At Under $19K for a Nissan Leaf, Does the Math on Electric Cars Finally Add Up?

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YASUYOSHI CHIBA / AFP / Getty Images

Nissan's Leaf, an all-electric car

Nissan’s Leaf has a long way to go to expand beyond its status as a niche commuter car. Sales have been underwhelming, even with cheap lease offers, leading some to declare the Leaf an overpriced, impractical flop. Will this change now that the Leaf isn’t quite so overpriced?

For a while now, we’ve heard that the new Nissan Leaf will have a cheaper sticker price than older models. Now we know just how much cheaper it’ll be.

Impressively, the retail price of the 2013 Nissan Leaf will drop by over six grand.

This week at the Detroit Auto Show, Nissan announced that the new Leaf S series will start with an MSRP of $28,800, which undercuts the previous least expensive Leaf by $6,400, representing a drop of 18%. Add up the incentives for buyers—$7,500 in federal tax credits, plus a $2,500 rebate in certain states, including California—and drivers can essentially pay “full price” for a Leaf for as little as $18,800.

(MORE: Electric Cars: More Models, Cheaper Prices Coming in 2013)

A drop of more than $6,000 in a vehicle’s sticker price is undeniably a big deal. Normally, an automobile model’s MSRP only goes in one direction: up. Any official dip in price can make news, and when the decline is substantial, like whenVolkswagen dropped the starting price of the Jetta by $2,400, it can provide a major boost to sales.

Is that what we can expect from the new Leaf? Surely, the lower price will push some buyers into getting off the fence in the consideration of an electric vehicle. But Leaf sales have underwhelmed before, falling well short of sales goals in each of its first two years on the market, and they may do so again. Nissan anticipated a 50% rise in Leaf sales in 2012, only to see sales increase by 22%, even as the automaker rolled out discounted lease deals toward the end of the year. Before that, Leaf sales were often down compared to corresponding months in 2011.

For 2013, Nissan is projecting a sales increase of at least 20% for the Leaf, thanks to the newly cheaper price. “Now customers won’t have to pay a premium for owning a green car that’s really fun to drive, and that’s exciting,” Billy Hayes, global vice president of Leaf sales, stated via press release. That statement, of course, basically owns up to the idea that anyone buying a Leaf in the past was indeed paying a high premium for the privilege.

(MORE: Is It Time to Declare the Nissan Leaf a Flop?)

While the new lower-priced S model Leaf is getting all the attention, the 2013 versions of the SV and SL Leaf are also cheaper than preceding models, by $3,380 and $2,410 respectively. How can Nissan cut prices like this? Lower costs for batteries and other parts help. Nissan may also be willing to eat some of the potential profits in order to get more Leafs on the road; that wouldn’t be surprising given the speculation that surfaced last year that Chevy loses tens of thousands of dollars on each Volt sold.

Regardless of how Nissan gets to the price point for the Leaf, has it reached the point that mainstream buyers will bite? A report from the Congressional Budget Office published last fall estimated that when comparing a pure battery-powered vehicles like the Leaf to a similar gas-powered car, “tax credits would still need to be about 50 percent higher than they are now to fully offset the higher lifetime costs of an all-electric vehicle.” In other words, instead of a $7,500 tax credit, something like $11,250 would cut it.

The math changes, however, now that the cheapest Leaf is $6,000 less. State rebates help put the math in the Leaf’s favor too, of course. Based on the new math, it would seem that it’s less expensive to own a Leaf rather than a similar traditional car like the Nissan Versa, all things being equal.

The problem, of course, is that all things aren’t equal. After adding up initial price, insurance, “fuel” and other expenses, a Leaf owner may pay less out of pocket than a Versa owner over the course of five to seven years, but over that time period the Versa owner is never subjected to so-called “range anxiety.” The Leaf owner can only make it 70 or 80 miles without having to stop for hours (overnight, probably) to recharge. The Versa owner, on the other hand, can embark on serendipitous road trips without carefully plotting mileage and charging stations and without having to pause for huge chunks of the day to refill the tank.

