Electric Vehicles: An Emerging Marketplace Offers New Choices for Getting Around

by Jake Brown

Owner of a Nissan Leaf, Geoff Beyer of East Montpelier

You may have noticed a little bump over the past couple of years in the number of electric or plug-in electric cars (EVs) humming around town. Well, you are onto something.

Across Vermont in the past year there has been a 50 percent jump in the number of registered EVs. As of July there were 2,612 EVs according to Drive Electric Vermont, a clearinghouse of information on electric cars in Vermont. By comparison, just five years ago there were just under 500.

The electric-powered car—today a tiny slice of overall auto sales across the country—is gaining traction in the marketplace because of improving technology and is likely to change the complexion of the automobile markets significantly in the coming years.

Just over the past several years, EV technology has changed quickly, from the consumer perspective most notably in terms of battery range, with the new Nissan Leaf offering a range of 151 miles and the Chevrolet Bolt, 238, for example. Today’s marketplace also offers more options of prices, styles, and designs—both all-electric and plug-in-hybrids—than ever before. The increased competition is likely to be good for consumers in the coming years.

Why would anyone consider an EV? Lifetime cost may be one factor. The total cost of ownership of an EV is generally less. Drive Electric Vermont estimates the average fuel cost, for example, is equivalent to paying $1.50 per gallon. And maintenance costs, because there are fewer moving parts in an electric car, tend to be lower as well.

Reducing your environmental footprint is another reason to go electric. Because the electric grid that powers these cars continues to get cleaner, a car bought today will become “greener” over time. Improved performance is another reason. The Chevrolet Bolt can go from 0 to 60 in about 6.3 seconds, rivaling the Tesla Model 3, which takes 5.6 seconds to get to the same speed.

A Battery of Choices

There are three basic designs of electric-powered cars:

Hybrid: The most familiar to Vermonters is the standard gasoline/electric hybrid car that’s been on the market for over a decade. These cars have batteries that store, and use, electricity that is generated by the car itself. They do not take electricity from the electric grid. The main source of fuel is still gasoline, but generally at slower speeds the car switches to use electricity that’s stored in its battery. The standard Toyota Prius hybrid is a common example. The range on these cars is roughly what you might get with any gasoline-powered car.

Plug-In Electric Hybrid: These cars run on electricity until the battery is depleted, and then run on their backup gasoline engine. The main difference between a plug-in electric hybrid and a traditional hybrid is that the plug-in car’s battery power comes from the electric grid. In other words, they are charged, much like a cell phone, by being plugged into an outlet at your home, workplace, or other charging location. A Toyota Prius Prime or Chevrolet Volt are good examples.

All Electric: These cars do not have an internal combustion engine, but instead use an electric motor. It’s fueled solely with electricity from the grid. The Chevrolet Bolt and Nissan Leaf are examples.

What’s My Incentive?

Vermont utilities offer a range of incentives for purchasing EVs. The electric utility that serves Montpelier, Green Mountain Power, offers free home charging equipment (and a related deal of $19.99 per month to charge your car), a $5,000 discount on a new Nissan Leaf, and GM discount pricing for Chevrolet electric vehicles at Alderman’s Chevrolet in Rutland. You can learn more about these incentives at greenmountainpower.com/products-all

If you are a customer of another electric utility, be sure to check out their incentives.

There are also significant potential federal tax credits available as well.

Drive Electric—a Great Source of Info

You will find a wide range of information on driveelectricvt.com, including a buying guide, benefits for Vermont, locations of charging stations, dealers, advice on leasing versus buying, car prices, and more. driveelectricvt.com

Bottom Line

You can spend $50,000 or more for a new EV, but many of the cars, if bought new, fall in the $30,000‒$40,000 range depending on options. A new Toyota Prius Prime (plug-in electric hybrid) for example, sells for about $28,000; a new Nissan Leaf or Ford Focus (both all-electric) would run about $30,000.

Slightly more expensive would be the all-electric VW eGolf, coming in around $33,000. The Chevrolet Volt, a plug-in electric hybrid, runs about $35,000; its cousin, the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, comes in at about $38,000. All of these prices are before any discounts and tax credits.   

There are used cars on the market, too. Because Nissan has produced the Leaf for several years, there is a decent market for these all-electric cars. A recent search on Edmunds.com yielded three used Leafs within 50 miles of Montpelier, ranging in price from $11,245 for a 2015 model, to $9,998 for a 2013 model. There were two used Chevrolet Volts (plug-in hybrid) nearby; a 2015 model for $17,000 and a 2017 model for about $35,000.

The EV marketplace is new enough that it makes sense to do some research ahead of time, and then contact dealers (or do searches online) to find available cars in the area.

Jake Brown is an energy services planner at Vermont Electric Cooperative
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