Reality check: Are electric cars cheaper to own than gas-powered cars?

This file image provided by Tesla Motors shows the Tesla Model 3 sedan.
This file image provided by Tesla Motors shows the Tesla Model 3 sedan. (Courtesy of Tesla Motors via AP, File)

Electric cars are becoming cheaper to own than other cars, according to a new study.

The report looked at “total car ownership” in the U.K., U.S. and Japan for one year and found that in all three countries it was cheaper to own an electric car than its gas-powered counterpart.

That’s in part due to government subsidies, report author Kate Palmer explained.

In a surprising turn, hybrids and plug-in hybrids were on average the most costly – because the subsidies for those weren’t as big as those for electric cars, Palmer said.

The study looked at depreciation, gas costs, electricity costs, insurance, and tax.

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Maintenance costs for electric vehicles were always cheaper, and gas-powered cars were always more expensive. Total fuel cost (gas, electricity, or a combination) were cheapest in plug-in hybrids, but most expensive in gas-powered.

Gas-powered cars won out in depreciation, though, having the lowest loss in value over one year; the highest depreciation was seen in plug-in hybrids.

Here’s the cost breakdown for California (costs have been converted to Canadian dollars):

  • Electric: $9,002
  • Gas-powered: $9,545
  • Hybrid: $10,792
  • Plug-in Hybrid: $10,992

(You can check out the full break down on the original study, published on Science Direct.)

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While the yearly cost might be lower, it’s important to note the study looked at the depreciation of the car’s value over a year, and not initial purchasing cost of the car – which is still higher for electric and hybrid vehicles.

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But as global demand for the cars grow, and Palmer says they are growing, you can expect to see lower costs for electric cars.

“We estimate that [electric cars] could be cheaper without subsidies by 2025 and [plug-in hybrids] by 2030,” Palmer explained.

Globally, sales of electric vehicles are doubling every year but Palmer noted that growth in developed countries (like Canada) is lagging behind places like China.

The paper says there’s a lot holding people back from buying electric cars – but there are ways around it, including subsidies.

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In Canada, subsidies for electric and hybrid cars vary by province. In Ontario, for example, they receive subsidies between $3,000 and $14,000 for purchasing.

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Some insurance providers also offer discounts for electric or hybrid cars.

Another barrier is access to charging stations.

In California, there were over 3,000 charging stations. While Canada, there were 3,914 charging stations for the whole country, according to ChargeHub, a Montreal-based company.

While that may be enough for Canadians who live in cities, it could be a challenge to those in more rural areas, especially in Saskatchewan, according to Tom Hall with Energy Exchange.

But Palmer was optimistic about the future, though, noting that the total cost of hybrids has come down in recent years – especially when compared to gas-powered cars.

“As more people adopt, visibility of electric vehicles on the roads should lead to more people choosing them,” she said.

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