By  Tue May 28, 2013

Curious About Electric Cars? We Chat With 2 Satisfied Owners

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Neil B.’s Nissan Leaf

Electric vehicles have made headlines recently, after car manufacturers like Nissan began lowering prices. A new round of discount leases on certain plug-in cars like the Nissan LEAF, combined with enticing federal, state and local incentives could make these types of vehicles affordable for the average American.

Despite the price cut, electric cars still face an uphill battle in terms of being able to achieve mass public appeal. They account for less than 1% of total vehicle sales in the U.S. in the first four months of this year, according to HybridCars.com.

So what exactly do you really know about electric-powered cars, other than it being better for the environment and never having to fill up at the gas station? How much does an electric car cost? What should you expect, in terms of maintenance, saving money on gas and receiving those hefty price incentives? 

All of these questions and more are addressed in a chat with two Californian residents and Nissan LEAF owners Neil B. and Jade W., who share their experiences.  Both Neil and Jade also own a Toyota Prius (a hybrid car), and say both vehicles have been worthwhile for their family and lifestyle.

Would you consider ditching your gas-powered or hybrid car for electric?

MBT: How long have you owned or leased an electric car, and what aspects of owning this type of vehicle appealed to you most?

NB: I purchased my 2011 Nissan LEAF in June of 2011, so I’ve had it for almost 2 years now. I really appreciate not being a slave to Middle Eastern oil Sheiks and ever-increasing gasoline prices. Also, I feel good about helping to reduce environmental pollution. But the bottom line: I really bought it to save money in the long run.

JW: We’re very close to 22 months of ownership. The idea of not having to use fossil fuel daily appealed to my husband and me most. Plus, electric vehicles are so much fun to drive… lots of torque, smooth and quiet rides, and they usually include a lot of techy features and options.

MBT: What was the cost of your vehicle?

NB: My purchase cost, out the door, was just under $38,000.

JW: We bought our LEAF SL  with the fast charging port at the MSRP price plus options, taxes, license and delivery fees for under $40,000 before incentives. We had purchased 4 new cars before the LEAF and had never paid MSRP!

But, our LEAF purchase was a very unique experience for us. It was at a time when many other purchasers were  still in the queue receiving their pre-orders after waiting a year or more for the first mass-produced EV. We bought what was called an “orphan,” which is a LEAF that someone had custom pre-ordered and opted not to purchase when the car arrived.

We live in the San Francisco Bay Area, where many high-tech employees were more than willing to pay premium for the privilege of driving one, especially with the available HOV stickers to drive in the time-saving commuting carpool lanes. With a child in college, we couldn’t justify paying above MSRP, but have no regrets to this day about paying MSRP for our very first time. We love driving electric!

MBT: These cars are pricey! What type of discounts, tax breaks or incentives did you receive?

NB: I received a $7,500 federal and $5,000 CA tax rebate (which reduces the total purchase prices to $25,500). I also received a complimentary charging station installed in my garage, with a separate meter. I receive electricity for about $0.07 per kilowatt by charging between 12 A.M.-6 A.M. using the charging timer provided with the car.

JW: We were able to receive the full federal tax credit for $7,500.  This credit is applied towards the federal tax liability you owe for the year you made the vehicle purchase. It cannot be applied towards multiple years. Keep in mind, that it’s up to the maximum of $7,500. For example, if you only owe $5,000 in tax liability during your EV purchase year, you are only eligible for $5,000 credit. Smaller credits are allowed for other type  EVs. Here’s a nice resource for current info: PlugInAmerica.org.

For our family, this was a great way to insure that a portion of our taxes was applied directly to something we felt strongly about… helping to advance sustainable transportation! The federal tax credit is still available.

We also applied for and received the $2,500 California Clean Vehicle Project Rebate. Currently, the funding in California has been used up and a waiting list has been established. Each state, if they have an electric vehicle incentive program, would probably differ from others, so potential purchasers should do their research regarding the state in which they live.

Also, being residents of an eligible city, we applied and qualified to participate in a multi-year electric vehicle charging study. With it came an EVSE (Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment) and a flat amount to cover its installation so we could charge our EV at home. This program is not available in our city anymore, but potential buyers could double check if any programs or incentives are available currently where they live. If not, and you need to purchase an EVSE, there currently still is a potential 30% federal tax credit, up to $1,000 for consumers. With the Nissan LEAF lease, they got the full $7,5000 credit up front.

MBT: When shopping around, did you notice a difference in the car-buying process when purchasing an electric car, compared to buying a gas-powered car?

NB: Since I was one of the first to take delivery of an EV, the price was not really flexible.  I did manage to receive a $1,000 discount under MSRP, with a local dealer. Most dealers were charging right at or over MSRP during the first year.  A comparable ICE (which stands for Internal Combustion Engine), a gasoline car was certainly cheaper, but I don’t really compare the two. It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

JW:  We had a very unusual experience. In looking for an orphan, we ended up buying our EV from a Southern California dealership over the phone, sight  unseen, and drove it 345 miles home!  (Yes, LOL, on our first real EV drive… after one dealership test drive, we had a 345-mile trip! A trip with a range like that would be more common now with the current public charging infrastructure, but about 2 years ago… it was quite different! We plotted our charging route prior to the trip.  After driving the first segment, we felt pretty confident with the car.) This was actually our easiest, most adventuresome, and memorable new car purchase of all!

With Nissan’s Tennessee assembly plant building the 2013 models vs. Japan’s, there might be lower costs and more stock so there could be more room for price negotiations. There are three models of the LEAF vs. only two during 2011 and 2012. So in addition to negotiating, a lower-cost model can be had if desired. Recently, there have been some awesome leasing deals. For many, the price of the monthly leases are lower than what they paid for gas.

A lot of purchasing/leasing information can be found on  EV forums. A San Francisco Bay Area LEAF non-profit group has a Facebook page where members are very helpful.

(Continue to page 2 to find out how many miles they can drive before having to recharge the car…)

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