Plug-in vehicle depreciation and the case for leasing

I often hear, as a potential objection to getting a plug-in vehicle, that they depreciate too quickly, when compared to gasoline-powered vehicles. I’ve been scanning used car prices, for the Chevy Volt, in Texas to try to evaluate this.

Of course, I built a spreadsheet, as I am a former manufacturing engineer and am a confirmed EV nerd. I pulled every invoice I could, by using the used Volts’ vehicle identification number, or VIN, to access the original invoice. Of course, I do not know what the original buyer paid for the Volt, so I used MSRP. I also do not know what a buyer will offer on the used car purchase, so I used the advertised price for the current value.

The original invoice, in some cases, could not be located. The newer the model, the better the chance I could locate the invoice. Also, I was only able to locate 34 pre-owned Volts, within 250 miles of my location, so the sample is fairly small. That being said, the percentage of MSRP that the asking price represents was pretty consistent in my sampling.

What I’ve found, is that when you take into account the Federal Income Tax Credit at its full value of $7,500, the depreciation appears to be very close to other vehicles. It is true that not everyone qualifies for the full $7,500, and those who lease do not get the credit. In the case of leasing, the leasing company gets the tax credit. However, leasing incentives put most of the tax credit back into the lease, to lower the monthly payment. For instance, this month, the leasing incentives start at $5,025.

Here’s the spreadsheet:Volt DepreciationI noticed that the 2014 vehicles, now three years old, have only depreciated 43%, whereas I expect most vehicles to depreciate 50% over three years, once the tax credit is taken into account. This may be optimistic asking prices or because this sampling seems to have low mileage per year. In any case, I am not trying to say Volts depreciate at a slower rate than other vehicles, just that they don’t depreciate faster than traditional vehicles. One interesting note: There was a $5,000 price drop on Volts, going into the 2013 model year. This should have had a disastrous effect on depreciation of the earlier model years. Based on the scanty evidence I could find, this did not seem to be the case.

As the disclaimer goes: “Past performance is not a guarantee of future performance.” The Bolt EV may have an impact on Volt resale values, going forward. Only time will tell. For that reason, I recommend my Volt clients lease instead of purchase their Volt. There are actually several reasons why I do this:

  • New, long range EVs (like Bolt) may hurt resale value.
  • Those who do not qualify for the entire tax credit, due to low tax burden (retirees and young buyers), will get better value by leasing and the leasing incentives.
  • Advancements in battery technology and faster charging will make today’s plug-in vehicles seem like antiques, for those of us who’ve been driving them for a few years. By leasing, we a future-proofing our EV experience by being able to move into the next generation of plug-ins more quickly.
  • The return of lease vehicles creates a market for preowned plug-in vehicles. This helps lower income buyers join in the transportation revolution. Although those of us with EV experience may want the latest and greatest, those new to these wonderful vehicles will still feel like they’ve stepped into a brighter future because, even a three year old plug-in vehicle seems like such an advancement over internal combustion engine (ICE) technology.

Of all of these reasons, it’s the last one that is most important to me. Once someone gets their first plug-in vehicle and enjoys the silence of electric drive, the exhilarating acceleration and the convenience of refueling at home or parked at work, the odds they’ll return to an ICE vehicle is negligible. This effect is called “butts in seats.” Until one experiences these things first-hand, they just don’t get it. In my day job as an EVangelist, I insist the EV curious go on a test drive. I tell them right up front, “No matter what I tell you, you won’t really understand, until you drive an EV.”

That’s what will accelerate the move forward, toward the future of electric transportation.

If you’re going to sling BS, don’t try it with a Texan!

I was lying in bed this morning, as it is my day off, when I heard the email ping of my iPhone.

In case you aren’t a long-time reader of this blog, I changed careers to become a salesperson, at the largest Chevrolet dealer in the world, because of my love for the Chevy Volt.

The email had been sent by my manager (and the guy who went out on a limb to hire me), Hank Gaylor. Hank had received an email from his father, after his father had seen a story claiming it took $18 to fill a Volt’s battery from empty. Here’s what Hank’s dad saw: (my added comments in red)

As a “joke”, my Chev dealer gave me a Volt as a loaner while my full-size pick-up was getting some attention.  He thought it was funny to give his energy company CEO (emphasis added) this thing here on Vancouver Island!  I live 30 kilometers outside of Victoria near Sidney.

