Year-Old Nissan Leaf Electric Car: Worth 70 Or 95 Percent Of New Price?

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2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

2011 Nissan Leaf, Nashville, October 2010

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There's lot of discussion about how the value of electric cars will hold up over time, depending on how long their expensive lithium-ion battery packs last and how quickly they may lose capacity.

But now the folks who estimate used-car prices for a living, the NADA Guide, have weighed in with their take on the value of one-year-old Nissan Leaf and Chevy Volt models.

According to trade journal Automotive News [subscription required], the June issue of the NADA Guide will set the value of a "typically equipped 2011 Leaf SV electric car" at $23,975.

That, according to NADA, is 95 percent of its price after incentives. 

Which is true, if you assume that the original owner paid the 2011 sticker price of $32,780 and has already filed 2011 taxes and been able to realize the full Federal tax credit of $7,500 on them.

That puts the retail cost at $25,280--using the calculation known as "net pricing," a practice with which we take issue.

NADA Guide analyst Maynard Brown says the company considers tax credits to be equivalent to purchase rebates because used Leaf and Volt buyers are aware of them and would not buy a used plug-in car for a higher effective price than the original buyer.

Note: Since $32,780 is the base price of a 2011 Leaf SV without any additional options, the math would likely be a bit more accurate if we were to add something like $1,500 for the options that may be in the "typically equipped" Leaf SV model assumed by NADA Guide.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

2011 Chevrolet Volt

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For the record, the base-level Leaf SV model was vastly outsold by the high-end Leaf SL model, according to Nissan.

Without the credit, though, the math is not as good: The Leaf lost about $10,000, or 30 percent of its value, in a year. (That is, for fans of useless statistics, slightly more than one dollar every hour.)

That's a higher percentage loss than the 2011 Honda Civic (which lost 24 percent) or the 2011 Toyota Prius (which lost a remarkably low 12 percent of its price).

Comparable figures for the Chevy Volt were 90 percent of sale price after the tax credit, and 75 percent not including its value (or a 25-percent loss).

Do you think the argument that Leaf and Volt prices have to be below the post-incentive level, because a second buyer won't pony up more cash than the original owner, holds water?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (30)
  1. I think net pricing makes more sense in the secondary market because the buyer will assume he is going to get the $7500 on a new car (whether or not he actually will).

    The real question is, can you by a used LEAF for $23,975?

  2. I'm not sure why a person would purchase a previously owned LEAF for almost what they would pay for a new one. The thought process would be to compare the available options, new vs used, and make the decision based on relative value.

  3. Valid used car prices are 1) local, and 2) depend upon what prices are actually being paid by consumers. No "analyst" can determine used car prices - the consumer determines that, since, you know, they are the ones that will buy the used car. Anyone can slap all kinds of asking prices on a car, but that doesn't mean much. Question: to what extent are buyers of EVs aware of the state of the battery and its replacement costs? The more knowledge the would be buyer has, the more it's going to affect how much he's willing to pay. A five year or older EV SHOULD have its price heavily impacted by the remaining lifespan of the very expensive battery pack, as well as its reduced mileage capacity.
    It's a new ball game when EVs are the used cars.

  4. Clearly NADA guide is off about the 95% for "typical" equipped since 95% is only valid for base models, but at least they are a lot closer than John Voelcker's 70 % based on his curious mantra that the tax credit isn't a real factor in calculating the purchasing price of an EV somehow.

    And how would the second owner of a Leaf pony up more money than the first if he pays $23995 and the base Leaf currently has a $35200 MSRP?

  5. The retail "net price" is $25,280 as listed by the author, not $23,995. That's the 90% of retail net price. Net price being after tax credit.

  6. Nor did I suggest anything different, except $23995 is 95% of $25280 of course, not 90%.

    The author's last paragraph remains somewhat enigmatic. Maybe the suggestion is that net prices are irrelevant so there is no reason that used prices should necessarily be below those net prices. That would suggest some pretty irrational behaviour from used EV buyers though which is actually made less likely by the industry's practice to advertise with net prices which makes used and new prices better comparable.

  7. I see what you're saying. I think that it's totally reasonable to expect used car buyers to reference the new "net price" instead of retail price.

  8. Net pricing makes more sense. In my case, I am leasing a Volt. My leasing company (US Bank) gets the $7500. However, I get a lower payment. There is no way I would be able to afford a Volt without that $7500 being applied as a down payment.

  9. The sales are so low on these cars, that the numbers are nearly meaningless. GM sold a total of something like 6700 of these care last year including to GE and the Government WAY below the estimate of 10,000 cars. This year they are shifting to HIGHLY subsidized leases to try to move them. Your article is correct.

  10. @James: GM sold 7,671 Volts during 2011 and Nissan sold 9,674 Leafs. Current sales rates are running higher than that for the Volt, lower than that for the Leaf. Watch for our next monthly plug-in sales report on June 1st.

  11. Ford Focus electrics aren't selling well, because they are incorrectly marketed side by side with the much lower cost, and identical, gasoline equivalent. Other EVs are doing very well with year over year sales growth better than hybrids at this stage of market entry.

