Are electric cars any good? A Logical Mathematical Comparison

There’s a bit of controversy involving  Electric vehicles. I like to think that I don’t have a preference, or am biased, but I kind of am, so I decided to write up a comparison that would help me show you why.

(NOTE) I plagiarized just about every word in this article, but I put it together because no single article was long enough to answer all the questions I had. I also realize I don’t often talk about cars on this blog and I think I should although my lack of knowledge involving  cars scares me but I do like technology and well a car has technology, so let’s move on!

First we shall discuss the initial environmental impact before sale of an electric car and it’s retirement.
According to a National GeoGraphic article, it says that “About three-quarters of today’s average car, including the bulk of a steel frame, can be recycled.” this is most likely representing the Petrol fueled car, but I know it can also apply to electric vehicles. An electric vehicle’s battery is always recycled due to it’s lithium ion batteries being used in other applications and once fully dead, it can be shredded so that the metal components, like copper and steel, can be easily sorted out. If the batteries could still possibly have a charge, though, they’re frozen in liquid nitrogen and smashed to frozen bits (cool!). The liquid nitrogen is so cold, the batteries can’t react, so the smashing is safe. And probably fun. Then the metals are separated out for reuse.

So are batteries from electric cars bad for the environment? Not really, manufacturing Lithium ION and disposal may be the same as petrol and no worse, some recycling plants recycle vehicles differently, but overall it’s the same.

Are the EV battery’s are bad for the environment then?
In regards to disposal of the batteries, they can be recycled and you know it. It’s just that most aren’t properly recycled because it’s still cheaper to mine for materials than to properly reuse them. in time that will change. Once the packs are at the proper redistribution point, the recyclers either break down their components into parts to salvage like wiring, lithium and plastics that can be separately recycled or they can be reused as batteries for different applications other than vehicles.

I’m powered by old batteries!

However, the manufacturing is another thing.
This article says that “While Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles are definitely a step in the right direction from traditional gasoline-fueled vehicles and nickel metal-hydride automotive batteries, some of the materials and methods used to manufacture them could be improved,” said Jay Smith, an Abt senior analyst and co-lead of the life-cycle assessment. However, we don’t use Nickel Metal Hydride in EV cars anymore, so what’s the Environmental impact on Lithium ION?
They can be considered non-hazardous waste, and compared to smog it is most definitely a step in the right directions.

Environmental concerns and recycling [wikipedia]
Since Li-ion batteries contain no toxic metals (unlike other types of batteries which may contain lead or cadmium) they are generally categorized as non-hazardous waste. Li-ion battery elements including iron, copper, nickel and cobalt are considered safe for incinerators and landfills. These metals can be recycled, but mining generally remains cheaper than recycling. At present, not much is invested into recycling Li-ion batteries due to costs, complexities and low yield. The most expensive metal involved in the construction of the cell is cobalt. Lithium iron phosphate is cheaper but has other drawbacks. Lithium is less expensive than other metals used. The manufacturing processes of nickel and cobalt for the positive electrode and also the solvent, present potential environmental and health hazards.”

Is it more harmful to produce Electric Vehicle’s power?
In California, which does a better job than most states in getting energy from cleaner sources, such as water, wind, and solar,  an electric car would be responsible for emissions lower than any gasoline car that gets less than 79 mpg.
In Denver, (Worst case scenario) where electricity comes more from coal, an electric car would be responsible for the same level of greenhouse gases as a car getting about 33 mpg.

So if you live in an area where you know the electric power is cleaner than most, like Folsom and Sacramento CA, which is where I live! Then it does make your car environmentally friendly as a compact European diesel. However in the case that you can get a car with more than 33 MPG and you live in an area known to use mainly coal to power the grid, you would be doing the environment a favour by driving a car with more than 33MPG than an electric. Which is a rare case since I would actually worry more about the dangers of jogging in an area with a coal powered plant polluting the air than my vehicle’s emissions impact.
Coal Electric Grid

More environmental information from Wikipedia as well.
“The study found that among advanced automotive technologies, the Nissan Leaf holds the smallest life-cycle environmental footprint of any model year 2014 automobile available in the North American market with minimum four person occupancy. The study concluded that the increased environmental impacts of manufacturing the battery electric technology is more than offset with increased environmental performance during operational life. For the assessment, the study used the average electricity mix of the U.S. grid in 2014.”

