• 130-mile per day commute in Leaf EV
  • Significant fuel cost savings compared to gasoline
  • Robust charging network in driver's area

Steve Marsh of Kent, Wash., reached a milestone in his Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV). After almost three years of commuting 130 miles per day, the financial controller has reached 100,000 all-electric miles in the car. Marsh estimates he's saved $9,000 by driving his Leaf compared to his last car, a conventional gasoline-powered model.

Charging costs for EVs are certainly much lower than fuel costs for gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles. Environmental Protection Agency figures for the 2013 Leaf estimate $8,250 in fuel cost savings compared to the average, 23-miles-per-gallon gasoline vehicle. That estimate is based on 75,000 miles, so Marsh's $9,000-in-savings claim seems reasonable.

Marsh was definitely an early adopter of EV technology. But like many other recent drivers who have made the switch to electric cars, he did it more for economic reasons than environmental ones. Erik Gottfried, Nissan's director of electric vehicle sales and marketing, says the trend of choosing an EV based on cost savings is growing.

"Most buyers now choose Leaf for the simple economics that Steve recognized right away," Gottfried said. "Nissan Leaf costs much less to drive and maintain than a gas car yet still provides a great driving experience."

Low fuel costs aren't the only factor contributing to EVs' advantages over conventional-gasoline vehicles. An EV price war has made owning or leasing an electric car increasingly affordable as automakers compete to attract new customers.

Of course, range anxiety remains a concern. The 2013 Nissan Leaf has a range of about 75 miles -- far less than an average gasoline-powered vehicle. But only about 8 percent of Americans commute more than one hour each way. Even for these drivers, EVs could still be practical if charging stations were available both at work and at home.

Marsh convinced his employer to install a charger at his office, allowing him and other EV drivers to charge while at work. Marsh's location brings benefits, too. His region is home to a high concentration of hydroelectric energy, resulting in cheap and abundant electricity. And a robust vehicle-charging network in his area helps Marsh and other EV drivers travel confidently without fear of a dead battery.

Even in areas where charging stations are scarce, EVs offer fuel cost savings for shorter commutes. But savings really add up for high-mileage drivers, and often these drivers require more daily range than a single charge can provide. More charging stations and improved range in future EVs will convince drivers to make the switch from gas to electric.

What it means to you: EVs are thrifty, and the more you drive, the more you save. But limited range means long-distance drivers may require a charge away from home to complete their trips.

author photo

Nick Palermo is an automotive writer and lifelong car nut. He follows new and late-model used vehicles for AutoTrader.com, writes about vintage cars for Hemmings Classic Wheels and blogs on all things automotive at LivingVroom. He lives in Atlanta with his wife and twins.

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