Saturday, March 18, 2017

#6 - No One Buys a Tesla to Save on Gas…

Let’s be clear, no one buys a $100,000 car solely to save on the cost of fuel.  In my case, it was the fifth of five reasons I cited here when I bought my Tesla.  But I wanted to figure out how much electricity my Tesla was using and if that was a measurable savings on the gas I would have been paying for to run my old car.

Where I live in Canada electricity costs have been rising steadily for the last few years, and that will continue.  The incremental (or highest) cost I pay is $0.124 per KWh.  That was the easy part.  Figuring out how many Kilowatt Hours of electricity my cars uses was a little tougher.  I checked a number of Tesla forums (there are way too many of them) and found other owners were trying to figure out the same thing.  Everyone, it seemed, was coming at the problem from a different angle but eventually I figured out an equation that gave me an answer.  I don’t keep a log of how many KWh of electricity I use every time I drive the car and if I started doing that it wouldn’t help me with the first 18 months I have owned the car so I needed my own approach.
Happily, Tesla’s capture plenty of data on energy consumption including the average Watt Hours per Kilometer driven over the last 10km, 25km or 50km.  With that number (an average of approximately 200 Watt Hours of electricity per km) at $0.124 per Kilowatt Hour over the 26,000Km the car has logged since purchase works out to:

I tend to own cars for long periods of time (10 yrs is not unusual and to that end I still own the car I bought in 2001) so that will work out to around $25,000 over the 10 yrs I expect to own my Tesla which is much more than I expected.

Now, if you are considering buying an electric vehicle (and “EV”) a few other options exist that are considerably cheaper than a Tesla Model S or X.  The highly anticipated Tesla Model 3 is rumoured to be in Beta production currently with a few cars expected to roll off the assembly line later this year.  And at a starting price of US$35,000 (around $50,000 in Canada) it will fit many more car-buying budgets.  The Chevy Bolt is getting rave reviews, even from an existing Tesla Model S driver and is priced the same as the Model 3.  However, since the Bolt is available in some US states today and the Model 3 is still a news release rather than a reality most consumers are left to choose amongst the Prius Highbrid or one of the existing EVs like the Nissan Leaf or the Honda Insight.  The Nissan Leaf is the clear leader in that category and despite its limited range I see many of them on the road (as well as parked at local EV Charging stations).

Until recently I hadn’t thought of the economics of owning an EV, and even when I looked at it in detail before buying my Tesla I found it was more about the savings in maintenance that really made the difference in my decision (partly because the alternative to a Tesla Model S for me was a used Porsche 911 – not exactly comparable cars but that was all part of my decision making process).  The other day I met a young man who works several jobs and just bought a new Nissan Leaf.  One of those jobs was as a Pizza delivery guy (I did this job in my youth as a direct means to pay for the gas, insurance and maintenance on my first used cars).  This guy told me he previously drove a used Chevy Geo (a 3-cylinder sub-compact car from the 90’s that any objective observer would describe as a crappy car) and where this was primarily (but not entirely) used for his job delivering pizza it cost him $400/month in gas to run.  Plus maintenance.  He proudly pointed out that the all-in lease cost on his new Nissan Leaf was $400/month.  And his gas costs were now zero (with essentially no maintenance).

 Now, electricity is not free as I calculated above, but this guy lives in an apartment so has to park his car at the grocery store across the street where they have a couple of spots with an EV charger.  In my province the monopoly provider of electricity cost is the only entity permitted to do that so others can charge for parking but not for the electricity.  In this case, where the parking is free so is are the electrons.  And the simple matter of smoothing over relations with the night manager who say this same car parked every night was expertly managed with a couple of large pizzas.  Not a bad little story especially when he added that in addition to the $5,000 incentive he got from the government to buy an EV he also got $6,000 from another government program designed to provide an incentive to get old cars off the road.  He paid $500 for his old piece of crap and got $6,000 to take it off the road…

What both the Model 3 and the Bolt have that sets them apart from any other affordable EV available today is a substantially larger battery pack.  That helps with “range anxiety” and makes feasible longer trips or linking together several short trips that don’t revolve around chargers.  The chargers themselves are getting better as well, such as the growing presence of CHAdeMO chargers that can fill an EV with 120km of range in less than half an hour.  One of the main problems I can see with the proliferation of smaller “economy” EVs is how to charge them.  I have a garage and installed a 220V connection to charge my Tesla but I grew up in a house with no garage where we parked on the street out front.  Houses without garages where the occupants park on the street and apartments or condos make up a large proportion of the living situations for much of Tesla’s Model 3 market or most people in the market for smaller “economy” EVs.  To charge an EV parked on the street in front of a house would mean running a long extension cord out across the lawn which is totally impractical.  And many apartment buildings only install one or two EV charging stations in their garages so even if you can charge your car you still have to move it to your regular parking space after an allotted amount of time.

The charging issues are a small hurdle to EV ownership and likely less of a concern for the drivers as long as the benefits of owning that type of car outweigh the costs by a significant enough margin.  With 400,000 Tesla Model 3s on pre-order, the reduced cost of fuel and maintenance appear to be outweighing the hassle factor.  At least in theory…