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Gonna rock down to Electric Avenue

July 14, 2016
Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3 (Tesla Motors photo)

About four years ago, when gasoline was over four bucks a gallon in the U.S., people were happily paying upwards of $30,000 for plug-in electric and hybrid cars. The era of cheap petroleum was OVER, they said. Electric power was the future for personal transportation, they said.

Then the bottom fell out of crude oil prices.

With gas prices now hovering around $2.25/gallon, give or take, people are snapping up pickups, SUVs and crossovers like there’s no tomorrow. Sales of plain ol’ passenger cars have nosedived. New hybrids and electrics are stacking up like cord wood on dealer lots. So are compact and subcompact hatchbacks. There are deals to be had.

But nothing like the asking prices for used hybrids and electrics. To find the cars listed below, I went to Autotrader and searched for used examples within 25 miles of my old zip code in Seattle. Prices for new ones do not reflect the $7,500 Federal income tax credit, nor any state income or sales tax credits.

Consider the Toyota Prius. Western Washington state is pretty much Priusville, with lots of all four generations running around. A new 2012 Prius started out at around $24K. Now?

Used 2012 Toyota Prius

Thirty percent off the original MSRP after four years is a fairly big hit, depreciation-wise. Good thing you didn’t buy a new one, huh? Kelly Blue Book sez a ’13 Prius in good condition is only worth $12,500 as a trade-in, i.e., half what it cost new.

2013 Chevy Volt

You’d have taken a bigger depreciation hit if you’d bought a new 2012 Chavy Volt. My Autotrader search didn’t offer up any 2012 models, but this 2013 version is a pretty sweet deal, no? This one sold new for $33,995 (the 2012 Volt I reviewed cost $39,995). Which means this one is selling for 44% of its original price.

I’ve saved the best used-electric buy for last.

2012 Nissan LEAF

A new Nissan LEAF (they still tell me all caps, please) SL, which is the uplevel trim, sold for $35,200, meaning this one has lost over 70% of its MSRP in just four years. THIS is the one you really didn’t want to pay full price for (which you would’ve, and then some) in 2012. But it is the one to get now, for peanuts. Especially because pure electrics don’t require the maintenance an ICE compact would. A 2012 also has half of its 8-year battery warranty left. A LEAF can offer truly cheap automobility. And in my neck of the woods, it’s unlikely you’ll pass a used-car lot that doesn’t have at least one LEAF begging you to take it home.

This is just the beginning. A tsunami of hybrids, electrics, compacts and subcompacts is about to come crashing into shore, which, barring another oil shock, could send prices plunging even further.

But even if you’re feeling generous and want to get a brand-new electric car, you have all kinds of choices. In addition to the LEAF and the Volt, there’s the Ford Focus Electric, Ford C-Max Energi, Ford Fusion Energi, Kia Soul EV (a Seattle-area dealer will lease you one for $159/month), smart electric drive, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and BMW i3. Not to mention the Fiat 500e and VW eGolf, which are available in limited areas.

As this is written, Nissan is offering $4,000 cash back on a new LEAF. And Chevrolet has a pilot assembly line building Bolts, which will offer 200 miles on a full charge, at this very moment.

So why exactly would anyone pay $1,000 for the possibility of being able to purchase a Tesla Model 3 for $35,000 (maybe no tax credit, and no free SuperChargers) at the end of 2017 (unless the intro slips, which has been the case with every new model Tesla Motors has introduced)? Well, as P.T. Barnum said, there’s a sucker born every minute. Or in the case of the Model 3, 373,000 of them.

From the perspective of this here blog, the American scooter revolution some (yes, including me) predicted would be just around the corner becomes even less likely.

I had a scooter and a car (the dearly-departed Escape), and because I used the scooter when the car was too much for the trip I needed to take, I did save a bunch of money on gas, and put a lot fewer miles on the car. But I used the scooter even when the weather was nasty, which a lot of folks aren’t inclined to do.

Now that you can get a vehicle that protects you and three other passengers from the elements, holds a bunch of stuff, and doesn’t use a whole lot more fuel than a scooter (or in the case of a PEV, none at all), for a sum not much greater than the cost of a scooter, why would any reasonable person choose a scooter?

The scooter industry had its chance, and blew it.

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5 Comments
  1. JamesJohn permalink
    July 14, 2016 1:06 pm

    Looks like the Millennials are our only hope.

  2. July 14, 2016 2:02 pm

    Except the motorcycle/scooter biz has absolutely failed to make an impression on Millennials. They are more about autonomous vehicles, if any (there are the surveys where they mostly say their smartphones give them everything a vehicle could).

  3. July 15, 2016 8:05 pm

    Good analysis Orin. It looks like two wheelers remain toys for those of us that want to have fun. Bloody millennials and their pokemons..

  4. Rob permalink
    July 16, 2016 9:15 am

    Which dealer is leasing the Kia EV for only $159??

  5. July 16, 2016 9:33 am

    Lee Johnson in Kirkland.

Comments are closed.