The battery was dead – later he admitted they almost never charged it.  While the car was “OK”, on gasoline, it was pretty anemic.  So for the extra money, even taking into account Chev rebates and Provincial incentives, you get an under-powered, heavy car that felt “too small” for its actual size (battery has to go somewhere). “Underpowered”? PLEASE! I regularly out-accelerate 5-series BMW’s and pickups don’t stand a chance, against my Volt

Now the kicker: at a neighborhood barbecue, I was talking to a Neighbor, a BC Hydro executive.  I asked him how that renewable thing was doing.  He laughed, then got serious.  If you really intend to adopt electric vehicles, he pointed out, you had to face certain realities.  For example, a home charging system for a Tesla requires 75 amp service. I don’t know about Telsa’s charging requirements, but we have two 240V chargers, at our home. Each is on it’s own 30 amp circuit. Our A/C unit is on a 45 amp circuit. Perhaps Canada just recently started experimenting with electric service in their homes…

The average house is equipped with 100 amp service. So in Canada, I could have A/C, an electric oven and a few lights/electric outlets in use at the same time???  On our small street (approximately 25 homes), the electrical infrastructure would be unable to carry more than 3 houses with a single Tesla, each. Do Canadians have to take turns, with their neighbors, for cooking? watching TV?  For even half the homes to have electric vehicles, the system would be wildly over-loaded.

This is the elephant in the room with electric vehicles … Our residential infrastructure cannot bear the load. We have ample delivery in the U.S. of A., but it still needs updating. Smart grid is being deployed here.  So as our genius elected officials ram this nonsense down our collective throats, not only are we being forced to buy the damn things and replace our reliable, cheap generating systems with expensive, new windmills and solar cells, but we will also have to renovate our entire delivery system!  This latter “investment” will not be revealed until we’re so far down this dead end road that it will be presented with an oops and a shrug. Oddly enough, there is no fuel cost to renewable energy plants, but you keep paying for coal, natural gas, uranium, etc FOREVER!

If you want to argue with a green person over cars that are Eco-friendly, just read the below:

Note: However, if you ARE the green person, read it anyway.  Enlightening. This is a parody, right? Did they get it from The Onion??? (The Onion is a news parody site.)

Eric test drove the Chevy Volt at the invitation of General Motors…and he writes…For four days in a row, the fully charged battery lasted only 25 miles before the Volt switched to the reserve gasoline engine. He must have been driving through two feet of snow, UPHILL THE WHOLE WAY, on flat tires, towing a boat. 😉

Eric calculated the car got 30 mpg including the 25 miles it ran on the battery. “Eric is an “energy company CEO???” I won’t be calling him if I find a math error in my bill!  So, the range including the 9 gallon gas tank and the 16 kWh battery is approximately 270 miles. Actual Volt range is 370 miles (1st generation Volt 2011-2015) and 440 miles  (2nd generation Volt 2016+)

It will take you 4 1/2 hours to drive 270 miles at 60 mph.  Then add 10 hours to charge the battery and you have a total trip time of 14.5 hours. Why not charge the Volt while you sleep, the night before you leave and charge again, while you sleep, after your arrival? Also, why not use a 240V fast charger (I have two, myself) and reduce charge time to 4 hours?  In a typical road trip your average speed (including charging time) would be 20 mph. If you used the slowest charger possible and charged during your drive, instead of taking my advice above. Then again, on long road trips, I treat my Volt like any other car, just running on gasoline and only charging at the hotels.

According to General Motors, the Volt battery holds 16 kWh of electricity.  It takes a full 10 hours to charge a drained battery. The cost for the electricity to charge the Volt is never mentioned so I looked up what I pay for electricity.  I pay approximately (it varies with amount used and the seasons) $1.16 per kWh. If that’s really what Canadians pay for electricity, my average monthly electric bill there (1,980 kWh per month) would be $2,297. Yes, PER MONTH! 16 kWh x $1.16 per kWh = $18.56 to charge the battery. For these calculations, and to address both generations of the Chevy Volt so far, see my comments below.

$18.56 per charge divided by 25 miles = $0.74 per mile to operate the Volt using the battery.  Compare this to a similar size car with a gasoline engine that gets only 32 mpg.  $3.19 per gallon divided by 32 mpg = $0.10 per mile.

