Energy Efficient vs. Hybrid vs. Electric: How to Evaluate the Alternatives

Elon Musk smugly laughing at you for buying a Tesla

I took three of the most efficient cars I could find from each category and compared the costs and underlying costs.

Mercedes CLA250: low-end Mercedes model with high MPG

Base Price: $31,500

MPG: (26 city * .50) + (38 highway * .50) = 32 mpg

Fuel Cost on 15,000 miles per year for 10 years at $3.00/gallon: (15,000/32) * $3.00 * 10 = $14,062.50

Total 10-year cost (excluding maintenance): $45,562.50

0-60 mph acceleration: 6.9 seconds

Acura ILX (Hybrid): middle-of-the-road Japanese luxury hybrid

Base Price: $28,000

MPG: (24 city * .50) + (35 highway * .50) = 29.5 mpg

Fuel Cost on 15,000 miles per year for 10 years at $3.00/gallon: (15,000/29.5) * $3.00 * 10 = $15,254

hybrid credits: none

Total (excluding maintenance): $43,254

0-60 mph acceleration: 6.3 seconds

Tesla Model S Electric: Tesla mid-line electric car

Price: $71,070 – average of $11,070 in incentives: $60,000

Fuel Cost on 15,000 miles per year for 10 years at a rate of half charging on Tesla supercharge network and half at home at $0.03/mile: (.5 * 0) + (7,500 * $0.03) * 10 = $2,250

Total (excluding maintenance): $62,250

0-60 mph acceleration: 5.9 seconds

So there it is.  All three of these cars are pretty comparable, mid-range luxury sports cars with a nice 0-60 acceleration of 6-7 seconds.  1st place is clearly the Acura ILX, which has the lowest cost of them all, and you’ll shell out almost $20,000 less than you would for the Tesla.  Mercedes has a really good value as well, although it is a bit slower than the other two, and I feel like a lot of the cost goes towards the brand itself.  Having a Mercedes is a bit sexier than having an Acura.  However, it’s still a great value.

A couple things to note here:

  • Gasoline costs are low and the cost rises a bit for both the gasoline and hybrid when you jack up the price to $4.00/gallon.  However, it’s not very significant and the Model S can’t compare to either of them.
  • Tesla takes advantage of some $10,000+ in subsidies.  People often forget that taxpayer dollars are going towards your neighbor’s sleek Tesla Model S.
  • Tesla is planning to make a $30,000 model in the coming years.  It’s going to be less powerful than this model and probably hits 0-60 in 8-ish seconds.
  • Battery costs are “expected to drop by 30%” when Tesla opens its’ $5 billion giga-thingy plant.  Tesla won’t disclose the cost to produce one of its’ batteries, but analysts estimate it costs about 30% of the total cost of the car.  Okay, so let’s do the math.  For that base model Tesla S it would be $21,000 for the battery and 30% of that would be roughly $6,400.  Well, given this EXTREMELY ambitious goal, that would bring the cost of our Tesla Model S down to just under $56,000.  Not even close.  Oh wait, then we add all of those taxpayers dollars back into the picture, and yeah…
  • The range on a battery-powered car is limited.  Just like your laptop battery that lasts for a very limited number of years, a battery-powered car starts losing it’s charge capacity after 100,000 miles or so.  Our calculation is out to 150,000 miles and there’s a good probability you will need an entirely new battery by then.
  • Electric vehicles take a charge from the power grid.  A power grid is comprised of coal, natural gas, and nuclear plants.  So that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being more environmentally-friendly.  A number of sources have taken the liberty of calculating a “readjusted” mpg for your electric car by factoring in the sources of fuel that your state uses to power the grid.

I think a big takeaway here is that no matter how sexy and ambitious the electric-powered dream is, it’s not really that remarkable.  There’s no miraculous material that Elon Musk is using to power his automobiles.  He works with the same exact materials that everyone on the planet works with.  The electric-powered dream may be here in 50-100 years if gas prices skyrocket, but the material inputs are just so damned scarce.  It’s hard to imagine a highway full of Teslas in my lifetime.