New York City says electric cars are now the cheapest option for its fleet

Easy on the budget.
Easy on the budget.
Image: NYC
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Electric cars are expensive. The sticker price for electric vehicles (EVs) has historically exceeded that for comparable gasoline cars. But that’s less true every month. The arrival of cars like Kia’s $33,145 electric Soul, GM’s $36,620 Bolt, and Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3—not to mention the $23,800 Smart EQ—have pushed the price of top-reviewed EVs below the median price for cars in the US. And that’s before thousands of dollars in state and federal incentives.

Yet the total cost of ownership can be far cheaper for all-electrics—which is of particular interest to fleet owners, including municipal governments. While average car buyers look at the sticker price, fleet owners focus on lifetime costs (maintenance, fuel, and ancillaries). They want to know every penny they’ll be spending over the course of a decade or so they might keep the vehicle. EVs, because of their low fuel (electricity) costs and relative simplicity (uncomplicated motors, fewer moving parts) are cheaper, on a relative basis, than their conventional counterparts.

By this calculation, EVs now appear to be cheaper. A 2019 study of five European Union countries found a VW Golf owner would save anywhere between 5% (UK) to 27% (Norway) driving an EV version of the vehicle versus a diesel. But the most savings are to be had by fleet owners.

So far, few EV fleet owners have driven enough miles over several years to collect solid data. But on March 8, New York City released its numbers to the public. In what it calls the first analysis of its kind (pdf), the city analyzed fuel and maintenance costs for 1,893 of its 9,196 light-passenger vehicles in 2018. It found servicing costs with all-electric vehicle models was less than for gas, hybrid, and hybrid plug-in models.

Do the savings hold up after accounting for the EVs’ initial purchase price? Quartz asked New York City’s fleet management agency to send annualized costs of each car model, including the purchase price. They do hold up, at least for the all-electric Nissan Leaf and the Toyota hybrid Prius (more expensive models might not pencil out). Despite slightly higher initial prices compared to the gas-powered Ford Fusion, the Leaf is expected to save the city $8,748, or 21% of the expected $41,328 for the gasoline car over the course of nine years. “All early indicators are that we are achieving the fuel, emissions, and maintenance benefits of this exciting transition away from the internal combustion engine,” the agency wrote.

Clarification: This story was changed to make clear that New York City’s analysis was based on a sampling (not all) of the vehicles in its light-passenger-vehicle fleet and that the projected Nissan Leaf savings are based on a nine-year period (not lifetime).