The transportation sector is going through a revolution. In the US, like in much of the world, electric vehicle sales are on the rise. This is an encouraging transition that could finally decrease vehicle emissions — and, according to a new study, EVs are already cheaper to own in many parts of the US.
Researchers from the University of Michigan found that where people live matters in terms of the costs of owning an EV. They compared cumulative recurring costs for a midsize SUV across types — traditional gasoline, hybrid, and electric. They found that in some cities it’s actually cheaper to own an electric SUV than a gasoline one.
They took into account components of vehicle ownership such as financing, annual fees, insurance, maintenance, and fuel costs and compared these across 14 cities in the US. They also considered how these components change with location, use patterns, vehicle size, and with the passage of time.
Electric cars are more expensive — but only initially
The study found that gasoline vehicles are in general cheaper to purchase, but EVs are cheaper long-term. Electric cars are cheaper to maintain, and repair, and the fuel costs are also lower. But overall, whether an EV reaches cost parity with a gas-powered vehicle depends on where the vehicle is operated, how it’s charged and driven, and its size and range.
“EVs are more competitive in cities with high gasoline prices, low electricity prices, moderate climates, and direct purchase incentives, and for users with home charging access, time-of-use electricity pricing, and high annual mileage,” the researchers wrote.
Across the 14 cities studied, the total cost of owning an EV midsize SUV varied by $52,000 (nearly 40%) over the vehicle’s entire lifetime. For example, New York and Detroit have the highest insurance cost, while for gasoline vehicles refueling is most expensive in San Francisco and Los Angeles and cheaper in Houston and Dallas.
Turning to the study’s findings, researchers uncovered that the cheapest cities to charge an EV are Atlanta, Chicago, and Cleveland. Meanwhile, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Boston are the most expensive. Charging EVs at home can also make a big difference. This can lower the lifetime costs of an electric car by $10,000 on average, even considering the cost of installing a charger. Some cities even offer lower prices for charging an EV overnight, when electricity demand is lower.
The researchers said that EVs will become more cost-competitive as battery efficiency and manufacturing processes improve, and if gasoline prices continue to increase faster than electricity rates. They argue their study has implications for policymakers at the city, state, and federal levels, suggesting changes to make EVs more competitive.
They asked for cities and states to work with electric utility companies to ensure that there are affordable charging plans and to identify barriers that are specific to each city. At the federal level, current incentives for EVs are still failing to make them cost-competitive in many locations and for many vehicle types, the researchers said, advocating for making changes.
“Our findings show that electric vehicles can be cost-competitive with gasoline vehicles for the 14 cities we studied across the US,” study senior author Gregory Keoleian said in a news release. “In addition to charging cost advantages for electric vehicles over gasoline fueling costs, there are lower maintenance and repair costs.”
The study was published in the Journal of Industrial Ecology.
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