Verdict: Depends where you live, but most likley your town’s power isn’t entirly powered by coal and even if it was, it would be the same as a 33MPG car as an example. Even taking into account the battery.

So why does it say Zero Emission?
Because Nissan is cocky that’s why. They are ONLY referring to the emissions while driving the vehicle, not during manufacturing, not during charging, and not even during recycling the vehicle. It’s just a sales point and we all know it. It really should say, less emissions.

Do Electric Vehicles even last long, don’t their battery die off like my laptops’?
We don’t know yet. Electric vehicles haven’t been on the road long enough to determine how they’ll be used and their rate of turnover so it’s time to buy one and find out, or have someone else buy one and see how it works for them.

Also most EV’s batteries seem to be able to outlive the 8-year/100,000-mile warranties that they carried from the carmakers, and many battery and automotive industry insiders say there appears to be no reason that lithium-ion batteries can’t last for 150,000 miles or more as well. This was found out with Hybrid vehicles from the early 2000’s. So it’s still too soon to tell but we can have a positive outlook since we’ve been working with Lithium ION and improving the technology for many decades now.

Is it cheaper to buy a new electric or a new Corolla?

Let’s bring out the car loan calculator. I want to compare to a Corolla because it’s my favourite and was nominated for the Greenest car in 2013. So a Nissan Leaf is the most popular EV in my own opinion right now and let’s use the 2013 model as a candidate.

I have an interest rate of 5%. and 74 month loan. using this calculator
The LEAF SV costs $28,980, and removing the CA $2,500 free credit, comes out to a sticker price of $26,480, a loan with interest for that would total that up to $426 a month and $30,672
The Corolla LE ECO Sedan is $18,700 and with a loan interst rate that would come out to $301 and month and $21,672, total!

Leaf: $30,672
Corolla: $21,672
Total Cost after purchase and interest. Not counting taxes and warranties.

So in the initial purchasing and the monetary cost of the vehicle, you are already saving $9,000! Whoa that was a coincidence for such exact math, I apologize. Seriously, pull out a calculator and check the new car prices on Google to check if I’m lying but the difference is exactly $9,000 when buying a cheap leaf and a cheap corolla. In 2014.

So how much would they both cost in the long run?

All vehicles need maintenance and assuming we are keeping both cars for, let’s say 15 years, yes I’m going this long because I know most people give up on their cars for 10 years or even sooner and I don’t and my family doesn’t, so I’ll use 15 years as an example. We shall say that over the course of 15 years, will the price of the car’s still hold up? Will there still be a $9,000 difference?

As we all know, fuel costs money and adds to the Corolla’s initial purchase price, as well as oil changes so I know we can tack on more on the petrol fueled vehicle, but the Leaf’s selling point includes that you don’t need to do either of those. However you may need to replace the battery within that time frame! That sounds expensive, but let’s see here, Nissan’s Website says it included 96 months/100,000 miles Lithium-Ion Battery warranty.
“In addition to the Lithium-ion Battery Coverage for defects in materials or workmanship (96 months/100,000 miles), the Nissan LEAF® Lithium-ion battery is also warranted against capacity loss below nine bars of capacity as shown on the vehicle’s battery capacity level gauge for a period of 60 months or 60,000 miles, whichever comes first. See your Owner’s Manual for tips on maximizing battery life and capacity.”

So we can try to assume the battery is reliable but since those cars haven’t been around for very long we can’t be too sure. For safety and fairness we shall investigate the cost of replacing the battery.

How much does a Nissan Leaf Battery cost?
In the past decade the price of batteries has been steadily declining and what used to cost $10,000 for a Prius battery now costs $1,350 if you return the old one. So a leaf Battery replacement in today’s dollars may be more than compared 15 years from now, where as an engine replacement is always expensive no matter what decade we live in.

Both driver and passengers ride atop of batteries in the leaf. In a pinch they will also heat your seats!

