The allure of the electric vehicle has never been stronger.
Tesla is raking in record profits. General Motors plans to sell only electric cars by 2035. Volkswagen is aiming to make them cheaper than gasoline-powered vehicles. And surveys show that at least two-thirds of American drivers are open to buying an EV.
Many people still have concerns about cost, choice and charging, but those barriers are falling fast and President Joe Biden hopes to speed things along with tens of billions of dollars in incentives.
It can feel overwhelming and exciting to someone in the market for a car. Here’s how you should think about whether an electric vehicle is right for you.
What are you looking for?
Electric vehicles are fast, are fun to drive, require little maintenance and produce no tailpipe emissions, a major contributor to climate change. But even if you’re sure you want one, there are many to choose from. That’s why it’s important to understand what you’re looking for.
“Is it basic transportation? Or is it an expression of yourself and your personality?” said Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book. “Cars are a statement about their buyers. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a Mercedes.”
Take Tesla. Sure, the company makes powerful, modern and fast electric vehicles. But the appeal is also tied up in what a Tesla says about its owner. Buying one means buying into a community of early adopters — and, to an extent, into the views and visions of Elon Musk, the company’s magnetic and brash chief executive. As a result, many car people either love or hate Tesla.
Some electric vehicles, like the Hyundai Ioniq, the Nissan Leaf or the Mini Cooper SE, start around $30,000 and are economical and ecological alternatives to a gas-powered car. Others, like the Porsche Taycan or the forthcoming behemoth electric Hummer from GMC and the luxurious Mercedes-Benz EQS, are statement pieces that will set you back something in the ballpark of $100,000.
What’s your charging plan?
The nation’s charging infrastructure may be growing fast, but anyone looking to make the switch to electric vehicles should have a charging plan.
The first step is to determine where you will typically charge the vehicle. Most people do it at home, which is easiest. But with new electric cars and trucks able to drive 200 miles or more on a full charge, some drivers choose to refuel as needed at work or public charging stations. Some city residents have been known to unfurl long cables from apartments or homes to power vehicles parked on the street.
If you plan to charge a new electric car or truck at home, there are pitfalls to be aware of. While electric vehicles can be powered with typical household outlets, the process is painfully slow, taking up to 24 hours or more to reach a full charge. Many owners opt to install a faster 220- to 240-volt outlet, like those used by clothes dryers, which usually entails hiring an electrician.
“You’re basically installing something unique for the electric car — there is a cost associated with that,” said Alistair Weaver, editor-in-chief of Edmunds.com.
He should know. After buying a new house, Weaver realized that his electrical panel required an expensive upgrade to power his wife’s Tesla Model 3.
Anyone without an easy way to charge should pay extra attention to the real-world range of the vehicle and how it might change in different conditions. Cold weather, for example, can cut a vehicle’s range substantially.
But don’t stress too much. While the fear of running out of juice — often referred to as range anxiety — is real, it’s often overstated, experts said.
Consumer Reports hears from many EV owners who don’t charge their cars daily because they don’t need to, said Jake Fisher, senior director of auto testing for the group.
Should I buy a Tesla?
It’s impossible to talk about electric vehicles without talking about Tesla. The company sits atop the electric-vehicle market in the United States, and for good reason: Though they aren’t without their problems, Tesla’s cars are generally beloved.
“There’s a lot about Tesla that appeals to people who are just looking for future technology or a sports car — they’re all very fast,” Fisher said. “There’s even something deeper than that. I think there’s an affection for Elon Musk.”
As the market leader, Tesla has some advantages. Its cars and technology have been in use longer than electric vehicles made by other automakers, and Tesla has an easy-to-use charging network for the exclusive use of cars it makes. But the landscape is changing fast, according to Weaver of Edmunds.
“There’s a real explosion in choice,” he said. “Everybody, and I mean everybody, is piling into the market. The tipping point has been reached where all your familiar brands will now be offering genuinely useful, versatile EV alternatives within the next two or three years.”
Several new electric vehicles hit the roads in early 2021, including Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen’s ID. 4 and Volvo’s XC40 Recharge. And carmakers are expected to introduce many more this year and next.
Some that auto enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting include the Audi Q4 e-tron sport utility vehicle, BMW’s i4 sedan, Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 SUV and Nissan’s Ariya SUV. Several startups are expected to start selling cars, too, including the Lucid Air sedan and Rivian’s R1T pickup truck and R1S SUV.
What can you afford?
Yes, electric vehicles cost more than similar gasoline-powered vehicles, but the sticker price tells you only so much. Federal and state tax breaks, utility grants and other savings can help to offset the cost.
The federal government offers a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. It has run out for customers buying a Tesla or a GM car, but it’s still available for many other electric vehicles.
Take the Nissan Leaf. A new basic model costs nearly $32,000, but after the federal tax credit, the price drops to less than $25,000. And states, cities and even utility companies offer incentives for buying electric vehicles or installing chargers at home.
Electric vehicles are also cheaper to own. A recent Consumer Reports study found that the average electric vehicle driver will spend 60% less to power the car, truck or SUV and half as much on repairs and maintenance — no oil changes needed — when compared with the average owner of a gas-powered vehicle.
Buying used could be a cheaper way to get an electric vehicle, though evaluate the car you are buying carefully, particularly the quality of the battery, because it will degrade over time. That said, a used electric vehicle could be a perfect choice for a second car for errands, commutes and other short trips.
Consider the alternatives
As exciting as it may be to own an electric vehicle, it may not be for everyone. Many families and individuals can’t afford an EV that meets their needs — there are few electric vehicles with three rows and room for youth-sports gear, for example, and they tend to be expensive. Others cannot easily charge at or near their homes. That’s why DeLorenzo and Fisher recommend plug-in hybrids.
“If you’re interested but not really sure you want to commit, these plug-in hybrids are kind of a gateway,” Fisher, of Consumer Reports, said.
For many people, a plug-in like a Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivan or the RAV4 Prime SUV could effectively serve as an all-electric vehicle, he said. Toyota claims the RAV4 Prime can run for 42 miles before switching to gasoline, while Chrysler says the Pacifica has 32 miles on a full charge. If used mostly for short commutes to work and trips around town, the cars could rarely use gas. Those two vehicles and other plug-in hybrids also qualify for federal tax credits.
“You can just plug it into your normal wall outlet and charge it overnight and you can get a taste of what that’s like, having an EV, and then maybe your next vehicle will be a pure EV,” he said.
Of course, gas-powered cars have grown increasingly efficient, and choosing one wisely can help reduce emissions if you are upgrading from an older vehicle. Yet many people buy cars based on what they consider alluring and attractive. And if you are wowed by the features and design of an EV, you might find it hard to settle for anything else, DeLorenzo said.
“It’s a different experience,” he said. “It’s not the same as owning a regular car, for sure. So there’s something to be said for that.”