peak rates at charging stations.

Going electric has another cost cutting advantage: Less maintenance. Once you’re off-warranty, taking your car in for an annual check-up can be costly. (The 40,000 miles for my Volvo wagon recently cost $1,100, and that’s before the two tires I had to buy.) EVs have fewer moving parts, which means there are fewer things to go wrong. You don’t need oil changes, cooling system flushes, transmission servicing, or even air filter replacement. “They are actually easier to service because they don’t have an engine,” says Lindland.

They may also be safer. The entire front end of an EV is a crumple zone, meaning there’s no solid metal engine in the front to intrude the cabin on impact.

“If you crash at a high speed in, say, a Tesla, you often can walk away because the crumple zone absorbs all of the energy before it gets to the cabin,” says Lindland. Safety: Check.

There’s (still) a tax credit waiting for you.

EVs come at a wide range of prices, not all of them high (the MSRP on the Electric Drive from Smart starts at about $23,000). And that’s before Uncle Sam’s help. “There’s a federal tax credit, up to $7,500, which helps with the initial upfront purchase,” says Greg Rosica, tax partner at Ernst and Young. (Note, though, that this is only available when you buy, not lease.) Also, homeowners, landlords, and businesses may be eligible for tax breaks for installing Level 2 (240-volt or more) charging stations on their property; they vary by state.

Bottom line?

Going electric isn’t for everyone. If you regularly drive long distances and this is your only car; you can’t afford to install a rapid charger at home, or live in a place where you park on the street with no charger nearby; or if you prefer to lease your cars… Then your time may not have come.

For everyone else? If you’re looking to save money on your ride, it’s time to give electric cars a serious look.

With Hattie Burgher