My Volt Display

My Volt’s actual display. Today

Volt status 17May2017

My Volt’s status 17 May 2017

The gasoline powered car costs about $15,000 while the Volt costs $46,000 No, MSRP is $34K (LT) to $39,500K (loaded Premier, no navigation, no $1K pearl paint). After you deduct the $7,500 Federal Income Tax Credit for a Volt purchase, it has dropped to $26,500 to $32,000. The Chevy Cruze Hatchback is close in size and functionality to the Volt, since the Volt & Cruze started on the same platform. It is also good for this example, as it gets 32 MPG average, as this Canadian uses as his example.

A Chevy Cruze Hatchback (LT, with remote start) lists for $24K ($2,500 less than an LT Volt). A Chevy Cruze Hatchback (Premier, without sunroof or navigation) lists for $27,500K ($4,500 less than the Volt (Premier, without sunroof or navigation). ……..So the American Government wants proud and loyal Americans not to do the math, but simply pay 3 times as much for a car No, it’s 10% more for the LT and 16% more for the Premier, that costs more than 7 times as much to run, and takes 3 times longer to drive across the country….. Again, if treated like a gas car, your travel time is exactly the same as any other gas car. Oil changes on a Volt, typically are done every 1-1/2 to 2 years, depending on gas engine usage. Try that on a gasoline-powered car! There’s a savings there, but wait! There’s more!

The Cruze gets 32 MPG (average) and has a range of 397 (city) to 520 miles (highway). The Volt has a 440 mile range (full battery and gas tank) and gets 42 MPG (on gasoline) and 82 MPG (on electricity, see below). Using my real world experience, over the 16,978 miles I’ve driven so far, I have bought about 18 gallons to go 706 miles (see image above) for an average of 39.2 MPG on gasoline. On electricity, I’ve driven 16,272 miles. Yes, I can charge for free at work and at many locations in the DFW area, but for the sake of argument, let’s say I paid for all the electricity I’ve put in my Volt, my cost of electricity for driving 16,272 miles is less than $400. That works out to a dollar equivalent of 96.8 MPG (dollar equivalent at current gas price) on electricity! ($400 ÷ $2.38 = 168 gallons. 16,272 miles ÷ 168 gallons = 96.8 MPG equivalent). Those same miles in a Cruze would have required 530.5 gallons of gas, at a cost of $1,263! Over the time I’ve owned my Volt, I have saved at least $820. That’s over 439 days of ownership. Over just one year that would be $682 saved per year. At that rate, break even on ownership is 6.6 years. Once you include the reduced frequency of oil changes in a Volt, break even is about 6 years, or the finance term used by most Americans, when purchasing a new car. The Volt is a far better car than the Cruze (which I like very much) and at 6 years, they cost about the same. After that point though, I save $682 per year by owning the Volt, as mentioned above.

**DISCLAIMER** In actuality, I only pay for about half of the electricity my Volt uses, since I charge for free, like many Volt drivers, at my job or when I find a free charging station. By the way, how many times have you found a free gasoline station? 😉  At 1/2 the electricity paid for, I’m really spending about $202 per year, in fuel (gasoline & electricity) and saving about $848 per year, or $71 per month. With half my electricity being free, I get the dollar equivalent of 166 MPG. Break even for me will be at 5.3 years.

The error, in the math provided by the Canadian above, is in the cost of electricity and how much it takes to fill the battery. Here’s how it really works:

NO ONE pays $1.16 per kWh. Average, in the U.S. is $0.11, or 11 CENTS per kWh. This should be shown as $0.11. Many Texans pay less than 9 cents per kWh. I’ll bet the person in the story meant to say 11.6 CENTS per kWh (or heaven help Canada!).

The 1st gen Volt battery had 16 KWh of storage, but you were never allowed to use all of it. Lithium Ion batteries should never be completely drained or filled. The 1st gen Volt allowed only 10.8 kWh to be used. Some electricity is lost in the transfer and the Volt runs fans (and sometimes A/C) to keep the battery in a good temperature range while charging. I averaged 12.8 kWh to fill the battery from “empty,” in our 2012 Volts, accounting for fans and transfer loss. Filling the battery 12.8 kWh X 11.6 CENTS ($0.116) = $1.48 per full charge, not $18.56 as this guy states above.

