Want to Buy an Electric Car
Read this First
Thinking more seriously about buying an electric car now that gas prices are revving up? You and everybody else.
E.V.s are hard to find, especially now. The war in Ukraine hasn’t just caused gas prices to soar. It has also disrupted car production in Europe, which sends exports to the United States. And U.S. companies like Ford “basically got blindsided by how many people want to buy their cars” and can’t make E.V.s fast enough, Chris Harto, a senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports, told me.
When my partner and I moved to Los Angeles last year, we knew we would need to shop for a car, and we knew we wanted it to be all-electric.
After a lot of research, we managed to test all the cars we wanted to see in a day and drove home that night with our top pick.
Here’s what we learned:
Electric cars are in such high demand, few dealers are keeping vehicles around for test drives — we had to drive an hour to find one model. (Oh, and make sure to specify whether you want all-electric, so you aren’t surprised with a hybrid like we were.)
We made our appointments the day before. On the day of, we called ahead to make sure the car hadn’t been sold. A car being listed on a dealer’s website is no guarantee it’s on the lot.
Be ready to wait, or to pay extra.
We saw a handful of cars, but we ended up buying the first we test drove, the Kia Niro.
The markup on the Ford Mustang Mach-E, was an eye-popping $15,000. If we had wanted the Volkswagen ID4, all we had to do was wait up to six months, our salesman said. The Chevrolet Bolt has been out of production for months, and a lot of the other models were nowhere to be found, either.
But because we didn’t buy the Niro as soon as we saw it, the salesman was unwilling to knock off a $5,000 price increase over the manufacturer’s suggested retail price. C’est la vie, we thought and moved forward anyway.
The E.V. credits are confusing.
We were dreading redeeming the incentive of up to $7,500 the federal government offers to E.V. buyers. It’s not an instant rebate; you have to wait until tax season.
We were prepared to finance the purchase, but the dealer talked us into a lease, which included the full government incentive as a rebate, plus a little extra rebate that covered the lease’s administrative fee. Our contract allows us to buy the car for whatever cost remains at any point during the lease period, plus a $300 fee, so we’ll do that in a few months to avoid the pricey lease charges. We calculated we may come out a few hundred dollars ahead, but the real value was that we got the credit right away.
That was a risky move though. Chris Harto, a senior policy analyst for Consumer Reports, told me there could be a lot of gotchas. “I would definitely not do it without very closely scrutinizing all of the paperwork,” he said.
California’s Clean Vehicle Rebate Project is confusing, too. First, the program, which offers rebates of $2,000 or more if you buy an all-electric vehicle, is funded and there is no waitlist, despite outdated messages on its website.
But the income cap recently changed: If you make more than $135,000 (or $200,000 filing jointly) you do not qualify — something your dealer may not know or tell you. And the cap on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price changed, too, to no more than $45,000 for sedans and $60,000 for S.U.V.s and trucks. That means newly purchased Teslas are not eligible. And those figures could change again.
There are other breaks out there, including a $750 credit that California dealers apply at checkout and incentives from electric companies.
Forget buying used.
We looked. There are exceedingly few used electrics unless you want to buy older models with lower ranges.
The Hyundai Kona we test drove was the cheapest late-model used electric we found — and was listed at more than $40,000, thousands over its original suggested retail price. And used cars aren’t eligible for the federal tax credit.
Be realistic about your savings.
Gas isn’t cheap, but neither is electricity.
At about 18 cents per kilowatt-hour, it will cost about $11.50 to fully charge our car’s 64 kWh battery. That’s a lot better than the $70 it costs to fill our Subaru Forester to get about the same distance. But factoring in the cost of the car, particularly with the markup, we may not really be saving much money over a conventional vehicle.
That isn’t the only reason to buy electric, which we were reminded of during a particularly smoggy day last week. And we expect to save on maintenance: no oil changes or spark plugs.
An alternative: Hybrids are in a lot less demand than full electrics. They’re also a lot cheaper; you can save as much as $10,000 to $15,000 at the dealer. Depending on your driving habits, you may still save a lot on gas.
In the end, we were happy we had been able to make it all happen in just one day. And as we drove the new car into our neighborhood, we were vindicated further: The price of gas on the corner had ticked up another 10 cents.
By William P. Davis
Published in the New York Times on March 23, 2022