Written by: John Goreham
For most of a century, the cost to power an automobile was a big part of how shoppers selected one model over another. That is about to end, and a new way to differentiate similar vehicles will become more important.
As electrified vehicles of all types begin to emerge as the primary powertrain type in America, a new shift will occur. Shoppers are going to stop cross-shopping vehicles based on energy economy and energy cost. What we used to refer to as “miles per gallon” or “fuel economy” will no longer be a comparison point. The reason is simple; EVs are already so efficient that differences between their ratings will not translate to meaningful operation cost differences.
MPGe & Energy Cost Comparison – Ford Mustang Mach-E and Tesla Model Y
Let’s look at some real-world examples of popular models on sale today. Two vehicles that compete head to head are the Tesla Model Y and the Ford Mustang Mach-E. One has an MPGe of 90, and one has an MPGe of 125. That seems like a HUGE difference. But does it have any real-world significance? Not really. The reason is that the annual energy cost difference between the two is just $200. Given that these two vehicles have an average transaction price in the mid-$50Ks, will have an annual depreciation of around $5K or more, and an insurance cost in the four-figures, $200 per year in energy costs adds up to a tiny fraction of the ownership cost of one of these popular crossovers. The bottom line is that neither of them costs much to power. So educated EV shoppers will ignore MPGe as a way to decide between them.
MPGe & Energy Cost Comparison – Chevy Bolt vs. Toyota Prius Prime
Let’s look at the newly updated 2022 Chevy Bolt battery-electric vehicle and the 2021 Toyota Prius Prime plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle. The Prius Prime has an MPGe of 133. The Bolt has a lower MPGe of 120. Yet, the Prius has a slightly higher annual energy cost to operate. Here, MPGe fails the shopper entirely because the vehicle with the “better” MPGe number has the “not-better” energy cost. What value does MPGe offer a shopper comparing these two similar vehicles? None at all. It is meaningless. Furthermore, the annual energy cost difference is just $100 between these models which are in the same size and price range.
MPGe & Energy Cost Comparison – Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid vs. Honda Odyssey
The happy news is that electric vehicles of all types now have powertrains that are roughly triple the efficiency of conventional “old-fashioned” vehicles that just ran on gas or diesel. This is great news for consumers who will enjoy dramatically lower energy costs. Let’s use a real-world example to illustrate the power of electrification over a conventional powertrain. The Chrysler Pacifica plug-in hybrid-electric vehicle has a 20-year energy cost $19,000 lower than the energy cost of a Honda Odyssey with its classic V6 gas engine. As you can see, electrification has a massive impact on the total lifetime cost of ownership of a large family vehicle.
MPGe & Energy Cost Comparison – Chevy Bolt vs. Tesla Model Y
EVs have big differences in energy cost compared to classically-powered vehicles, but battery-electric vehicles (EVs that only use batteries) differ very little from one to the next. The Tesla Model Y is a roomy midsize crossover that can carry up to seven passengers, has all-wheel drive, and performance on par with many sports cars. Yet, it has the same EPA-estimated annual energy cost as the compact, two-wheel drive Chevy Bolt hatchback economy car. Not similar. Exactly the same. Electrification democratizes energy savings.
What Will Matter To Shoppers – Range
In the near term, for at least the coming decade, shoppers will compare the range of an electric vehicle much more than they will MPGe, annual fuel cost, or efficiency. Here is one current example. The range of the standard Nissan Leaf is a low 149 miles. The range of a Chevy Bolt is 259 miles. The implications of that difference are huge to an owner. Any shopper comparing these two vehicles would find the added 100 miles of range to be a reason to buy the vehicle that can drive longer on a charge.
Interestingly, the added range comes with no efficiency penalty. The Leaf uses slightly more energy per year than the Bolt. Lower range does not equate to lower energy costs in EVs, as one might assume. It’s actually the opposite in some cases. But who cares? The annual cost difference to power a Leaf vs. a Bolt is $50 per year. Meaningless when the total cost of ownership is considered.
As electric vehicles move forward and continue to gain momentum, many of the ways consumers and reviewers have compared one vehicle to the next will evolve. The EPA will also evolve with changes to technology. Expect to see more emphasis on range as EVs take over. For example, we suspect the EPA will move to a three-number range estimate similar to how the EPA now uses City/Highway/Combined for MPG to rate conventional cars.
Conclusion – Annual Fuel Cost Comparisons Will Be Less Important To Shoppers
In conclusion, the good news is that all electrified vehicles are game-changers in reducing the annual cost of energy to operate passenger vehicles. Over the coming years it will become evident to shoppers that the total cost of ownership of your next vehicle won’t vary in a meaningful way based on which particular EV model you select.
About the Author:
John Goreham is a long-time New England Motor Press Association member and recovering engineer. John’s interest in EVs goes back to 1990 when he designed the thermal control system for an EV battery as part of an academic team. After earning his mechanical engineering degree, John completed a marketing program at Northeastern University and worked with automotive component manufacturers, in the semiconductor industry, and in biotech. John is a Car Talk contributor, and he provides reviews to many online vehicle shopping sites. You can follow John on TikTok @ToknCars, on Twitter, and at Linked In.
Images by the author. Charts courtesy of www.fueleconomy.gov.