Once filled, the 1st gen battery, on average, would go 38 miles on a charge, NOT 25. $1.48 ÷ 38 miles = 3.9 CENTS ($0.039) per mile. Currently (pun intended), with gas in the U.S. averaging $2.38 per gallon (last month’s average), that’s the dollar equivalent of 61 MPG. ($2.38 ÷ $0.039)

HOWEVER: if you pay 8.6 cents per kWh, like I do, it only cost $1.10 for a full charge of a 1st gen Volt. $1.10 ÷ 38 miles = 2.9 CENTS ($0.029) per mile, which is the equivalent of 82 MPG. If gasoline prices rise, the Volt’s MPGe (dollar equivalent just gets better and better).

I personally have gotten as much as 52.7 miles on a single charge in my 1st generation Volt (2012, see image), but that’s not average. However, on that day, I got the dollar equivalent of 115 MPG.50 Mile ClubThe 2nd generation Volt goes an average of 53 miles per charge, with a lighter battery with only 2/3 as many battery cells. However, it stores 18.4 kWh, of which 16 kWh is useable add 2 kWh, for cooling during charging, and you get 18 kWh per 53 miles. Using the math outlined above, it gets the average dollar equivalent of 60.4 MPG (11.6 CENTS per kWh) or 81.4 MPG (at 8.6 CENTS per kWh, like I pay).

Not only does the Volt get fantastic gas mileage, it is very fast off the line. It is so silent, GM installs low speed noise makers (or pedestrians would get run over in parking lots). It generates ZERO pollution while doing so. If you get your electricity from renewable sources, like I do (wind generated from Green Mountain Energy and solar panels on our house), even the creation of the electricity you use generates ZERO pollution!

We have 3 Volts, in our household. If the example you presented were correct, it would have bankrupted us! THIS KIND OF B.S. HAS BEEN PRESENTED BY CONSERVATIVE MEDIA AND OIL COMPANIES, SINCE THE VOLT CAME OUT. I BATTLE IT EVERY DAY. I can’t blame them. They’re just trying to survive. I just hope people stop falling for this bullshit. (Texas term. NOT cussing!)

Obama drives Volt

Why, on Earth, would conservative media hate the Volt so much???

Ego Power+ lawn equipment at the start of season 4

Ego Lithium-ion battery-powered lawn mowerBack in March of 2014, I wrote about my excitement at acquiring a lawnmower, powered by a lithium-ion battery. It was an Ego Power+ model. Less than a month later, I decided to get their string trimmer as well. In August of that year, my good friend Charles joined me for a video review of these two devices, as well as the leaf blower. I was so blown away (pun intended) by the leaf blower, I bought one, shortly after the video review.

EGO String TrimmerToday, I started my fourth season of lawn care with these devices.

My main concern, in getting battery-powered lawn equipment, was battery longevity. I keep the batteries on their charging unit, hanging on the wall of my garage. In the Summer months, with Chevy Volts charging in the garage, it can get pretty hot out there. Winter months don’t get too cold in my garage, both due to me living in Texas and the charging Volts. However, it was with great curiosity, that I began my yard work.

Grass growth is just getting started, in Texas, so the load was not very heavy for the mower. The grass catcher was only about 1/3 full, after I finished mowing the front and back yards. At the height of the season, I will easily fill the grass catcher and have to empty it out about half-way through the back yard. The load on the string trimmer was about the same as usual, because I edged and trimmed everything as I normally do.

EGO BlowerThe mower battery gave out very close to the end of mowing the back yard, which I do after the front yard. Usually, it needs a charge about half-way through the back yard. The string trimmer lasted through all the trimming. Its battery is shared by the leaf blower, but as it is a windy day, I did not end up using the leaf blower. Normally, I just use it for a very short time. In my estimation, the smaller leaf blower/string trimmer battery is as strong as it was, at the time of purchase. I think the mower battery is as well, but won’t know for sure until the grass is thicker. At the peak of the growing season, I perform my yard work in this order:

  • Use string trimmer, in the front yard, to edge all sidewalks, the driveway and to trim around the house and brick gardens.
  • Use leaf blower to clean up walkways
  • Put string trimmer/leaf blower battery back into the charger.
  • Mow the front yard.
  • Put mower battery back into its charger (if I’m not in a hurry).
  • Use the string trimmer to trim around the entire perimeter of the back yard.
  • Mow the back yard.

