Electric Cars Cost Less To Own — Consumer Reports Agrees With Us


Published on October 11th, 2020 |
by Zachary Shahan

October 11th, 2020 by  

We’ve been publishing “total cost of ownership” comparisons — well, forecasts — for years here on CleanTechnica. Actually, the first ones I published were probably 7 years ago or so. As electric car technology (esp. batter y technology) has improved, the comparisons have gotten more and more compelling. Nowadays, any of the most advanced, most competitive electric vehicles on the market should easily outperform their gasoline-powered class competitors while costing less (unless you drive very little). Consumer Reports agrees.

Also, whereas I have to couch my analyses in paragraphs of disclaimers and notes about assumptions and disclaimers about notes about assumptions or else I’ll get chewed out by people who think I’m being too friendly to electric vehicles, Consumer Reports just blurted it out with almost no nuance in the very beginning of its press release:

“Owning a plug-in electric vehicle today will save consumers thousands of dollars compared to owning a gas-powered vehicle, according to a new analysis by Consumer Reports comparing electrics to CR’s top-rated vehicles, as well as the best-selling, most efficient, and best-performing gas-powered vehicles on the market.”

There actually are important caveats and assumptions you have to pay attention to. There are big differences from individual to individual on key factors influencing the results, such as total miles driven per year. Therefore, I routinely recommend that anyone interested in comparing lifetime costs copy my Google Sheet and input their own best assumptions. However, if you just assume averages or common scenarios, it’s easy to come to the general conclusion Consumer Reports shared. So, I personally have no problem with the simplistic statement. And lucky for Consumer Reports, there is no comment section under its news releases.

Getting into the specific findings a little bit further, here’s the whopper:

The analysis found lifetime ownership costs for the most popular EVs on the market under $50,000 are typically $6,000 to $10,000 less than the best gas-powered vehicles in their class*. Tesla’s Model 3, the best selling EV on the market, delivered the biggest savings: at least $15,000 compared to both the BMW 330i (best selling) and Audi A4 (top rated).”

That’s right — $15,000 or more!

Demonstrating that I was typically more conservative than biased toward electric vehicles or Tesla, the last time I conducted a total cost of ownership analysis for those same vehicles, in April of 2020, one scenario had the Model 3 SR+ sitting at $8,000 cheaper than the Audi A4 Premium+ over 5 years and $16,000 cheaper than the BMW 330i xDrive Sedan (driving 10,000 miles a year); another scenario showed price differences of ~$12,000 and ~$19,000 (15,000 miles a year); and an aggressive 20,000-miles-a-year scenario in which the 5 year cost of ownership difference grew to ~$17,000 and ~$23,500. (Yes, Consumer Reports also use a 5 year cost of ownership assumption.)

Here are the savings Consumer Reports expects for several different electric vehicles compared to the top sellers in their classes and compared to the top rated vehicles in their classes.

Here are some of the core ways electric vehicle owners are expected to save money over conventional gas car owners:

The savings are so big that Consumer Reports estimates the extra upfront cost of an EV will be covered within the first year of ownership, leading to net savings as the following years proceed.

The organization also notes that used-car buyers, which is the majority of the market, will also benefit considerably once they get a used EV because many of the big savings are operational and don’t go away. “Consumers in the market for a used vehicle, which make up 70% of car purchases, are poised to benefit significantly as they get access to these mainstream EVs over the coming years. Since previously-owned vehicles cost less upfront but have greater maintenance and repair costs, consumers in the market for a used vehicle are in line to pocket a significant portion of an EV’s overall lifetime savings potential.”

You can check out the full report here.

For more on my total cost of ownership comparisons between a few top electric models, see:

“Today’s mainstream electric vehicles have what many consumers are looking for, including enough range for most people to do their daily driving without relying on public charging, while also delivering excellent acceleration and a quiet ride,” Chris Harto, senior policy analyst at Consumer Reports. Indeed. 


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About the Author

is tryin’ to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao.

Zach has long-term investments in NIO [NIO], Tesla [TSLA], and Xpeng [XPEV]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.