At $5/Gallon, 2012 Nissan Leaf Electric Car Pays For Itself

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2012 Nissan Leaf

2012 Nissan Leaf

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If you're looking to reduce your driving costs, should you buy an electric car?

It's a question many have asked in the past, and the results tend to vary depending on the electric car selected, and the cost of driving in your area.

As gasoline prices hit $5 per gallon in some areas of California recently, the L.A. Times looked into the costs a little further--just how much, if anything, could a 2012 Nissan Leaf save you?

Cheapest to run

Predictably, Nissan's electric car costs very little to run.

When compared to a selection of other vehicles, including Toyota's ubiquitous Prius hybrid, a Ford Focus, Honda Civic, Honda CR-V crossover, MINI Cooper and Toyota Camry--plus a BMW 328i luxury sedan--the Leaf came out cheapest.

In fact, based on the reporter's figures, it costs only 22 cents per mile in 'fuel'--with the Prius runner-up on 29 cents, and the Focus and MINI at 33 and 34 cents per mile respectively.

Over the course of a year, the Leaf would cost only $2,629 in electricity, while the BMW costs almost double that in gasoline.

Using the Department of Energy's Alternative Fuels Data Center tool, it also suggests that, while the Leaf is cheaper to run, the extra purchase price means it would take 15 years for price parity with the 38 mpg Focus.

Only... it won't. As one reader pointed out, the data tool didn't take incentives and tax breaks into account, and a driver making use of these would quickly swing figures back in the Leaf's favor. In fact, after only 6 years it would already have repaid its pricing difference thanks to low running costs.

Price isn't everything...

Of course, for those concerned about emissions and cutting down on fossil fuels, the Leaf is a no-brainer--even if it does take a little longer to pay off its purchase price.

And, as is often brought up when comparisons like this appear, not everyone cross-shops among vehicle classes alone. Someone with $35,000 in their back pocket is unlikely to compare Leaf and Focus, even if the Focus is considerably cheaper to buy--they're more likely to compare a $35,000 Leaf with another $35,000 car, one even less likely to be a gas-sipper.

Figures are also likely to move further in the electric car's direction as gas prices rise further, and the price of electric vehicles falls.

Overall, the conclusion is fairly predictable. Hybrids and electric vehicles are only set to make more sense as market conditons swing in their favor--but even today, a Leaf could make some degree of sense on purely financial grounds.


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Comments (23)
  1. I was considering leasing a leaf, but I just took a job 45 miles from home. This is why the leaf is a non starter without more range.

  2. Then lease a Chevy Volt or a plug in Prius.

  3. 45 miles is fine in a Leaf...just charge at work. And just cause its may be a non starter for you doesn't mean it is an automatic non starter for the other 90 percent of us with shorter daily commutes. Speak only for yourself next time.

  4. You are assuming that work place provide charging.

    I am lucky to have it at work. But it may soon change as more EVs show up. (Toyota Pips have been hogging spots at work).

    So, NOT everyone can assume they will get to charge at work. It is the difference between getting home or not.

  5. You can charge at work. Even if they don't have level 2 (220V)chargers, you can get back about 6 miles/hr charging level 1 (110v).
    The Leaf can still work for you. Also consider that the 2013 Leaf will charge faster (At least at level 2. Still trying to get confirmation of 2013 and charging at level 1, 110v).

  6. Given that you can lease a Leaf for $139 a month then it makes sense, if your commute in excess of 40 miles and is in range and your current car averages less than 30mpg on that commute, to "lease the leaf" (there is a catch phrase if ever I heard one!!).
    So all your weekend running around town is virtually free and you will save substantially when it comes to maintenance and service bills. What's not to like.

    Sell your old banger on Ebay and "lease the Leaf" you know it makes sense.

  7. I just leased a Leaf for my wife for $116.00 per month and the gas savings alone pays for the lease. Even accounting for the down payment the car will only cost about $100 per month to drive. That is the current cost of a local bus system pass!

  8. "Someone with $35,000 in their back pocket..." Well done.
    I have been saying this for years and I think it is the first time I have seen it in an article.

    When I purchased the Prius ($25K), there was no alternative vehicle that was much cheaper that was acceptable to my wife. The main alternative was another minivan at about the same price.

