The Skinny on Electric Cars – from Filling Up to Plugging In
So you’re thinking about switching to an electric car because they’re better for the environment and cheaper to operate — and they’re the wave of the future. You’ve heard about the pleasures of passing gas stations and the low cost of maintenance. But you’ve also heard about what’s called “range anxiety” — worrying about running out of charge while trying to find an available station — plus high purchase prices and the expense of installing a home charging system. Will the transition from filling up to plugging in be a smooth one?
The good news is that although these issues are real, they’re shrinking over time. Even if you’ve driven a gas or diesel car for 40 years or more, adapting to the electric driving experience doesn’t require a heavy lift.
EVs are quiet, easy to drive, and won’t require regular tuneups. Michael Austin, senior research analyst for EVs and mobility at Guidehouse Insights, adds that because EVs have their batteries in their floor they generally offer a comfortable seat height, “so you don’t have to climb up or stoop down to get in and out.”
EV prices have come down dramatically, the charging networks have grown considerably and electric car range is quickly becoming about the same as traditional car range. So it’s possible, without any real sacrifice in convenience, to make your next car one that, according to the Environmental Defense Fund, produces 60% to 68% fewer greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime than a comparable gas-powered car. Let’s look at the issues.
EV prices are coming down. In August 2022, according to Cox Automotive data, the average transaction price for an electric car was $65,688. By August 2023, that had fallen to $53,376 — 18.7 percent lower. Now, add to this the federal income tax credit of $7,500 available with the purchase of many EVs — plus state subsidies, such as New York’s offer of as much as a $2,000 rebate — and the electric surcharge largely vanishes, or even becomes an advantage. The average price paid for any car or SUV was $48,451 in August 2023. That said, there are still not enough EVs available at the market’s entry level.
The charging picture is improving. The big news is that Tesla Motors recently opened its Supercharger network — the best in the country — to other automakers, and they’re signing on, including Ford, General Motors, Hyundai/Kia, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Honda. Until now, most EVs used the rival Combined Charging System (CCS) charging, but the networks serving those cars — such as Electrify America and ChargePoint — have been smaller and more frequently out of service. Many 2025 model year cars will now be equipped with Tesla North American Charging Standard (NACS) ports, and starting in 2024 GM EVs can use adapters to charge at the company’s 12,000 Superchargers. Many owners will be able to go from 10% to 80% charged in half an hour or less.
EVs are offering much better range. The 2011 Nissan Leaf, an early EV, had an Environmental Protection Agency-certified range of just 73 miles. The Mitsubishi i-MiEV of that period had only 62 miles available. And both of those cars lost range in cold weather and with highway driving, making them like driving a gas car with the fuel gauge always on empty. Today, the picture is much improved. The average range of 2023 EVs is around 250 to 300 miles, and some do much better than that. The 2023 Lucid Air Grand Touring offers 516 miles of range, and the 2023 Tesla Model S offers 405.
Granted, those are expensive cars, but the current Hyundai IONIQ 6, starting at $46,615, can go 361 miles on a charge. The 2023 Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus ($40,630) offers an estimated range of 263 miles, and the 2023 Chevrolet Bolt ($26,500) clocks in at 259. These factors greatly reduce range anxiety, but Austin cautions that EVs are still “probably not for the empty nesters who like to road-trip or visit faraway grandchildren, unless they’re comfortable with public fast charging.”
EV charging has come home. Although public charging networks remain a work in progress, an estimated 80% of plugging-in will be at home. If you live in a house with a garage (or at least a driveway), this will require buying a $300 to $700 EV charger, getting the proper permits and hiring an electrician to supply the required 240 volts. The total cost might be $3,000. The situation is more complicated for people in apartments or in senior living, each of which have their own restrictions. The bonus, however, is that EVs in general will have 60% lower fuel costs, says the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Consider your big picture. Sources such as Consumer Reports offer reviews and comparisons of every available EV online. Jeff Bartlett, Consumer Reports’ managing editor for cars, recommends that seniors thinking about an EV consider not only what their needs are now, but what they will be over the likely ownership period. For instance, is your commuting picture likely to change, and will you be making more frequent and longer road trips? Can you figure out the often all-encompassing infotainment system?
It’s imperative to know which models offer federal subsidies, which under the Inflation Reduction Act are those that are made in the U.S. and have American-made battery packs. There’s also a whole raft of conditions. To qualify for the credits, SUVs and pickups are limited to an $80,000 purchase price, and sedan/passenger cars to $55,000. Buyers can’t have adjusted gross income of more than $300,000 for married couples or $150,000 for single people.
EVs that clear all the hurdles for the $7,500 credit are part of a shifting list, but at press time the battery vehicles were the Cadillac Lyriq; Chevrolet Bolt, Equinox and Silverado; Ford F-150 Lightning, E-Transit and Mustang Mach-E; Rivian R1S and R1T; and Tesla Model 3, X and Y. Plug-in hybrids eligible for subsidies in varying amounts include the BMW X5, Chrysler Pacifica, Ford Escape, Jeep Grand Cherokee 4xe and Wrangler 4xe, Lincoln Aviator Grand Touring and Corsair Grand Touring.
Seniors on tight budgets should also consider a used EV. Beginning in 2023, pre-owned plug-ins are eligible for up to $4,000 in credits, with the amount limited to 30 percent of the purchase price. The vehicle can’t cost more than $25,000, and it has to be at least two years old.
Top illustration: iStockphoto.com/Topuria Design.