Worth the investment? Breaking down economics of electric vehicles

Added fuel costs have put more people in the market, or at least considering, the transition to an electric vehicle, or EV.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 10:55 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - As we see another summer closing out, this one will be remembered with some infamy due to record gas prices. That added cost of fuel has put more people in the market, or at least considering, the transition to an electric vehicle, or EV. This is as carmakers are looking to meet that demand, rolling out new battery-powered models.

EVs are already becoming a more familiar sight on Wichita roads, so we met up and rode along with three area EV (Tesla) owners about what the switch is like and what it means to drive electric.

Jared Vaughan, of Wellington, has owned two Teslas. He drove an older Model S for about a year and traded that in for a Model 3 earlier this year.

“I mean, I’m definitely a nerd all day long,” said Vaughan. “I kind of embrace change the way my life is. It’s just kind of intriguing. They said what, by year 2000, and I’m 41, we were supposed to have floating cars, but we don’t got that. So, an electric car is the next best bet.”

Vaughan said it’s like most other cars he’s driven, just with a few more bells and whistles and oddities.

“Just how in-depth he (Elon Musk) got with it, I mean my car can fart. He had too much fun with that one,” said Vaughan. “You can do the light show and colorize your car.”

Brad Williamson, of Derby, has owned his Tesla Model Y for about a year.

“I would not consider myself an early adopter at this point, anything in my life. This is the first thing I’ve got in on before a lot of people. I think it’s great to see more EV options, more people driving electric cars. I think, especially because Tesla is probably the higher end of the market price-wise, they’ll be other options considered more affordable,” said Williamson.

He said it took some persuading to go electric when he was looking at buying a new car last year.

“Initially, I was not interested in getting an EV,” Williamson said. “I drive 2,000 to 2,500 miles a month. My car had 250,000 miles. It had a head cover gasket leak, so I was looking at getting a new vehicle in general. A buddy of mine said you should look into getting a Tesla. I was like, I’m not buying a Tesla, that’s ridiculous. Famous last words.”

Williamson said after looking at some gas-powered cars, he started to look at what EV’s might have to offer and if it’s worth the investment.

“I felt pretty comfortable with the brand and with their concept and proof of concept up to that point,” Williamson said. “I said they’ve gotten ahead of the market by building the infrastructure of the supercharges. That was a big part of it for me is I have to use it. The superchargers were great. The battery integrity has been pretty solid. The range, I bought the long-range Model Y because I needed more range, and the whole concept was good enough to consider over whatever I was comparing it to at that point.”

Since making the purchase, his son, Bryce, has become a big fan.

“I wasn’t quite sure about them. I was like ‘another car, you’re getting a new car? Ok.’ He was like ‘it’s electric, it can drive itself.’ Then I was like, ‘I have to learn some more,’” said Bryce Williamson. “Now, I know almost everything.”

Brandon Devlin, of Wichita, has been behind the wheel of his Tesla Model 3 since last December.

“Just enough where I’m passed the newbie stage but still learning stuff every day,” said Devlin.

Devlin said he’s been looking at purchasing an electric car for some time, and last year, things lined up where it worked out.

“I’ve always been kind of into the tech world, the smartphones, smart tech at home, all that good stuff,” said Devlin. “When I saw Tesla starting to gain popularity and some of the tech behind it...

All three of these Telsa drivers highlight the savings as one of the prime benefits of driving electric. EVs off the lot often carry higher sticker prices than gas-powered counterparts.

“These vehicles aren’t super cheap when compared to some other vehicles, some alternatives out there, but one thing to consider is the cost of ownership over five years,” said Devlin. “They might be a little bit more expensive for the vehicle, but you’re saving so much in maintenance and energy savings.”

Williamson said when he was looking at buying a Tesla, he sat down and did the numbers. Now that he owns one, he’s still tracking the figures in a spreadsheet.

“If you do the math, on 20 miles per gallon car, you’re getting like 18, 20 cents a mile. All my driving, highway, city, everything, I’m getting about 4 cents a mile,” Williams said.

