Buying an Electric Car? Why Picking a Car isn’t Just About Miles per Charge

When buying any new car, there are a lot of considerations to be made which will ultimately shape your purchase decision. From cost to features, safety to tech, good research will help you choose the best car for your needs.

There's a lot more to choosing an electric car than just range per charge

There’s a lot more to choosing an electric car than just range per charge

When it comes to buying an electric car however, we’re often blinded by official range figures — or how far a car can travel on a full charge. But shopping for a new electric car based on the range alone might leave you with a car that isn’t as good value as you might expect.

In reality, choosing the best electric car for your needs will need you to not only consider how many miles the car can travel per charge, but also the ratio of the car’s cost to total range, its recharging capabilities and the cost of recharging the car.

Purchase cost vs range

As the MojoMotorsBlog detailed last week, one way of looking at vehicle affordability is to examine how many miles you can travel compared to the vehicle’s sticker price.

The logic is pretty sound. After all, if you’re spending $40,000 on a car capable of just 80 miles per charge, you’ll be worse off than spending $30,000 on a car which can manage 84 miles.  That’s common sense.

Plotting the cost of the purchase price of the most popular electric cars on the U.S. market against their official EPA-rated range, MojoMotors concluded that the $41,250 BMW i3 was the most expensive car you can buy today in terms of cost vs range, with a total cost per mile of more than $500.

Look at it one way, and the BMW i3 is

Look at it one way, and the BMW i3 is expensive to run

The Chevrolet Spark EV meanwhile, achieved a figure of around $325 per mile of range, and the $79,900 Tesla Model S 85 kWh luxury sedan came out with the lowest cost per mile ratio of just over $300 per mile.

The efficiency question

While this particular metric works well to demonstrate which car is more cost-effective in terms of range per charge vs cost, it doesn’t deal with vehicular efficiency. Nor do any metrics simply stating range per charge.

For example, the BMW i3 EV manages 81 miles on 22 kilowatt-hours of electricity. The Tesla Model S manages 265 miles on 85 kilowatt-hours of electricity. In other words, the BMW i3 can travel far further on every kilowatt-hour of electricity than the Tesla Model S can.

Luckily, the standard Monroney label found on every new car on sale today — more commonly known as the window sticker — lists electrical efficiency alongside the miles per gallon equivalent (MPGe) figure. While MPGe is a figure created to help make it easier to compare electric, plug-in hybrid and gasoline vehicles side-by-side, Monroney labels also list the fuel efficiency in kWh per 100 miles.

Look at it another way, and the BMW i3 is super efficient and cheap to run.

Look at it another way, and the BMW i3 is super efficient and cheap to run.

Using this figure, it’s easy to see the Tesla uses 38 kWh to travel 100 miles, while the BMW i3 uses just 27 kWh to travel the same distance.

Running costs

Which leads us nicely to the subject of running costs. At the moment, the cost differential between driving a Tesla Model S 100 miles and driving a BMW i3 100 miles might not be all that great. Even if you’re charging at home at an electricity cost of 12.2¢ per kilowatt hour — the U.S. national average — driving a Tesla Model S is only $1.34 more expensive for every 100 miles you travel.

Over the course of a year, assuming a total of 15,000 miles per year, that’s equivalent to spending $201 more per year on electricity for the Tesla versus the i3.

You need

You need to calculate energy cost per 100 miles as well as factoring in purchase cost vs range.

At the moment, that’s not a lot, especially if you consider the fact that Tesla offers free charging to its customers at its Supercharger stations. Factor that in, and it could be said that the Tesla is free — or almost free — to fuel if you have a Supercharger nearby.

For other vehicles however, the efficiency of a vehicle should be factored into your calculations along with its range. The less energy it needs to drive every mile, the larger the savings will get as electricity prices rise — and in that scenario, a BMW i3 is cheaper to fuel than any other car on the market.

Do your own math

Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s all too easy to overlook something when buying a new car. Some electric cars may cost more to buy than others, but could reward you with much improved efficiency in the long run. Others may look super-cheap on paper — like the Model S for example when compared to cost per mile of range — but in reality may only be that way if you regularly drive longer-distance trips.

