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

Enlarge Photo

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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Comments (7)
  1. I guess that Consumer Reports and the AP didn't do their fact checking "Your electricity bill might double!", yes, but only if it's currently $30/month... which I can safely predict, it isn't.

  2. What's wrong with you people??? His gasoline bill is totally offset with his solar generation??? I'm dropping my Consumer Reports subscription..."Not economical at this point??" What planet is that guy buying gas at???? Have you done the math for 5 years at 20K miles per year???? Hello???? Who's paying that guy's salary??? Geez, how stupid do you think we are...Oh, ok...yeah I guess most people just listen and follow directions. Wow...for me, so long gas burner...hello EV!

  3. I own a LEAF. I'm saving $400/mo in gas as a result. That gas savings alone pays for my entire LEAF car payment.
    Plus, due to the change in my home electrical rate structure (EV-TOU) I now SAVE $50/mo. in my total electricity bill (even with additional electricity used by the LEAF). So, the LEAF costs me absolutely NOTHING to charge each month. This is reality for me...and I love it!

  4. I think we can all agree Consumer Reports is irrelevant and have been irrelevant for over a decade.

  5. I just read an article on power generation in Seattle which said we have all kinds of extra capacity due to a good snopack, we are looking for places to sell it. Seattle is made for electric cars! My Leaf ETA is April 29. My charger was installed for free on a Federal program and I will pay about 25K for the car. What is not affordable about that? And yes, I know I am an early adopter. If there are a few bugs we will work through them.

  6. Unlike the BBC program... at least CR actually was willing to reconsider the evidence. I'm glad George didn't write them off as hopeless, but engaged them in a discussion. That's example I wish more of us (including me) would let ourselves imagine. Well done both George and CR

  7. Ben,
    Yes, the "other hat" I wear is as a Professor of Psychology (emeritus now) at California State University, Sacramento. As a professor I am always hopeful that dialogue is THE answer to at least many of the world's ills and that we can all still learn and expand our understanding of the world around us. Blanket affirmations, like those in the original CR "sound bite" and in another such more recently distributed by CR do NO GOOD to a situation as complex as "functionality and value" in new technology cars.
    I do suspect we could ALL agree that the Yugo was not a good vehicle, and many of us would even agree with CR that there are few situations where the current "Smart Car" is to be preferred over the Prius. But EVs are more complex

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