During the ten months I've owned my Nissan Leaf, many friends have asked me if they should buy one. I love the enthusiasm people have for "going electric," and would be happy if everyone could jump on the bandwagon. But when the conversation inevitably turns to price, most people get discouraged. My key advice is always, 'it's a great second car if you have at least one other long-range vehicle,' but price consideration is a bigger issue when the rubber meets the checkbook.
Yes, the Federal Government does still have a $7,500 tax credit still in place and many states add thousands more (check out West Virginia at $7,500), but the cost must still be financed until April comes around. For instance, I bought my Leaf in February of 2011 and won't see the credits until April of 2012 - more than a full year after the purchase.
There's also the cost of installing a 240V plug in your garage or carport, which averages around $1,800 (some states also rebate half of this cost).
So, taking a look at the competitive pricing landscape for lower-end EVs currently on the market - or at least coming soon - there's a spread of around $15,000 from lowest to highest and various things to consider about each. I've included the Chevrolet Volt in the comparison because it does have the ability to work as an electric-only car.
Nissan Leaf: $35,200 - $38,985
The Nissan Leaf started its life as the price leader in the US market, but will soon be bumped to #2 by the Mitsubishi i. For the 2012 model, Leaf got a $3,000 price increase based on Nissan's decision to add both a fast-charging DC outlet and cold weather package as standard features. The car is also offered with a competitive 3-year lease at $407 per month.
Ford Focus Electric: $39,995 (fully equipped)
Recent news from Ford is that the Ford Focus Electric will start at around $40,000. This price could feel like a bit of a jolt to those who have priced out the regular gasoline Ford Focus in the mid $20,000's, but Ford stands behind its decision based on technology it feels is superior to Leaf. One is a liquid cooled and heated battery and the other is an onboard charger that increases the amount of an hour's regular charge by a 30-mile range.
Mitsubishi i: $29,125 - $39,125
If you order one now with a $299 deposit, you'll get your "i car" in March of 2011. Mitsubishi's EV is the least expensive but also has the least range - only 45 - 75 miles on a charge. It's a true EV, however, and with the Federal tax credit, hits the low $20,000's, which will appeal to a typical sub-compact shopper.
Chevrolet Volt: $39,995 - $44,775
I add the Chevrolet Volt to this list since it will run on electric only for the first 40 miles, but this car is actually more of a plug-in hybrid - and there are many more like it on the way. The Federal tax credit does apply to this car, however, so it's worthy of a look-see if range is an issue in your daily or weekly driving.
To put these car prices into an even broader perspective, gasoline-powered cars you can get in for around the same price as many of these include some pretty snazzy "low-end of the high-end" models. BMW 3 Series Coupe, Audi A6 Sedan, Acura TL, Toyota Highlander Hybrid, Subaru WRX STI Limited, Volvo's S80 sedan and XC90 SUV and the Lexus IS350 are each priced at around $40,000.
So, my friends and family who are potential EV buyers must look beyond price, convenience and even beyond range. If they can be motivated by no gasoline, no emissions, a smooth, effortless driving experience and being on the forefront of a new technology, they can easily turn their back on lower-end luxury cars and go electric.
Want to learn more? Follow our long-term test of the Nissan Leaf.