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UCS study says EVs cheaper to run than ICEs

Analysis by the Union of Concerned Scientists finds that switching to an EV could save the average driver over US$1,000 a year compared with an ICE vehicle

Running an EV is cheaper than filling up the tank of an internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle, says a new study.

The paper, by the respected Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), compared electricity rates and gasoline prices in 57 cities around the US. The researchers found that that drivers of electric vehicles (EV) could save anywhere from US$440 to more than US$1,070 a year, compared with the cost of fuelling the average new petrol-powered vehicle.

Part of the reason behind this is that electricity prices are also relatively stable, whereas petrol prices have historically been volatile. The price of a US gallon of gasoline has ranged from less than US$2.00 to more than US$4.50 over the past 15 years, but the cost of electricity equivalent to a gallon of gas has only varied between US$0.88 and US$1.17 during that time.

Although costs vary from city to city, the UCS found a rate plan in every location studied that would assure drivers a cheaper rate than gasoline.

In addition, the UCS points to the multiple components which may fail or require changing in an ICE vehicle – including oil, spark plugs and timing belts – which are not required for the running of an electric motor. Combined with energy savings from regenerative braking (which also cuts down brake pad wear), the low cost of operation and maintenance should be persuasive.

In one example calculation, the UCS calculates that component replacements and service work for a Chevrolet Bolt EV after 150,000 miles could be less than half the price of a Chevrolet Sonic. Factoring in tire rotations, oil and filter replacements and spark plug replacements, it estimates that a Bolt driver may pay around US$983, compared with US$2,529 for the Sonic.

UCS EV Repair Graph

Their analysis concedes that the overall purchase prices of most EVs are higher, but notes that many federal and state rebates can often bring down the up-front investment, and when combined with lower running costs may still make the EV cheaper. However, those savings will be dependent on government policy, which will certainly not last forever.

The group recommends that federal tax rebates should be continued, and that programmes should be more targeted to encourage adoption amongst those who could benefit from fuel savings but may not be able to afford the high up-front costs.

In addition, it advocates that electricity providers devise rate plans and charging technologies which encourage users to make switch, and roll out more infrastructure in urban locations like apartment blocks.


The UCS’ recommendations are sound, but ElecTrans points to two key issues which must be addressed in to ensure the transition towards a greater proportion of electric transportation.

The first is that EVs are cheaper to run in large part because gasoline is taxed at a much higher rate than household/public electricity. Even with higher rates and taxes on public charging infrastructure, the lack of fuel duties will ensure EVs win. This situation must be addressed by governments if the two are truly to compete on a level playing field.

The second is that federal tax rebates and grants cannot last forever. Indeed, manufacturers like Tesla may already be approaching the ceiling if production plans for 2018 are met. With that in mind, automakers and governments alike must also focus on additional methods of bringing down the headline costs of EV technology, rather than encouraging drivers to rely on subsidies indefinitely.

The full UCS report is available here.


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