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Electric vehicle cost breakdown: Are they worth the price tag?

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By Jennifer Warnick - bio | email
Posted by Terry Alexander - email

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - 2011 marks the electric car's debut in the Richmond metro area. This year we can expect to see newcomers like the Ford Focus and the Nissan Leaf. 

"It doesn't have an internal combustion engine, it doesn't use gasoline," said Lawrence Schwendeman with J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College. 

But what you save at the pump can be diminished by the car's price tag. 

"At what point will the consumer purchase and realize that total cost of savings?" said Ron Kody, owner of Richmond Ford Lincoln Mercury. 

And that's what we wanted to know. The least expensive of these new cars is the Nissan Leaf. After a $7500 federal tax credit, you'll pay roughly $24,000. So we compared the Nissan Leaf to the Nissan Versa, virtually the same base model with different engines. The cost difference between these cars is about $11,000. The standard model Versa with its combustible engine costs about 11 cents a mile to operate. 

"The Leaf will cost you about 2.6 cents per mile. The difference is about 8 and a half cents per mile," said VCU Professor of Economics Dr. George E. Hoffer. 

Plus, you'll have to install a charger at home - estimated cost after tax breaks, $1250. So when do you break even with what you've paid out? 

"Give or take a few miles, it would take you 150,000 miles to break even," Dr. Hoffer said. 

But there's no guarantee these new models can drive that far. Many of this year's arrivals have already been reserved, and that might work to your advantage if you want one soon. With longevity in question, Dr. Hoffer says consider a lease for the first wave of these new electric vehicles. 

"It would cost you about $15,000 over the 3 year period, which is cheaper than buying a $30,000 car which it effectively is," he said. 

These electric cars can travel anywhere from 40-100 miles per charge, which might take you some time to get up to 150,000 miles. The Nissan Leaf will be here in April, the Chevy Volt, in August, and the Ford Focus, by the end of the year. 

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