  12. Resale is pretty meaningless at this time. I've been saying for over a year that theoretically a 6~8 year old Leaf could have zero value due to the pending $15K battery replacement which would exceed the value of the car. But people usually blow me off with comments related to unknown cost of a replacement battery at that time, maybe only some cells need to replaced, etc. Well, I still say the value could theoretically be zero until proven wrong. That did not stop me from buying one though. I think it is the biggest financial risk of ownership.

  13. I leased mine (Leaf) too but only because it was the only way to get the $7,500 tax "credit".

  14. People are still driving very old EVs and keeping them running. For mass production cars, like the LEAF, getting replacement batteries should not be a problem.

  15. i dont think it makes much sense to discuss it - not too many leafs are being resold after a year - at least i wouldnt think so.

    the battery price is the portion of the car that will come down the most.

    to that degree, an ev will have a harder time keeping its original sale value than an ice car.

    but people know this going into it. and it only makes a difference if you sell it.

    if nissan was smart at all, new battery packs should be interchangeable.

    so a current leaf owner will simply buy a new pack for his car, at a much cheaper price as well, when compared to the cost of the original battery pack.

  16. but even if you trade in your leaf for a new leaf 3 years from now, you wont get hurt.

    the new leaf will drop faster in price than its ice counterpart, for the same reason that the leaf cost more in the first place - the battery.

    so really what we are talking about is purchasing an ev earlier or later. the early buyers pay the most for their original battery.

    but on the same token, they start saving everywhere else, earlier as well.

    by that i mean, way less maintenance, no smog checks, better driving experience, etc.

    those that have some money want these conveniences early on, and are willing to pay for it.

    and as long as there is demand at a certain price, the price will not drop.

  17. but if we double and triple our supply, the prices will fall to meet the increased number of buyers.

    people keep mentioning the drop in leaf sales. but i think it occurred at about the same time that nissan announced its next year's model would have a thermally cooled battery management system, like the coda does.

    that has turned out to be a big deal, and people will wait a few months for it.

    if this is what is happening, we should see a marked rise in leaf sales when the new model is out (assuming the new battery system is in place).

  18. Thermally cooled LEAF? Where did you read that?

  19. i am not sure. is this incorrect ? isnt nissan changing that aspect of the leaf next year ?

  20. it's air cooled.

  21. Electric chargers are a great example for how the EV industry has made good efforts to standardize, with widely available J1772 compatible chargers. Future EVs should migrate to standard Level 3 chargers. It would be good if car and battery makers would create standard EV batteries - think AA rechargeable batteries for your EV.

  22. Chevy Volt with CA AT-PZEV package comes with 10yr/150k miles warranty. So, a 5-yr old Volt should still worth a decent amount. Also, I would imagine that a Carpool lane access Used Volt would be worthy a decent premium...

    Also, Volt should still be a decent hybrid even after battery degradation. Leaf would be useless without a decent battery.

  23. It is too difficult to call as there will be new entrants to the market and new ways of funding EVs (Battery leasing for example)
    In addition the true running costs of EVs will be better known and also their longevity.
    In the UK Diesels tend to have a 15-20% premium used (like for like) as they last longer and are cheaper to run.

    Once these things become known then the market price for a used EV will become clearer.

    With respect to the nett price issue, clearly that is going to drive any second hand price as the market knows the true price of the vehicle is nett of the rebates. If an individual owner has not gained those benefits for whatever reason the market will not care, that will be the individual's loss.

  24. I would imagine that most of those owners will keep their cars for a long long time.

  25. If the NADA numbers are anywhere near to accurate then I will certainly look into trading my 2011 fora 2013 with improved heater/winter range and leather seats. If I will only lose 5% as NADA suggests it will be a worthwhile trade. If not I'll keep the 2011.

  26. I think this is a dumb question. Of course you must account for the rebate on new vehicles. New cars are a substitute for used cars. Ridiculously cheap oranges drive down the price of apples.

  27. Used 2011 LEAFs are being sold all over the place for mid to high 20s.

  28. The resale price should certainly consider the $7500 tax credit.. and the prices should be less than a new one. Why would a rational person buy a used car for a price near a new one with worse potential financing or lease options and less warranty left?
    Also, the 2011 pre-HOV CA cars are most certainly going to be worth less in CA than the HOV sticker CA cars.

  29. cant buy a used Leaf for $24,000 around here. more like 27-28,000. also the base price can be HUGELY different especially here in WA where a New Leaf has no sales tax but a used one might. i wish i could be clearer on that, but there is a huge discrepancy in this area amongst the community here on that subject, so i will continue to be vague on this.

    another thing that has buoyed the 2011 prices is the 2012 price hike which is essentially causing more of a devaluation since the 2011 may not have dropped much from a new 2011, but there is still a significant price difference if looking at a 2012.

  30. .I bought a used Leaf about a week and a half ago. i talked them down to 25k from 30k, mostly using the 7500 as leverage. My real goal was to get the monthly payments down < $350/month as I was spending $400/month on gas getting to and from work. I have a round trip of about 60 miles and the range of the Leaf is just about perfect for my needs. So far I am surviving on 110V trickle charger, I figure I am getting around 3.4 cents per mile for electric vs 17.5 cents per mile for gas. As long as I don't use gas, the car will pay for itself. Kind of makes all this talk about residual value pointless when the operational cost is so low. I mean, who buys a vehicle as an investment anyway? BTW the volt was not an option due to it's low 35 mile ra

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