(MORE: Why the Car of the Future Will Be Powered by … Yep, Gasoline)

For drivers in search of a vehicle strictly for mid-size commuting purposes, the Leaf makes more sense than ever. Yet for drivers who demand more in a car, the Leaf probably isn’t the solution — at any price.

105 comments
solardowork
solardowork

Good news ( EV's ) Electric Vehicles soon to get 400 + HWY Miles and out run all others.


The Lord's Little Helper

Paul Felix Schott

jtryan8981
jtryan8981

where do these experts get the 70 mile range     i drive a leaf    every night i charge it up    the range in the morning is always more than 100 miles                the Achilles heel is the range     can we get it up to 200 miles by 2016      again the experts say very doubtful      there is a company in israel that is developing a battery  with a 1000 mile range     when my lease on the leaf is up in 2016 i will get a new one for $20000 with a range of 400 miles       there will be quick charging stations available     they have them in san diego now        until then if you want to take a trip the current leaf will take you to the train station    

DENDEN99
DENDEN99

Well Brad Tuttle you clearly stopped short in your researching how long it takes to charge an electric car.  Fast charge stations do it in 1/2 an hour and that's today, sometime tomorrow I'd immagine it would be much quicker.   As well in the future there will be battery exchange stations where you just remain in the car.   thumbs down

katied
katied

I've been driving a Leaf for 19,000+ miles now and absolutely love it. I'm saving a ton of money on gas. There's virtually no maintenance, and it's super fun to drive.

Assuming gas and electricity costs go up 5% a year, I'll save about $245,000 on gas and electricity over the 30-year lifespan of my solar panels -- which provide more than enough electricity for my house and car. Best investment ever.

jasavak
jasavak

I would like to see a version with a 50% larger battery pack with a 120 mile range and 60kw charging in major cities .   I would pay $6,000 extra for that .

Mark_Stewart
Mark_Stewart

Sally Johnson, Chief Operating Officer of DevonshireCWM, that while the overall impression was that the manufacturing sector was over the worst of a "pretty torrid 2012, it still has its work cut out to return to sustainable growth in the face of ongoing challenging domestic and international conditions"

ChristopherOrdway
ChristopherOrdway

Anyone who even mentions that article Reuters put out about the Volt instantly loses all credibility. That was the most cherry picked numbers that anyone with half a brain could see through, unfortunately most Americans don't have half a brain and on it goes in articles like this. That articles was assuming all of the development cost of the Volt was being amortized over the Volts GM has already produced and it was all speculation on the numbers anyway. Not to mention it doesn't include all kinds of perception problems the Volt fixes. People think Toyota is so innovative with the Prius. GM had to combat that and they did with a wonderful new technology that to be honest is superior to all others save for the cost which is bound to fall.

Good for Nissan for getting the price of this vehicle to where it is. I think people will become more and more comfortable with these cars. Some day I'm hoping for an EV that is just a regular car. Not an econobox like the Leaf, not a supercar like the Tesla. Just a car.

wiredforstereo
wiredforstereo

"The Leaf owner can only make it 70 or 80 miles without having to stop for hours (overnight, probably) to recharge." 

What a load of hooey.  I own a Leaf, and what do I do when I want to take a long trip?  TAKE THE OTHER CAR!

Taiping
Taiping

With all the strange denunciations and attacks on electric cars, I can't help but think that somebody is getting paid to attack them. We drive a Leaf  and we have a gas powered car too. The Leaf is great for going to work, going to the store, going to church, going out to eat, going to a friend's house. In other words, nearly everything we do. It doesn't pollute the air, we can charge it from solar panels both at our work and at home (120v or 240v), plus it's fun.  We automatically charge it to 80% using a Blink charger. I'll kick it up a little for longer trips. If we need to go farther afield we take the other car. It's not complicated. It's not an inconvenience. Arguments attacking the electric cars are really going over the top ridiculous.


R.s.Rosenquist
R.s.Rosenquist

Interchangeable, removable batteries.  Your battery is low, you pull into a gas station, they have a fully charged battery ready for you to switch out.  They take your old battery and charge it and then give it to somebody else.