Even if I do not place the mower battery back into the charger, between front and back yard work, it usually lasts well into mowing the back yard, just not as close to the end as it did today. My “gut feel” is that the battery is as good as ever, especially since it hasn’t been taken off the charger for the last five to six months.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on developments…

I visited a place called a “gas station…”

August 10th Fill UpWhen I picked up my 2017 Chevy Volt, it had a full tank of gas (Thanks, Classic Chevrolet!). I had meetings to attend, in Austin, Texas the next day, (approx. 3 hour drive) and had to fill the gas tank, on my way back to DFW.

That last gas station visit was on March 4th.

Today, I had errands to run, all over town, and was almost home, with 15 miles of electric range to spare. Bonnie needed to take my car to the Texas Rangers game, because there were 5 passengers, in all. Although she may have had enough range to cover that drive, I (prematurely) filled the gas tank, to make sure they wouldn’t worry about it. I only had one gallon of gas left, in the tank. Filling the tank, took just under 8 gallons of gas.

Today is August 10th.

from the Volt Website

This is from Chevrolet’s Volt web page (my emphasis in red).

That’s 5 months and 6 days between fill ups, and I could have gone even longer! 5,801 miles. 17 gallons of gasoline (about $34, at today’s prices). 341 miles per gallon., not counting the cost of electricity.

Well, how about adding in the cost of electricity, you say? I charge at work (for free – Thanks again, Classic Chevrolet!) and at home, at a cost of about 50¢ per day. That’s 159 days, costing about $79.50 in electricity.

That’s a cost of $103.50 to go 5,801 miles. Think about that for a moment. Even at today’s low price of $2/gallon, that’s roughly equivalent to 57 gallons of gas ($103.50/$2.00), for a total MPG dollar equivalent of 102 MPG!

But what if I could not charge at work for free, you say? Then the cost of my charging would roughly double to $159. Add in the cost of the gasoline I used ($34) and you have $193 to go 5,801 miles. So even if I paid for all the electricity my Volt used, I would be getting the dollar equivalent of 60 MPG. I’m looking forward to gas getting back to $4 per gallon…

Just one of the many reasons I love our Volts!1st Day

Tenacity defined


Almost four years, after acquiring our first Chevy Volt, I finally had a service issue with my 2017 Volt, “The Silver Surfer”. The problem was that the A/C stopped running in automatic mode (i.e. thermostatically controlled), but ran perfectly, in manual mode. Classic Chevrolet‘s service team determined that the A/C controller unit was faulty and needed to be replaced. It took a couple days to get a new controller. Once installed, there was software that needed to be installed, to initialize the controller. Once that was completed, the controller failed. This happened twice. The GM Volt Support Team had our Service Tech checking wires for shorts, but none were found.

My Volt had been in the shop for three weeks and I got it back today. I’ve had a Volt loaner (LT model) as a replacement for my Premier, because Classic added Volts to their loaner fleet, knowing Volt owners don’t want to drive an ICE when their Volt is being serviced.

Pat Galan web

The MAN, Pat Galan!

The Service Technician (Pat Galan) was tenacious, in tracing the problem. On two occasions, he was advised by GM’s Support Team to keep checking the wiring for short circuits. Pat felt there was something else going on, because he could get the controller installed and everything would check out. But once he installed the software, things would stop working, or worse, the controller would fail.

Then something odd happened: A Volt in Washington state had the same issue. Then four more in the Eastern U.S. exhibited similar problems. Pat became more and more certain that there was something wrong with the software or the installation program. GM’s Support Team contacted Pat and verified what he’d surmised: The software installer program was faulty. A new install app was sent out and everything worked!

Tim Foote...he's a hoot!

Tim Foote…he’s a hoot!

Many, many thanks to Tim Foote, my Volt Service Advisor, who kept me updated, during this process, Pat Galan, the Service Technician who was tenacious in his efforts to track down the culprit and Mike Zorn, the Service Manager who kept checking on things to keep everything on track, even though he was unaware that the Volt was mine.

