With the new Ontario EV incentives that kicked in February 2016, and the “flood” of EV and plug-in hybrids at the Toronto Autoshow, I decided to take a look and see if now is a good time to buy an electric vehicle that I would want to drive (emphasis on I).
To make a fair comparison for our needs (emphasis on our), I started out by looking at the EV and plug-in hybrid vehicles and then looking at a comparable gasoline powered one. I settled on the Chevrolet Volt because I drove the original many years ago at the Detroit Autoshow, frequently book a Chevy Volt from our work fleet, absolutely love the new look and features, and the new model has an even larger battery for a greater electric range. Also, the Chevy Volt has one of the highest incentives on the list.
OK, now here is where things get tricky. What should the comparable gasoline-powered model be? Again, to keep things fair, I decided to pick something else from the Chevy line-up that has a similar size and similar features. You guessed it – the Chevy Cruze. The new Cruze, which should be out later this year looks almost identical to the new Chevy Volt since GM is trying to unify their fleet. For a moment I mistook the Cruze at the Autoshow for the Volt because from some angles they looked absolutely identical.
The Base Prices
Since I am more interested in the plug-in hybrid, I decided to spec one out the way I would buy it and then spec out the Cruze with the same features.
There are two Volt trim levels and I selected the base one, which starts at $38.390 CAD. The only option I wanted was the all-weather mats, which added $145 to the cost of the car. The total for the Volt (with taxes, freight and any online dealer discounts) came up to $44,966 CAD. Yiiish! I didn’t pay this much for my coupe with twice the horsepower. That’s $808 CAD/month for 60 months.
The most basic comparable Cruze starts at $22,140 CAD and unfortunately has the previous generation entertainment system. The new one is slightly more expensive, but not by a lot. The options I had to select with this one included the larger wheels to match those of the Volt, the automatic transmission, and the all-weather floor mats. The total (with freight, taxes and online dealer discounts) came up to $30,882 CAD, and $549 CAD/month. Still quite a bit for a car I am not too into. And damn, are those options expensive.
The Ontario government incentive for this Volt is $12,747 CAD. The discount is applied after the purchase and as far I know it could be applied by the dealer and they can apply for the credit. This can be written in the purchasing contract. Though it would probably make more sense for them to get all the money upfront from you and then you to apply for the credit yourself. In any case, the incentive brings the total cost of the vehicle down to $32,219 CAD. Wow, so close to the Volt.
Now, this poses a problem if you are paying in monthly installments because the value of the monthly payment will not go down if you decide to put the $12k into the auto loan. The only thing it would do is shorten the loan period. If you had taken out an auto loan from your bank, it might be possible to renew it and reduce the payments, but if you had gone through the dealer’s finance department, you might be stuck with the larger monthly payment.
For us, the insurance on the Volt will be around $164 CAD/month while the Cruze clocks in at $148 CAD/month. Both are for 2 drivers where we live. However, this was done through our insurance provider’s online estimation calculator, so if I were to call, I might get slightly better rates.
My wife drives to work. I walk. Her daily round trip route is 30 km including any stops she might make at the mall, grocery store, fuel station, coffee shop, etc. We also go visit our parents once every couple of months which adds another 1,000 km every couple of months. I decided to average the time out to 500 km/month. That brings up the total mileage to around 1,100 km/month.
The Volt has an electric range of 85 km, but expect that to drop significantly in the winter and increase slightly in the spring and fall since no heating or cooling is required. During the work week, charging won’t be a problem, but on our trips to see our parents, we would expect to use the gas engine so on a typical month we expect to see around 770 km on the electric motor and 330 km on the gasoline engine.
The 770 km will require 9 full charges and with the 18.4 kWh battery, that is a total of 165.6 kW of electricity. The fuel economy of the gasoline engine is 42 mpg, or 5.6 L/100 km. That, of course is highly variable based on your driving style and the engine load, but for the sake of the calculation, let’s use the manufacturer estimate. We are usually driving on the highway anyways, so the number might be representative. At 5.6 L/100 km, we would consume 18.48 L/month.
Total cost for Volt use – $14.90 CAD (electricity) + $17.56 CAD (gasoline at $0.95/L) = $32.46 CAD/month
The Cruze has the same fuel efficiency of 5.6 L/100 km since it has an almost identical engine. The total cost will then be $58.52 CAD/month.
Both of these figures are crazy low. We currently pay more than $100 CAD/month for fuel, but fuel prices have gone down a little, so maybe that’s one of the reasons.
I am only looking at oil changes since it is hard to say without spending hours on the research, what the true maintenance costs will be based on the recommended schedules and what different shops charge.
The shop I go to charges just under $60 CAD for an oil change, including fluid top-ups and inspections. You can find a cheaper one, but I use that one and probably will continue to do so.
The Volt will need 1 change per year while the Cruze at least 2. If you think 1 change per year is not enough, my old Honda Fit required one every 10 months based on my driving based on the style and mileage so one change per year is fairly generous based on the use of the electric generator.
Total monthly costs – $5 CAD (Volt) and $10 CAD (Cruze)
The total monthly costs come up to:
Volt – $1,009.46 CAD
Cruze – $765.52 CAD
Yeah, the Cruze wins, but let’s look at the base ownership costs over a 5 year period with the EV incentives.
Volt – $44,306.60 CAD
Cruze – $43,873.20 CAD
Look at that! You see how the Volt cruises up…hehe…cruise. So close and this is assuming the cost of gas will not go up. There are also a few other things to consider during ownership – the cost of all the additional maintenance, the cost of the replacement parts and the cost to replace the batteries in the Volt. If you are cheap, or lazy, you could continue to drive on the gasoline engine once the batteries cannot hold a charge. Then, the operating costs of the Volt and Cruze will be very similar. From what I have read, the maintenance of an EV and plug-in hybrids is significantly lower if you have a short commute and use the electric motor most of the time. This is because in electric mode, there are very few moving parts and much less wear and tear.
Another thing to consider is your commute. If your commute is longer, the Volt will come on top. When I had a Prius many years ago, I instantly noticed the fuel savings since I was doing a lot of highway driving. My fuel expenses were cut in half within the first week. It was awesome.
This comparison is for us. You might want to compare the new Honda Civic to the Volt, or a luxury plug-in hybrid to its German competitor. Maybe you don’t need a car of this size. Maybe you want a tiny hatchback to get you from point A to point B. Then you probably don’t want an EV or a hybrid. You could get a very cheap Toyota Yaris, or Honda Fit that will save you a ton on fuel and is cheap to buy, insure and operate. Think about your needs.
Run the numbers, talk to the dealer.
So, is it time to buy an electric vehicle? Weeeeeellll, perhaps. Or perhaps, we keep on driving our coupe since it will be paid off in a few months and we have no need for 4 doors yet.