“I currently work from home, so I don’t do a ton of driving but just driving around Wichita, east to west side, it’s maybe a $1.20 (to charge at home) a night,” said Devlin. “The last 31 days, it was about $30.”

Especially with the gas prices this year, it’s been a wise investment for these drivers.

“I still have gas cars, don’t get me wrong, and I don’t want to fill them up. But I do if I need to,” Vaughan said.

Consumer Reports looked at the cost of EV ownership in 2020 compared to driving in a comparable gas-powered car. In 2020, when the national average for gas was about $2.20 a gallon, EV owners were saving $800 to $1,300, depending on the type of car, for every 15,000 miles, the average distance driven in a year.

Consumer Reports ran that same analysis earlier this year, when the national average for gas was about $4.30, and found the savings ranged from $1,800 to $2,600.

Consumer Reports found on average, EV drivers spend 60 percent less to power their car and half as much on maintenance.

“Car battery under the hood that runs all of this, air conditioner, windows, and that’s an easy flip out and change just like you would in your normal car. Washer fluid that’s the only fluid you have to worry about. There’s no oil changes,” said Vaughan. “Tires. Tires are probably going to be your biggest expense.”

The battery is the main component of concern, but for these three drivers, it comes down to simple care.

“Always want to keep your car maintained at a charge. It even says in the manual a plugged-in Tesla, is a happy Tesla because you’re not only maintaining the battery that you’re sitting on, you’re maintaining the battery under the hood,” Vaughan said.

“I just try to stay above 10 percent and not charge above 90 percent,” said Williamson. “Other than that, everything I’ve read, it’s really pretty simple. I’m not worried about hot weather, I’m not worried about cold weather. I just come home at night, plug in, I put a cap on the battery changing.”

In 2020, Consumer Reports calculated the lifetime savings of an EV compared to the best-selling gas cars.

On the low end was the Ford Mustang Mach E with about $3,000 in savings.

On the high end was Tesla’s Model 3, with savings totaling $17,600.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory completed a look at the fuel savings earlier this year, and found driving an EV over 15 years could lead to saving as much as $14,500.

While fuel prices - like we’ve seen in 2022 - weren’t a prime reason for Vaughan, Williamson and Devlin to buy their Tesla, they’re glad to have made the investment when they did.

“Every Tesla owner I’ve talked to said, ‘I wish I would have done it sooner. I wish I would have done it sooner. I wish I would have done it sooner.’” Williamson said, “Three months after I ordered, I took delivery, and I’m glad I did it sooner. It’s been a surprisingly great purchase.”

Now, it’s leading to others asking them about making the switch.

“Let them drive or take a ride with them, and they instantly fall in love. They always been like ‘well, you know, not sure if EVs are right for me.’ Then they take one ride, and they’re sold,” said Devlin.

Auto dealerships with EVs are also feeling that demand like at Eck Auto Group.

“Enormous. The demand far exceeds the production. Everybody is curious. Not quite everybody is ready to make that jump but the ones that are, are very happy with not only the quality and the vehicle itself, the production. We could sell them all day long,” said Eck Automotive Group Operations Officer Alex Tilma.

Ford is among the carmakers bringing on new EVs to market. The Ford F-150 Lightning pickup filled up orders when it first launched and people are waiting for their delivery.

“About 6-9 months, but if I could tell you would it be well worth the wait, it would be. I’ve got fleet companies that have ordered 40 of these things,” said Rusty Eck Ford/ Eck Auto Group CEO Kyle Eck.

“I like the way that Ford is going with the electric version of the F-150 because that’s actually one of their most sold product is the F-150,” he added. “When people can get into a truck like this one, the sticker is $43,000, where some people think an electric vehicle is going to be $60k, $70k, $80.”

The Mach-E and the KIA EVs the dealership sells are also gone about as soon as they arrive.

With this growing demand, there remain questions about what this will all look like.

“There’s always a question when you have something brand new. Everybody’s got a question. I’ve heard electric grids, are they going to be able to take all of the power? Those are the kinds of questions five, 10, 15 years, you can probably answer, but as of right now, I don’t think there should be any need for any worry about the difference between gas and electric,” Eck said.