The allure of the electric vehicle has never been stronger.
Tesla is raking in record profits. General Motors plans to sell only electric cars by 2035. Volkswagen is aiming to make them cheaper than gasoline-powered vehicles. And surveys show that at least two-thirds of American drivers are open to buying an E.V.
Many people still have concerns about cost, choice and charging, but those barriers are falling fast and President Biden hopes to speed things along with tens of billions of dollars in incentives.
It can feel overwhelming and exciting to someone in the market for a car. Here’s how you should think about whether an electric vehicle is right for you.
What are you looking for? Be honest.
Electric vehicles are fast, are fun to drive, require little maintenance and produce no tailpipe emissions, a major contributor to climate change. But even if you’re sure you want one, there are many to choose from. That’s why it’s important to understand what you’re looking for.
“Is it basic transportation? Or is it an expression of yourself and your personality?” said Matt DeLorenzo, senior managing editor for Kelley Blue Book. “Cars are a statement about their buyers. If they weren’t, there wouldn’t be a Mercedes.”
Take Tesla. Sure, the company makes powerful, modern and fast electric vehicles. But the appeal is also tied up in what a Tesla says about its owner. Buying one means buying into a community of early adopters — and, to an extent, into the views and visions of Elon Musk, the company’s magnetic and brash chief executive. As a result, many car people either love or hate Tesla.
Some electric vehicles, like the Hyundai Ioniq, the Nissan Leaf or the Mini Cooper SE, start around $30,000 and are economical and ecological alternatives to a gas-powered car. Others, like the Porsche Taycan or the forthcoming behemoth electric Hummer from GMC and the luxurious Mercedes-Benz EQS, are statement pieces that will set you back something in the ballpark of $100,000.Daily business updates The latest coverage of business, markets and the economy, sent by email each weekday. Get it sent to your inbox.
What’s your charging plan?
The nation’s charging infrastructure may be growing fast, but anyone looking to make the switch to electric vehicles should have a charging plan.
The first step is to determine where you will typically charge the vehicle. Most people do it at home, which is easiest. But with new electric cars and trucks able to drive 200 miles or more on a full charge, some drivers choose to refuel as needed at work or public charging stations. Some city residents have been known to unfurl long cables from apartments or homes to power vehicles parked on the street.
If you plan to charge a new electric car or truck at home, there are pitfalls to be aware of. While electric vehicles can be powered with typical household outlets, the process is painfully slow, taking up to 24 hours or more to reach a full charge. Many owners opt to install a faster 220- to 240-volt outlet, like those used by clothes dryers, which usually entails hiring an electrician.
“You’re basically installing something unique for the electric car — there is a cost associated with that,” said Alistair Weaver, editor in chief of Edmunds.com.
He should know. After buying a new house, Mr. Weaver realized that his electrical panel required an expensive upgrade to power his wife’s Tesla Model 3.
Anyone without an easy way to charge should pay extra attention to the real-world range of the vehicle and how it might change in different conditions. Cold weather, for example, can cut a vehicle’s range substantially.
Should I buy a Tesla?
It’s impossible to talk about electric vehicles without talking about Tesla. The company sits atop the electric vehicle market in the United States, and for good reason: Though they aren’t without their problems, Tesla’s cars are generally beloved.
“There’s a lot about Tesla that appeals to people who are just looking for future technology or a sports car — they’re all very fast,” Mr. Fisher said. “There’s even something deeper than that. I think there’s an affection for Elon Musk.”
As the market leader, Tesla has some advantages. Its cars and technology have been in use longer than electric vehicles made by other automakers, and Tesla has an easy-to-use charging network for the exclusive use of cars it makes. But the landscape is changing fast, according to Mr. Weaver of Edmunds.
“There’s a real explosion in choice,” he said. “Everybody, and I mean everybody, is piling into the market. The tipping point has been reached where all your familiar brands will now be offering genuinely useful, versatile E.V. alternatives within the next two or three years.”
Several new electric vehicles hit the roads in early 2021, including Ford’s Mustang Mach-E, Volkswagen’s ID.4 and Volvo’s XC40 Recharge. And carmakers are expected to introduce many more this year and next. Some that auto enthusiasts are eagerly awaiting include the Audi Q4 e-tron sport utility vehicle, BMW’s i4 sedan, Hyundai’s Ioniq 5 S.U.V. and Nissan’s Ariya S.U.V. Several start-ups are expected to start selling cars, too, including the Lucid Air sedan and Rivian’s R1T pickup truck and R1S S.U.V.
What can you afford? (Tax credits could help.)
Yes, electric vehicles cost more than similar gasoline-powered vehicles, but the sticker price tells you only so much. Federal and state tax breaks, utility grants and other savings can help to offset the cost.
The federal government offers a $7,500 tax credit for electric vehicles. It has run out for customers buying a Tesla or a G.M. car, but it’s still available for many other electric vehicles. Take the Nissan Leaf. A new basic model costs nearly $32,000, but after the federal tax credit, the price drops to less than $25,000. And states, cities and even utility companies offer incentives for buying electric vehicles or installing chargers at home.
Electric vehicles are also cheaper to own. A recent Consumer Reports study found that the average electric vehicle driver will spend 60 percent less to power the car, truck or S.U.V. and half as much on repairs and maintenance — no oil changes needed — when compared with the average owner of a gas-powered vehicle.
Buying used could be a cheaper way to get an electric vehicle, though evaluate the car you are buying carefully, particularly the quality of the battery, because it will degrade over time. That said, a used electric vehicle could be a perfect choice for a second car for errands, commutes and other short trips.