According to the Nissan Specs, the Leaf’s battery would keep at least 9 bars out of the total 12, in 15 years, that’s assuming regular use. IF for some reason you need a new one, “after the warranty ends, a Nissan Leaf owner can sign up for the battery replacement program. At that point, you start paying $100 a month (or whatever the final cost will be) and immediately get a new battery pack that has a full 12 bars of capacity.” Simply put, we don’t know what the cost of the battery will be in 15 years. But that’s the plan so far. Not too bad, but it’s terrible for math purpouses since we don’t have this variable. So what do we do? Nothing. Since a Nissan Leaf is unlikely to need a new battery in 15 years as much as a Toyota Corolla needs an engine replacement, then we can skip this portion.

Annual Cost of either vehicle?

The Corolla I used as an example will cost about $1,442 a year, times 15, it’s $21,630 to fuel the car alone, let’s skip oil changes through those 15 and assume fuel prices don’t go up in 15 years. just to be fair. notice the smugness in my face.

The Leaf will cost…. oh crud someone already did their math. but it’s not the chart I was looking for, no matter.
Let’s do our own math because math is fun, the Leaf’s annual cost is $600

So we multiply that by 15 it comes out to ………$9000. I’m getting really suspicious now.

So the total cost of ownership according to our own math, is…..
Corolla, 15 years, no oil change, no gas price fluctuation in 15 years. is…..

Corolla: $43,302
Leaf: $39,672

and there you have it, $3,630 difference in the 15 year ownership between a Corolla and a Leaf if neither car needs any repairs. Which sounds unlikely, so we’ll look at some other information. According to Wikipedia which then quotes Edmund’s car reviews, it mentions,
“The payback period (Even out moneywise) for the Leaf is 9 years for gasoline at US$3 per gallon, 7 years at US$4 per gallon, and drops to 5 years with gasoline prices at US$5 per gallon. Considering gasoline prices by early 2012, the break even period is 7 years. These estimates assume an average of 15,000 mi (24,000 km) annual driving and vehicle prices correspond to’s true market value estimates.[69] For the same two vehicles, the U.S. EPA estimates the Leaf’s annual fuel cost at US$612 while the Versa’s annual fuel cost is US$1,860. EPA estimates are based on 45% highway and 55% city driving, over 15,000 annual miles; gasoline price of US$3.72 per gallon and electricity price of US$0.12 per kWh.”

So even with my bad math, it’s clear to see that the leaf is cheaper in the long run, the long, long run. but speaking of running,

How fast is it?
This is important, considering I’m a petrol head, you know I’m not going to drive like an old man, so which car is faster?
The specs.
Corolla: 0-60 is 9.2
1/4-mile (sec. @ mph) 16.9 @ 83.9

Leaf: 0-60 is … 9.2? controversial, I’ve read reports stating it’s 10 seconds, others say 9, and one even said it can do it on 7 if you turn off traction control! So we’ll assume it’s the same as a Corolla. 9.2.
and the 1/4-mile is 14.871 second time at 71.41 MPH, Faster to do the 1/4 mile, yet slower speed. Weird yet still amazing that it can keep up though,

But the real question, which one can I mod? Well both, I can’t help but smile and giggle at the silliness, because now I want a NISMO after market kit for the Leaf. The problem is the VCM unit is only available in Japan so boo USA. Not tuner friendly.

Nissan Nismo! Kicking butt since 2011

I put this one last cause I don’t really care, but the leaf has got a 5 star rating for everything, and for those of you who say that car battery can blow up, well so can gas so it’s normal (Google Tesla on fire). Besides the topic of exploding cars, the Corolla got 5 starts for safety too so long as you don’t roll over, but even then it’s only a one star less and how often do you roll over anyways?

So in the end, is it practical, is it good, is it even economic to buy a Nissan Leaf? Yes, yes it is.

One last article to consider, is it cheaper to keep her? I mean your old car, your personal life is none of my business.


About Zerin

But can you show me the source code?

Posted on March 5, 2014, in Car Stuff and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. While you didn’t want to include the oil changes I think is important to include them, I do two oil changes at year in my corolla and that’s about $60 at year that’s 900 in 15 years, plus chances are the corolla will fail sooner than the leaf, because all the moving parts, the leaf has not transmission no engine, no oil changes, brakes will last longer, plus no need to warm up on cold winters, not worries about gasoline prices, I think that the leaf is much better to drive around the city and will probably will last longer (only problem would be the battery) by the way I have a nissan leaf for everyday use and a toyota corolla for long distances, I think is a perfect combination for, let’s see how long both of them last.

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