When picking a car that’s right for you, be sure to examine all your needs. Do you need to drive more than 100 miles a day? Do you need a vehicle for longer-distance trips? How often are you going to be charging at home versus charging at public charging stations?

Once you’ve answered these questions and factored in costs per 100 miles in terms of electricity and cold-hard cash — not to mention the amortisation of purchase costs over the lifetime and mileage you’re expecting the car to have — you should have a far fairer picture of which car best suits your needs.


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  • JohnCBriggs

    I think the Nissan versus BMW price difference has more to do with the type of car you want to drive and the nameplate. The range is very similar, unless you are considering the REx, which many buyers in the USA do.nnAs for the Telsa, It just seems to be at a whole different level of price and performance that makes it difficult to compare with other EVs in the market.

  • This is an interesting metric of price vs convenience for longer distance drivers (those who do many road trips or who have a very long daily commute) or less frequent chargers (perhaps condo/apt. dwellers who must use public charging stations for all charging). While it may be crucial for those who have a high distance/charge ratio, it may not be of any importance to the average driver who primarily recharges at home nightly.

  • pwrkiter

    Great article. Don’t forget to check out a used Nissan Leaf as they have been around for longer than most EVs. Our 2012 Leaf was 14months old and 1/2 the price of a new one with only 2k miles on the clock! To beat that cost per mile to range ratio you would have to cycle or walk!

  • ThatGuy

    I don’t find the metric of price vs range to be of any use and I doubt many would use it to select a car. If you are burning $70k on a Tesla, I doubt you’re saying, “but its cost per mile range is just over $300!” Placing the Telsa first on any metric except sexiest, most powerful, and alluring piece of techno-bling is probably your first indication you’ve found another useless metric. Electrics are not different from other cars and should be evaluated on total cost of ownership among a group of similar-featured cars. Sadly, the fuel cost computations of TCO often forget to include the tiered pricing many municipalities use. Charging an electric should be budgeted at the highest tier currently used — over $0.30/KwH if you live in Southern California. Some SC markets are changing to time-of-day usage which could be good news for your electric.

  • Esl1999 .

    A person, who thinks this data is actually important, would’ve already ran out and bought the oldest cheapest Mitsubishi IMiev or Leaf that still has a good battery. Let’s start comparing EV bikes, where do they stand? Miles/Kilometers per 10 kilowatts should be displayed on the sticker. The MPGe is like saying ” What a fascinating contraption you have there, say, what kind of power does it have?” Turn of the century motorcar owner replies, ” The power of 3 horses, my good sir.” Let’s move into the 21st century and leave the past where it belongs.

  • tina

    WRONG. Test drive the electric, fall in love with it, see if it “fit’s”n your needs, sell the house, buy it!nnI mean, who electrified a Morris minor , drove around in an electric banana?

  • barnsFromOz

    I guess the author is saying that there ought to be other metrics than just MPG (or litres/100km, as we do in Australia) to evaluate cars. Yet not many people would use a cost-based metric alone to buy a petrol/gas car, I’d imagine. nnAs we become more sophisticated in our understanding of batteries then more metrics, eg a metric about battery stress during recharge might be be included. Not all batteries can be perpetually recharged to 80% in 10 minutes, for example; and some EV chargers don’t support fast charging at all. Would that not be important to know? And some EV providers offer slicker breakdown support than others. What about those allowing alternative battery solutions? Who is looking towards standardising? Will metrics on these items become important in future? nnForgive me for asking for a less superficial analysis but if we are seriously considering the ‘evolution of transport’, then I feel this article is only grazing the surface.

  • Kenneth_Brown

    There are two additional factors that need to be considered, insurance and registration. The insurance cost for the $80K Tesla is going to be considerably more than for a Nissan Leaf. In California, annual registration is partially based on the value of the car. Again, a strike against the Tesla. Even if one had access to a Tesla supercharger for all of their charging, the TCO is still much more than a more mainstream electric.nnnIf you find yourself needing to make longer trips on a frequent basis, it could be cheaper to buy a Leaf AND a Volt than a Tesla at this time. Especially if you are shopping the used market.