  9. Great freaking point and great, finally, article blowing up this crap of comparing budget EVs to a base ICE compact strictly on price. Nearly all the budget evs now have far more standard features plus the long term security of a far more reliable, stable fuel source.

    I think many folks will see the sense and cents of EVs next year when the Leaf has longer range, better features, proven reliability(except the heat issue in hot states like AZ), made in USA, and sells for less dough. Nissan should finally hit that 20K projected sales figure next year for the Leaf that they've wanted this n last year.

  10. John - You're more than welcome, I've noted you've mentioned it in the past and given its validity, I thought I'd include it in this particular comparison.

  11. I said great article below but Anthony you could do a more compete comparison showing that say a Leaf n Focus is like comparing apple to oranges when you look at all the features standard and available...even excluding the drivetrain. You'll see that there is more value in the Leaf then just being an EV...although that is greatest quality at this point.

  12. Thanks for the comment Erik, duly noted. When I get a moment to spare I'll look into it in more detail.

  13. I agree that most EVs are far better equipped than a base econ box.

    But there is a "cheaper baseline" version of Leaf coming out to compete against that low level trim econ box.

  14. Ya think Nissan might price the 2013 Leaf S below $30K before incentives? Boy, that would be a shocker n big selling point for a lot of folks on the fence now.

  15. Was maintenance cost taken into consideration when looking at savings? It seems that a gasser is more expensive to maintain than an EV due to all the systems and moving parts.

  16. Maintainence cost for ICE cars are fairly low as well in the first 3 years...

    EVs start to look really good in maintainence cost in year 3- year 10. But in year 8 - year 10, you would have to start worrying about batteries...

  17. 22 cents a mile?? WHAT?? oic, they are including purchase price. maybe they should have read the article posted on this site about leases for $139 month with $3000 down which makes a weighted monthly cost of $264 a month. now i save about 60-100 a month in gas between my Prius (just over 8 cents a mile on gas) verses the LEAF (under 2.5 cents a mile in electricity) and electricity is not subject to wild price swings either

  18. Sorry, I should have clarified. Their pence per mile figures were deduced from both purchase price and "filling up". With incentives taken into account the Leaf is cheaper, and on "fuel" use alone it's cheaper still. I'll correct the article to clarify.

  19. People are seriously missing the point of this car....maybe you guys are missing something or still stuck in the socrates cave allegory...gas will eventually run out thats the bottom line. The point of making cars greener is to extend this time, the point of making electric cars is the same thing. Buying an electric or any advanced technology isnt about saving money on gas its about reducing your affects on the consumption of gasoline....why is that so hard to understand its not rocket science. Nobody buys a $30,000+ car to save money gasoline, electric, or otherwise

  20. And yet my $43k Volt saves me money due to the cheap lease... So much for that assumption. Misplaced criticism IMHO. People who come to this site are already fans of EVs/HEVs/PHEVs, etc. But it's Joe Average Consumer that needs to be convinced and that's where the savings have to be for people to make the change.

    Most people are NOT willing to pay more for fuel savings, as the market has shown for years. I will and so will 1-5% of the populace, but with hybrids that save money long term still stuck at 3% market share, it actually is about the savings for Joe/Jane Average.

    Different consumers buy for different reasons.

  21. The Volt and other plug-ins will prosper compared to pure EV's the next few years until EV range rises to the point they can be an only car....and there are many more chargers...


  22. But soon the paradigm might shift that not every car has to go everywhere. If a family has to own two cars anyways, why not make one an in-town EV car and the other can be a Grandma's house/business trip car? Two people should be flexible enough to switch between cars when on occasion they need a different amount of range. It's really so simple! I mean, why own two IC engines when you can have the luxury of owning only one?

  23. I wanted to mention that when I was considering buying a Leaf there was only the Leaf and the Volt to choose from. All other cars were inferior goods to put it into economic terminology. My two other household cars were paid for so I wasn't going to save any fuel cost by buying a new car since the depreciation kills any savings anyways. What I was after was switching to a mode of zero or near zero fossil fuel usage. Everything else, no matter how cheap, was not an option. There was no substitute.

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