I ended up purchasing a used 2013 Ford Focus electric for various reasons. One of the primary reasons was due to the price difference between the used and the new models. With the first generation of electric cars price was a major hurdle to their acceptance. The Tesla Model S is still north of $70,000 new, and the Volt and the Leaf for the year 2011 were around $35,000-40,000. Even after subtracting the maximum federal tax credit of $7,500 these cars were still much more expensive than their gasoline counterparts. People on a budget or those who are very frugal just couldn’t afford the cost of a new electric car. Even though you could recoup your costs in time by not buying gasoline it didn’t justify not using a cheaper gasoline car. Even though I had my dream of driving an electric car someday, a new electric car off the assembly line seemed unattainable. I’d have to wait.
Our cars at the time (before 2017) were my 1998 Chevy Cavalier and my wife’s 1997 Saturn SL2. Those cars were fairly fuel-efficient by gasoline, non-hybrid standards. On a good summer day I could get 35 miles per gallon (mpg) out of the Saturn and about 30 in the Cavalier. They did their job admirably and cheaply enough. But, alas, as you can tell by their age they were not in the best shape. The Cavalier, with over 200,000 miles was the first to become unreasonable to maintain. It had a coolant leak, a slow oil leak, and had finally developed a gasoline leak. The exhaust was nearly all gone so it was terribly loud. It came time to retire the Cavalier and that Saturn wasn’t as reliable as it could’ve been. We needed a new car.
I turned my thoughts back to the electric car. It was early 2017 and the first generation cars had been out since 2011 or 2012 and, well, maybe there were some used ones available. If there weren’t any it would be easy to buy a newer cheaper gasoline car, but I figured why not look into a used electric vehicle. Not surprisingly I discovered that there were none in my town and that the closest ones available were near Chicago and Madison. It seemed that the automakers marketed the cars towards the affluent suburbs and city-dwellers possibly due to the their shorter ranges. Anyways it made sense. If I wanted an electric car I’d have to drive to get one.
Cost was another concern but one that turned out beneficial. My idea was that no one wanted a used electric car. One of my acquaintances pointed out that no one wants a new electric car either! He’s not wrong as gasoline isn’t at nosebleed prices currently. You don’t need to be an economist to know that used electric vehicles might have depressed prices compared to their new value thanks to low demand and unfamiliarity with the drivetrain. I found that used Volts were around $15,000 on average, and some Nissan Leafs were around $7,000-10,000. Remember that these cars initially sold for $30,000 and $40,000. The prospect of getting a 4-6 year old car with low mileage at about 30% of the new price seemed shocking. I don’t think that sort of depreciation happens with gasoline cars. It seemed dealers were trying to give the cars away.
There is much uncertainty with how a used electric car will fare in the world. How long will the battery last? How long will the engine last? How do electric cars do in the heat and the cold? What are typical failure modes for the car? Basically it all boils down to a single question: is this car a good value or not?
Obviously I decided they were a good value. These first generation electrics are priced amazingly for their age and mileage despite the “risks” involved with them and I think they are an amazing deal. And that’s my main point here really: electric cars are finally affordable and in many cases cheaper than their gasoline counterparts. New electric cars have never been the most affordable, but finally they are hitting the used market and at very good prices. For once in history you can find a true, all-electric car for under $10,000. Anyone can get one and I think many would if they knew more about them. But more on that part later on.