SO. SIMPLE. Why don't we have this yet?

BruceMorganWilliams
BruceMorganWilliams

Bottom line - if you commute between 20 and 100 miles a day,  and you have another way to take long trips,  it totally makes sense to go electric.   Simple math.   

timhebb
timhebb

Nice to see that EV bashers (who invariably know next to nothing about them) are growing scarcer in public discourse these days. To those remaining ludicrous Luddites, I propose to you that LEAFs and their descendants will be flourishing on our streets when Hummers are extinct and are only a distant memory...oh, wait, they are already! Hhhmm...

MichaelMastandrea
MichaelMastandrea

The Leaf has its place, but the Volt has the right combination of pure electric, and gas to remove range anxiety. I own a volt and am getting 44 miles electric. Most days I stay under the 44 miles, and some days in the 60-70 miles range. Gas mode is approx 37 mpg, so my 1 gal range is 81 miles at 3.85 per gal (if traveling 81 miles between charges). Overall MPG after 6,000 miles is 94MPG, and total range electric and 9 gal of fuel is near 400.

Sw422
Sw422

Seems like we've got two sets of people here -- people who find the Leaf suits their lifestyle and are very happy with it, and those who don't feel it matches what they want in a car so they bash the hell out of it.  It's pretty funny, actually.  It's like pickup truck owners hollering til they're red in the face that compact cars SUCK!  Please.  If you don't want an electric car right now, you don't need to buy one -- please don't scream about how awful it is.  Because for what it is and does, it's pretty well executed.  Instead, be glad there are early adopters that are helping to move electric-powered technology to market.  As prices keep coming down and the technology keeps improving, eventually they may reach the point where you'll want an electric vehicle yourself.

hugeoh
hugeoh

I'd be more interested in getting a Leaf if there was also a way to get a decent deal on a 240-volt charger with installation in my garage.  There are no longer any federal tax incentives for such residential installations; nor are there state incentives where I live.  Who wants to spend nearly $2000 on the charger and installation?  Instead of more "Do the Math" articles on getting an EV car,  I wish someone could figure out and tell  me how to get 240-volt charger with installation for really cheap.

DrDrey
DrDrey

If leaf was good enough, we wouldn't need to debate whether the math adds up or need obscene government rebates to get people to buy it, or drum up demand by forcing government agencies spend taxpayer funds on the latest fad.

JoeGisondi
JoeGisondi

Hey get this, Local govt and the federal govt are upset because the el cars are lowering their take on the gas taxes. So, if you own an ec your local govts and the feds are looking to tax you additional monies for highway and road usage. OPPPS. So much for those savings. 

MikeLand
MikeLand

I saw there is now and electric RV.  The whole back end is filled with batteries.  It supposedly gets 200 miles on a charge.  I guess that's ok as when I travel with an RV, I don't care about how long it takes to get anywhere and I have my luxury hotel on wheels.  The nice thing though is that once you get to a truck stop or RV park, you recharge off of city power.  If you do need to park in the boonies, you will have to leave the generator running pretty much all night to get a full charge.  But that's the nice thing.  If you do run out in the boonies, you can fire up the generator and get about 50 miles of charge per hour.  You can't however run the generator, drive, and charge at the same time. 

MikeLand
MikeLand

Of course if you need a new battery set for it, you just go down to Batteries Plus and pick one up.

LukePaiz
LukePaiz

The one and only reason for automoblie ownership IMHO is the freedom that it provides to be as spontaneous as you wish. I very often will make an on the spot decision to head out onto the open road to some place. The LEAF is the antithesis to this. With very limited infrastructure as well as all the other incoveniences that have been mentioned numerous times (limited range, tons of time to recharge etc.) an electric vehicle defeats the very purpose of owning an automobile! ...and I say this as an Electrical Engineer.

