Consumer Reports: Usually Thoughtful, Not Always Accurate

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with charging station visible; photo by George Parrott

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Last week, the Associated Press distributed a video report called "Are Electric Cars Worth the Price?" (It's embedded at the bottom of this article.)

The video featured this author as an example of someone who owns both the 2011 Nissan Leaf and the 2011 Chevrolet Volt, and it included commentary from Eric Evarts, a staffer at Consumer Reports.

Among other comments, Evarts concluded that "electric cars are not good value at this time, and are really only for early adopters."

Immediately after seeing the report, I called Eric at his Consumer Reports office and we chatted for about 30 minutes. I strongly disagreed with his observation about the practical value of electric cars.

Lo and behold, Evarts has revisited the issue and has now written about the circumstances under which electric cars can indeed be a practical proposition for many owners.

I would concede that at around $44,000 for most buyers, the 2011 Volt may be hard to justify on purely economic terms, certainly as compared to buying a new 2011 Toyota Prius hybrid with a combined EPA gas-mileage rating of 50 mpg.

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with roof solar panels visible; photo by George Parrott

2011 Nissan Leaf and 2011 Chevy Volt, with roof solar panels visible; photo by George Parrott

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Still, for many drivers, the 2011 Volt can be a fully electric vehicle for much of their driving, never using any gasoline. In our family driving, we now have a bit over 3,000 miles on our Volt, and we are averaging 98.1 miles per gallon.  At more $4 a gallon in California, even the Volt could become "value reasonable."

But the practical value of the 2011 Nissan Leaf is another story entirely.  In many areas of the U.S., state and regional incentives further drive down the cost of the Leaf. Besides the universal Federal Tax Credit of $7,500 that applies to both the Volt and the Leaf, the 2011 Leaf qualifies jn California for a further $5,000 as a direct cash purchase rebate.

In many areas of central and southern California, there are additional regional "clean air" rebates that further cut the cost. Some corporations even give private employee rebates for those who get the 2011 Nissan Leaf. Buying a Nissan Leaf can cost as little as $12,280 if you work for the right company, and in much of California the price is  $ 21,500 ...or less.

That means the 2011 Nissan Leaf costs no more than a 2011 Honda Insight hybrid, for example, when comparably equipped.

Consumer Reports took a sadly "unsharpened pencil" when it tried to suggest that any electric vehicle is "only for early adopters."  The 2011 Nissan Leaf is reasonable to acquire and incredibly inexpensive to operate compared to any similarly configured fuel-driven new car.

Two days ago, Evarts added an extended report on the Consumer Reports car blog with a much deeper analysis and a review of the payoff that can be achieved by driving an electric vehicle. 

He seemed to recognize the over-generalization in his interview after my initial telephone call with him, and he sought out considerable additional information to make a much more enlightened presentation on how broadly appropriate the 2011 Nissan Leaf and the Chevy Volt can be under some circumstances, even at their current prices.

Clearly, Evarts' brief comments in the original video did not fully or accurately communicate a complete analysis of the advantages of electric car use. 

His subsequent Consumer Reports blog post gives a much more thoughtful summary of the pros and cons.

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