Stories & features

Is it time to junk the gas-guzzler for an electric car? Is it affordable in B.C.?

Cars piled up in scrapyard
The Scrap-it program in B.C. has a limited number of rebates each year for those who are willing to scrap their old gas-powered vehicle for a new ($6,000) or used ($3,000) electric vehicle. And the Province of B.C. offers a Clean Energy Vehicles rebate of up to $5,000 for purchase of new plug-in electric vehicles.

As sub-$40,000 options increase, more of us can drive electric

Hannah Wilson & Rob Klovance, bchydro.com

Would you own an electric vehicle if it didn't cost an arm and a leg to buy? Well, depending on the type of car you're looking for, the math on total ownership costs is starting to point toward cost parity between full electric and gas-powered vehicles.

Last year, a study by Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicted that electric cars in the U.S. could be cheaper than gas cars by 2025. But another study released later last year, published in the journal Applied Energy, concluded that when all major costs are factored in (including purchase cost, depreciation and maintenance) electric cars are already cheaper than gas cars in the United Kingdom, Japan, Texas and California.

The truth is that electric vehicle ownership costs vary widely from region to region, in large part thanks to big gaps in gas/electricity costs and the availability of electric vehicle subsidies. But even here in B.C., where gas costs are much lower than in the UK or Japan, electric vehicles are getting much more appealing to the cost-conscious buyer.

Try the Canadian Automobile Association's cost calculator

The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) has a popular online cost calculator that tries to sum up the difference in costs between gas vehicles and EVs. Here's what the calculator says about a comparison between the gas-powered 2017 Toyota Camry LE and the 2017 Chevy Bolt electric.

Based on 20,000 km of driving a year over five years, the CAA calculator estimates total cost of ownership for the Camry LE at $7,802 a year, compared to $9,769 a year for the Bolt.

The big factor in CAA's calculation is depreciation cost, which it estimates at $7,236 a year for the Bolt, to just $3,588 for the Camry. The Bolt is the big winner in annual fuel cost ($416 vs. the Camry's $2,135), and for those who make carbon emissions a priority, just 1,469 kg of greenhouse gases over five years, versus the Camry's 19,123 kg).

See also: Crunching the numbers (Life as a Leaf owner in Nelson, B.C.)

For those not hung up on buying new, the used EV market offers some enticing deals.

EV depreciation costs are difficult to estimate. CAA states that EV depreciation could change significantly in the coming years; for now, their estimates are based on "factors including the perception that technology is new and untested, low demand and government rebates artificially lowering the rate."

What does that depreciation mean to the would-be EV buyer? On the one hand, it's tempting to buy new and take advantage of B.C.'s up-to-$5,000 rebate that's only available for new electric vehicles. But for those not hung up on buying new, the used EV market can offer some enticing deals because of that depreciation, plus there's a $3,000 Scrap-it program subsidy when buyers of qualifying used EVs scrap their old gas guzzler.

Electric vehicle plug closeup
Ready to start plugging in rather than using a gas pump to "fill" your vehicle? Electric cars are coming down in price, and charging station options are increasing each year.

The under-$40,000 club: What's available in B.C.

The challenge is to find an EV that works for you, at a price point you can live with. Here are some of the least expensive 2018 EVs on the market in B.C., with manufacturer's listed purchase prices. When the $5,000 EV subsidy is included, all these fit in the under-$40,000 range. Toss in the $6,000 Scrap-it rebate for those willing to scrap their old car for a new EV, and the numbers look even better.

  • Smart (electric): $29,050
  • Toyota Prius Prime (plug-in hybrid, subsidy $2,500): $32,990
  • Ford Focus Electric: $33,698
  • Kia Soul (electric): $35,895
  • Chevy Volt (electric with gas range-extender): $38,995
  • Chevy Bolt (electric): $43,095
  • Nissan Leaf (electric): $35,998
  • Audi A3 Sportback e-tron (Plug-in hybrid, subsidy $2,500): $40,900

Source: cevforbc.ca vehicle list [PDF, 257 KB]

The big question: is there an affordable electric that fits your needs?

Now it gets personal. Aside from price, the pros and cons list of EV ownership is ultimately what will lead to your "go-no-go" (or maybe "not yet") decision on your next car.

Our Electric Vehicles in B.C. section includes a detailed look at the various factors involved in figuring out whether an electric vehicle suits your budget, lifestyle and personal philosophy. But here's a quick list of the big things to think about:

  • Climate change – How important is reducing fossil-fuel use?
  • Vehicle range – how far do you need your car to go on a single charge? Are you willing to chill while charging on longer trips?
  • Where to charge it? Can you do it at home, at work? Does your condo complex have charging available?
  • Is it big enough for your family size or lifestyle?
  • Geography – Cold temperatures limit range. Are there enough charging stations in your area?
  • Drivability – One test drive may win you over to electric
A Nissan Leaf electric vehicle sits parked at a viewpoint on the highway above Osoyoos, B.C.
Andrew Chewter's 2014 Nissan Leaf SL, shown here at a viewpoint above Osoyoos, B.C., now has more than 135,000 km on it. It has dropped about a bar's worth of battery capacity, but still has about 85% of its original range. Similar Leafs – including some with less than 50,000 km of use – are available used in B.C. for well under $20,000. (Photo courtesy Andrew Chewter)

Not quite ready for a new EV? Consider the used market

Buying a used electric vehicle can be a great option, especially when you're driving mostly shorter distances.

BC Hydro's Alec Tsang is the happy driver of a 2011 Nissan Leaf he purchased in 2014. "It has been a good experience so far," says Tsang. "There were already 80,000 km on the car when I bought it, but it has been totally fine."

Tsang's advice is to check the degree of degradation on the battery to get an idea of how much range the vehicle has lost.

"It helps, but you can't predict its future," says Tsang. "The biggest variables around used EVs are the price and the range based on the batteries. [Since 2011] my car is now down to 10 bars of battery out of the original 12. For use in the city, it's great. It lasts about 70 km on the highway."

There are warranties on EV batteries that kick in at different times depending on the vehicle. And while the cost of replacement battery packs is still high, it's getting more affordable each year.

Below is a quick glance at what was recently available in the B.C. used car market. And you may want to consider looking below the border, too, where a 2012 Leaf with 55,600 miles on it was recently available for less than $7,000 US. But don't forget the option of  saving another $3,000 by scrapping your old gas-powered vehicle for a qualifying used EV sold in B.C.

  • 2012 Ford Focus Electric, $13,927
  • 2014 BMW i3, $22,470
  • 2012 Nissan Leaf, $12,000
  • 2014 Nissan Leaf SV, $18,300
  • 2014 Kia Soul SX, $18,800

Finally, if you have deeper pockets and your dream is to own a Tesla, they're also sometimes available used, at prices below their initial purchase cost. One 2013 Tesla Model S 60 was recently available in the Vancouver area for $68,888. Then again, you could just wait around for the Model 3 to arrive in Canada, at an estimated bare-bones price of about $45,000.

Hannah Wilson is a member of BC Hydro's community team. Rob Klovance is a writer-editor with bchydro.com.