HYBRIDS are the future, not electrics. With hybrids you get the best of both worlds, so to speak. Manufacturers should focus on improving hybrid efficiency, as there is a lot of room still left for improvement. My next vehicle is going to be the Lexus RX 450H. I had my trusty 2000 LS 400 in for service at the local lexus dealership and they gave me the RX 450H for a few days as s loaner. I got a WHOPPING 28 mpg IN THE CITY of all things!!! (of course, driven conservatively to coax max mileage). Driven in the same conditions, my LS 400 would give about 14-ish mpg!! On the highway I got about 30 going about 70-75mph (just a bit more that the 28-ish I get with my LS). If manufacturers really put their heart and soul into it, they could definitely improve hybrid efficiency by another 30-50%. At that point fuel economy would become a moot issue.

leafdriver
leafdriver

I agree the Nissan LEAF isn't for everyone.  However, realistically, it fits the commuting needs of many Americans who a) either have a 30 minute commute or less, or b) commute about an hour each way and can charge at work.  I've owned a LEAF for nearly 2 years now, and it suits my work commuting needs just fine.  My daily commute is short enough that I only need home charging at night while I sleep.  We had solar panels installed to offset the increase in electrical usage.  If we have a longer distance to drive, such as a family road trip, we drive my spouse's gas-powered vehicle.  Having driven a LEAF for nearly two years, I really have nothing bad to say about it.   

bertinspain
bertinspain

Where is the math? The title is "does the math add up". So where is the math break down of ownership compared to fuel savings and electric bills? Or can't CNN do simple math?

DakotaDave
DakotaDave

@Taiping The fact that you need a second gas powered car to complete your transportation needs says all you need to know about the practicality of owning an EV.

jasavak
jasavak

@R.s.Rosenquist  

        It would be too labor intensive to remove a 600-1,000 pound battery packs from the vehicles .    Also , battery packs would have to be standardized , and the cars would have to be extremely modified .  

   The only time we would need to do these swaps would be on occasional long trips .  I would hate to take a trip and swap out my good battery and exchange it with something that is probably of much less quality .    The solution is charging  mostly at home with 10kw .  Down town charging at shopping centers should be 30kw- 60kw and super charging along interstates of 90-120kw would be a good start .  

C_Ryback
C_Ryback

@R.s.Rosenquist Answer: if were it were so simple -- it is not, OweBama (D) -- someone would do it.

OweBamas (D) think the world is so simple. It is they, who are the simple.

BruceMorganWilliams
BruceMorganWilliams

I might add that new research is coming out that shows Li-ion batteries tend to plateau at about 80% of rated capacity.   After that, the degradation occurs at a much much slower rate, so they actually last longer than originally thought, if you don't mind slightly lower capacity.  

RichardSlaughter
RichardSlaughter

@MichaelMastandrea Sounds like it definitely has the right combination --- for you :)  Not everyone has the same needs, and for many - such as myself - the much less expensive leaf is a better fit.

jasavak
jasavak

@Sw422  

    I don't fit into either category .  I own two Chevy Volts and want the Leaf to exceed .  However , it does not suit our lifestyle .   The Leaf's problem is that less than 35% of drivers would consider buying one because of the limited range and slow charging  .     If they produced a version with a 150 mile range and a network of faster charging stations it would be suitable for more than 90% of drivers.  I believe a 150 mile range version could be sold for less than $35,000 not including the incentives .

PaulScott
PaulScott

@Sw422 Well said! Anyone who has driven the LEAF or Volt knows the detrctors are full of it. Virtully 100% of the people who drive these cars loves them. Conversely, 100% of the EV haters have never driven one. 

Electric drive is clearly the end game. Batteries are only getting cheaper and oil is only getting more expensive. These are the long term trends, Betting against technology improvements is a fool's game.

OzarkGranny
OzarkGranny

@Sw422 Your intelligent, thoughtful, and kind statement reveals that you are new to on-line news commenting.

PaulScott
PaulScott

@hugeoh Two things...

1) As part of the fiscal cliff legislation that recently passed, the federal tax credit of 30% for charging infrastructure is back, and it even covers money spent in 2012! So, anything you spend on installing a charge station is eligible for a 30% tax credit up to $1,000.