This proved what I’ve thought for years now: Your selection of a salesperson, knowledgeable about your new vehicle (especially the Volt) is important, but just as important is your selection of a Service Department that truly understands your vehicle and  a dealership that supports the vehicle by making sure the technicians are well-trained, certified and have the freedom to delve as deeply as is warranted to get to the bottom of any issue.

Mike Zorn

Mike Zorn leads the team

May 2016 Sales Numbers

I finally dropped the Cadillac ELR from sales tracking. It has been replaced by the Tesla Model S. It pains me to do this, since Tesla Motors does not announce sales figures for the U.S. Consequently, the Tesla numbers are estimates, that I get via Inside EVs. I have not yet dropped the Plug-in Prius, as another model is due soon. If it fails to generate significant sales, it may be replaced by the Tesla Model X.

In May 2016, the plug-in sales results were mixed. Here are the April sales figures, compared to the previous month:

  • Chevy Volt: DOWN 4% (1,901 vs. 1,983)
  • Nissan Leaf: UP 24% (979 vs. 787)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: UNCHANGED (4 vs. 4)
  • Tesla Model S: UP 50% (1,200 vs. 800) *estimated
  • BMW i3: DOWN 14% (696 vs. 814)
  • BMW i8: UP 12% (146 vs. 130)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: UP 9% (1,453 vs. 1,331)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 11% (538 vs. 607)

In May, the average price of gasoline continued to rise, up to $2.27 per gallon, in the U.S. This is the third month, in a row, that oil has shown an increase, over the previous month.

The Chevy Volt had another pretty good month, posting 1,901 units sold and increasing its lead over the Nissan Leaf, in total units sold, since inception.
May 2016 EV Sales Numbers

May traffic at my dealership was spotty, with some days, seeming like a ghost town. My sales in May were the best I’ve ever recorded for the month, exceeding my previous best for May, by one vehicle.

My Sales By WeekWhen looking at my own sales, by vehicle, my Volt sales are still gaining on the most common item I sell, the Silverado 1500 pickup. I sold two Volts but only one Silverado 1500, in May. My total Volt sales are now at 37, while my Silverado 1500 sales are at 40. Third place in my sales is the Corvette Stingray.My Vehicle Sales By Model

Plug-in sales, compared to the same month a year ago, were mixed, with several whose sales are WAY down. The Leaf and Prius are probably suffering from iPhone Syndrome, as new, improved models have been announced and sales have started to drop, on the current models. Tesla year-over-year numbers are an eye-opener. I wonder if Model 3 news is hurting current models…

  • Chevy Volt: UP 17% (1,901 vs. 1,618)
  • Nissan Leaf: DOWN 53% (979 vs. 2,104)
  • Plug-in Toyota Prius: DOWN 99% (4 vs. 727)
  • Tesla Model S: DOWN 50% (1,200 vs. 2,400)
  • BMW i3: DOWN 15% (696 vs. 818)
  • BMW i8: UP 25% (146 vs. 117)
  • Ford Fusion Energi: UP 47% (1,453 vs. 986)
  • Ford C-Max Energi: DOWN 25% (538 vs. 715)

Sales trend?

Being an ex-manufacturing engineer, I have a need to quantify things in my life, to analyze them. I did this before I leased my first Chevy Volt, because no one could tell me what percentage of my driving would be electric, I built a spreadsheet to make a guesstimate. As I recall, my estimate was that I’d be 75% electric, after my first full year of driving. I think I ended up at 74 point something percent. I made another spreadsheet, to track the actual performance of each drive and faithfully entered data after each drive. Later, I realized my Blink charger was collecting detailed charging data, so I didn’t need to compile the data manually.

I started examining my vehicle sales at Classic Chevrolet. This morning, I was updating my sales data and noticed that my Volt sales this year have already equalled my entire Volt sales volume for the previous year!Sales By VehicleThere is one obvious reason for this: the pent-up demand, caused by the 2016 Volt not being available in Texas. Just like when a new iPhone is about to debut, many Volt buyers came in to learn about the Volt, but decided to wait for the improved 2nd generation. That being said, I am still pretty shocked that an entire year of sales has happened in 4-1/2 months. Another surprise is that my Volt sales have almost caught up with my sales of the most popular item in our inventory, the Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup. I mean, this is Texas, after all. Pickups are king here.