Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Gas or Electric Car? Website Estimates Fuel Costs

The Institute for Transportation Studies at the University of California-Davis has a tradition in researching alternative propulsion systems for light duty vehicles such as cars, vans and pickup trucks.  They recently unveiled an interesting website called EV Explorer.

People can input various types of cars and their point to point trips such as their daily commute. The EV Explorer uses Google maps to find the best route and then calculates the annual cost of round-trips depending on how many times a week a person makes this trip.

The website also allows for comparisons that take account of the local cost of living. In fact the user should include his/her local cost of gas and electricity instead of using the default national averages.

Not surprisingly, the results are startling for Honolulu compared to the average U.S. city. Not because Honolulu has expensive gasoline (it does) but because it has outrageously expensive electricity (almost three times the national average!)

I used a popular family car, the 2014 Toyota Camry in two versions, one with the standard 4-cylinder engine and one with the hybrid powerplant.  I left unchanged their two electric vehicles, the Chevy Volt and the Nissan Leaf. The trip I used was from the UH-Manoa where I work to Kailua where I used to reside. An even 30 mile round trip.

Using average U.S. prices with regular gas at $3.8 per gallon and electricity at 14 cents per KW-hour, the electric vehicles have a clear advantage in terms of money spent on fuel. Just for this trip over a year a Nissan Leaf could save be $500 over the regular Camry.  But wait!

I need to adjust the prices for Honolulu where the price of regular gas is $4.1 per gallon and the price per KWh is 40 cents (including the fixed charges added by the utility.).

The picture changes dramatically.  The EVs cost almost as much to make these trips as the regular Camry! For Honolulu, the Camry Hybrid is the right choice.  I run similar numbers about 15 months ago and indeed I got a hybrid version of a sedan that offers a 30% better city mpg compared to the version with the same gas engine alone.

If you are in Hawaii, drive an EV and brag about fuel cost savings, I am sorry to say, but your savings is a figment of your imagination.