2) The LEAF comes with a "trickle charge cord" that allows you to charge from a 120 volt outlet. If you send that cord to EVSEugrade.com, they will upgrade it to work for both 120 volt and 240 volt plugs. The cost is about $300. Then, all you need to do is install a simple, and low cost, dryer type plug and you are set for life.

FredBellows
FredBellows

@hugeoh installation is really quite basic. any electrician or even handyman can do it for a couple hundred max. the "chargers" are the over priced thing. they are not even chargers, just "ports" with a cable, plug, and simple "handshake" circuit to make sure it doesn't turn on till it sees that it is fully plugged in. The charger is on-board the vehicle. Yes, the price of these units must come down! It is rediculous that they are selling for $800! (and won't sell them without insisting on using their installers) You are right that the electric car industry must do something about this problem. I've heard talk of someone making "portable" 220v chargers with dryer plugs on them for use when you park at a friends' house, etc. Look into them, they could be the afordable, full-time solution for a home charger.

PaulScott
PaulScott

@DrDrey We either have "carrots" or "sticks". If you don't want the carrots of incentives for people to buy the plugin cars, then you must internalize the external cost of oil into the price at the pump. This "stick" is a big one. The military, health, environmental and economic costs of oil are measured in the hundreds of billions per year. Your precious gasoline will cost north of $8/gallon if you account for all the costs. 

So, which do you prefer, sticks or carrots?

FredBellows
FredBellows

@DrDrey well, that's true,...except for the fact that there is a multi-trillion dollar cartel that is encouraging negative propaganda about electric cars, creating an inaccurate "buzz" about them as being "jokes", and you can't be cool if you were to be seen even thinking about them. (it's called the oil industry)  The FACTS are, that a pure electric IS already, a viable, smart alternative to oil for about half the driving we do. Already. With these very first generation vehicles. Any two car household can buy a new EV, at retail, and charge it with electricity at full retail rates, and save a lot of money (not to mention, the huge ecological benefits), and have a fun fast car for most of their driving, and then use the gas car when they need to go far. (but don't tell them I told you about it. I don't want to end up in the East river).   

timhebb
timhebb

@LukePaiz

Hybrids will be the gateway to pure BEVs, as battery technology improves and manufacturing costs decrease. Studies show that Volt owners, who don't need to, charge more frequently than BEV drivers. Why? They HATE buying gas, and want to leverage the far cheaper battery miles as much as they possibly can. Volt drivers take pride in competing for the most miles driven without buying gas, etc. And they've compiled impressive numbers doing it. If they didn't feel they needed the gas engine "just in case," they wouldn't bother with hybrid technology once they begin to love battery drive. And many will eventually make the transition, when it suits their lifestyle. Hybrids will be invaluable in making the transition, but pure electrics will dominate the market in the long term.

frahmr65
frahmr65

@DakotaDave @Taiping I would say that it illustrates the practicality of most families simply needing more than one car; but feel free to read into it as you wish.  Every vehicle is a compromise; otherwise, there would only be one model made by one manufacturer.   

Dehuan
Dehuan

@R.s.Rosenquist You don't have this yet (and likely won't ever) because automobile manufacturers won't harmonize their battery packs around a standard technology so you could reasonably scale such a business.  Imagine the start-up costs involved having charged battery packs in inventory for every different EV in the marketplace.  Won't work.

PaulScott
PaulScott

@jasavak @Sw422 We're getting closer. The 2013 LEAF has a lower price tag by several thousand, so that's good. Nissan and Aerovironment are in the process of installing lots of fast chargers in the next two months at Nissan dealerships. We're getting ours in February. This will help sell a lot of them.

The 2014 LEAF will have a new LiIon chemistry with 20-30% more range. While not quite 150 miles, which I agree is the sweet spot for range, it's getting closer. The trend is clear, batteries will get cheaper, range will get longer, oil will get more expensive.

jasavak
jasavak

@FredBellows

                         The problem is that not everyone has , needs or wants to be part of a two car family .   A $20,000 car with no out of town range will appeal to less than half of drivers . People will continue to make jokes until an EV with better range is produced and sells for  less than $35,000 .