February 25, 2010

Nissan Leaf versus a Toyota Prius

A while back I talked about some electric cars that various automobile makers had planned.  One of them was the Nissan Leaf.   I've started to see ads for the Leaf. 

Basic stats on the Nissan Leaf:

Cost $25,000 to $33,000 estimate
Range : 100 miles
Top speed : 87 mph
Battery capacity : 24 kWhr

Personally I think that electric cars are a great idea and eventually I'd like to own one.  But I'm not going to jump on the early adopter band wagon any time soon.  If I were to consider buying an electric car I'd first want to do a comparison to a hybrid or standard gasoline car to see if the numbers really add up or if you'd just be paying a large cost premium on the electric car.   I figure that a good standard for comparison would be the Toyota Prius.  The Prius is very cost efficient so it should be a good benchmark for comparison.

Purchase Cost of Leaf vs Prius

The Leaf cost is not officially announced.   I'm going to assume it is closer to the high end at $33,000.   However the Leaf should qualify for a $7500 tax credit since its a purely electric vehicle.  That would make the out of pocket cost $25,500.

A Toyota Prius will cost you around $22,000 (or higher depending on model and options).   

The Prius is about $3,500 cheaper than a high end estimate for the Leaf price after tax incentive.  

Operation Costs

Electricity costs for a Leaf =  full charge is 24 kWhr and will go 100 miles.   So if electricity is 10¢ per kWh then you'd be paying $0.10 x 24 for 100 miles or $2.40 / 100 miles.     100,000 miles will cost you $2,400 in electricity.

Gasoline cost for Prius =  A Prius gets about 50 MPG.   So if you drive 100,000 miles then thats 2000 gallons.   At about $2.50 a gallon that is $5,000 for 100,000 miles.

Leaf electricity = $2,400
Prius gasoline = $5,000

Savings for Leaf over 100,000 miles is $2,600.

Other costs?

I don't know how to estimate the other costs of a Leaf versus a Prius.   Other costs for the Leaf are a big giant question mark.   The Prius has routine maintenance requirements for the engine.  You have to change the oil and get it serviced.  The Prius like any typical automobile might break down on occasion and require you to pay for some repair bills.   I'm of the opinion that the maintenance and typical repair costs of an electric car will be less than what you see with a gasoline engine.  But that is just my personal theory at this point, what the real costs are remain to be seen.   One of the big unknowns is the life of the battery.   I don't see anything concrete direct from Nissan about the battery life.  However I suspect battery life will be substantial.  Hybrid batteries last a long time so I see no reason they can't make an electric car with significant battery life.  But still as we don't know much yet it presents another big question mark for the Leaf.

Bottom Line:   If you compare the total costs of a Nissan Leaf and a Toyota Prius then the Leaf costs more up front to buy and the Prius costs more in gas to operate.  Given just these two factors the total costs appear to be similar.   However there are still too many unknowns in the other costs associated with the Leaf to make a solid comparison.

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