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Electric cars revisited: Yeah, they’re a good deal

Last Friday, I set out to write a blog post that would answer the question, “With gasoline prices spiking, are electric cars really a good deal?” I learned two things from this exercise.

First, doing a cost/benefit analysis comparing vehicles is trickier than it seems, thanks to differing government incentive programs that can radically alter the cost equation. Second, readers are really, really passionate about this topic. After having been informed, repeatedly and in no uncertain terms, about my many failings on that post, I’ve decided to start over — hopefully screw-up free this time, and with a new comparison among “green” cars.

The premise of Friday’s post was not rocket science. Using a very useful tool from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Alternative Fuels Data Center website, I compared the all-electric Nissan Leaf to seven other gas-powered vehicles, including the fuel-sipping Toyota Prius hybrid. On the site, you can compare up to eight vehicles side by side in terms of such factors as annual fuel cost, operating cost per mile and, most interestingly, cumulative cost of ownership.

Initially, I found that while the Leaf blew away every other model in terms of fuel cost, in terms of cumulative ownership cost its high upfront price was a big turnoff, and that made it a worse deal than gas-powered economy cars such as the Ford Focus. But I neglected to consider the federal tax credit of $7,500 for electric cars. I corrected that, but was informed that I still hadn’t added in California’s electric vehicle rebate. Also, I’d confused fuel cost per mile with operating cost per mile. Maybe I should have stayed home Friday.
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