November 3, 2010

Nissan Leaf Versus a Toyota Prius : 2nd look

Previously I took a look at the Nissan Leaf Versus a Toyota Prius

At the time I only had preliminary information on the Leaf.   My conclusion then with the info I had was that the Leaf was about $3,500 more expensive and would save $2,600 in operating cost over 100k miles.  But I didn't know about maintenance/repair or other costs.

Nissan's Leaf site now has more details.   I figured I'd take a second look at the comparison between the Leaf and a Prius now that I've got more solid information on the Leaf.

Cost : MSRP $33,720

Availability : "Start of sale is December 2010 with limited quantities in select markets."

Range : "is built to go 100 miles on a single charge"

But it depends on conditions average speed, temperature and if AC/heat is on or not.   Best case they figure 138 miles and worst is 62 miles.
Cost to recharge : "Based on a US average of $0.11/kWh, a full charge will cost about $2.75. It could be even less, if your area has time-of-use rates and you charge at off-peak hours."

Charging station 
"The home charging dock will require a 220/240V 40 amp dedicated circuit connected to a breaker. The charging dock will need to be hard-wired directly to the circuit by a certified electrician."
"We expect the average home charging dock installation in a typical new home to be approximately $2,000 plus tax and license fees. Federal tax credits may offset 50% of the cost (up to $2000) through Dec. 2010 unless government extends it further."

There is a 110 V charger but its not meant as the primary means of charging.  Nissan says: "It will charge on a regular 110/120V 20-Amp dedicated outlet. This is considered a "trickle charge," which means it would charge at a slower rate."

Battery Life

The situation on battery life span is still not exactly clear.     Nissan says this : "Like all lithium ion batteries, the Nissan LEAF battery will experience a reduction in the amount of electricity or charge it can hold over time, resulting in a reduction in the vehicle's range. This is normal and expected. The rate of reduction cannot be assured however, the battery is expected to maintain approximately 80% of its initial capacity after 5 years of normal operation and recommended care, but this is not guaranteed. This number may be higher or lower depending upon usage and care."

So basically it sounds like the batteries *should* last 5 years.   And the batteries will lose capacity over multiple charges but not die abruptly.   However there is no guarantee that I see.

Purchase Cost : Leaf versus Prius 

Leaf Cost : MSRP $33,720 less $7500 government tax credit = $26,220
Toyota Prius II  : MSRP $22,800

Leaf costs $3,420 more

Operating costs : Leaf v Prius

 Leaf over 100k miles @ 2.75 per full charge & 100 miles per charge = $2,750 of electricity
50 MPG Prius over 100k miles @ $2.75 / gallon gasoline = $5,500 of gas

Prius costs $2750 more

Charging station : Leaf extra cost

The charging station will cost ~$2000 to install this is an extra cost for the Leaf that the Prius does not have.

Total costs

Prius :  Purchase $22,800 + Fuel $5,500 = $28,300
Leaf : Purchase $33,720 - $7500 tax credit + $2,750 electricity + $2000 charging station = $30,970

If I just look at the purchase price, fuel costs for 100k miles and the extra charging station cost, then the Prius is $2,670 cheaper than the Leaf...    BUT there are still too many unknowns to know for sure.

Other costs like insurance rates, repairs, maintenance, battery replacement (?), etc.could make the Leaf or the Prius the more expensive option.   Repair and maintenance costs for a Prius will add up over 5 years.   You could easily spend $600 to just get oil changes on a Prius over 100k miles.    Thats $600 you would not need to spend on an electric car. 

Nissan addresses the topic in their FAQ's : :

"Q.  Will the maintenance cost over a few years be more or less than a similar gas engine vehicle?
A.  Maintenance costs are projected to be equal to or lower than comparably equipped gas-powered cars."

I'm a little surprised that their maintenance costs would be similar to gas engine cars.  But there may be maintenance costs for the Leaf that I wouldn't have expected.

I don't know how reliable the electric car would be or how the repair and maintenance bills for the Leaf will be.    My opinion is that an all electric vehicle like the Leaf should be more reliable and cheaper to maintain in the long run and therefore have much lower repair bills than a normal gasoline engine or hybrid car.    This remains to be seen.   

Bottom Line : At this point it looks like a Prius would be a bit cheaper ($2,670) than a Leaf over 100k miles of usage.   However there are still unknown costs like long term reliability and repair costs and other financial considerations like depreciation rate for the Leaf that could change the equation.

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