I recently reviewed the 2019 Nissan Leaf Plus for AutoTrader. It’s a fine vehicle in many respects. With an estimated 226 miles of range on a single charge, it can serve as an able commuter. It will require minimal maintenance over the course of its lifetime – just consumables like wiper blades and fluid, tires, brake pads and the like. No oil changes, transmission fluid, antifreeze, clutch adjustments – truly minimal routine maintenance. Perhaps best of all, it doesn’t use any gasoline, and can be charged in a reasonable amount of time on a 240-volt home outlet. But I still can’t recommend that you buy or lease a Nissan Leaf Plus, or any other current battery-electric vehicle (BEV), unless you are a committed early adopter.
That’s because some quick math has convinced me that the BEV equation still doesn’t work.
A Leaf Plus will start at around $37,000 – still a guess, until Nissan announces prices when it launches the vehicle to dealerships in March 2019, a few weeks from now. There’s still a Federal tax credit available (up to $7,500) and some states offer additional credits. So, let’s assume that Leaf Plus nets at about $30,000.
Compare that to a base 2019 Nissan Sentra, which starts at $18,480 with a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). That Sentra is rated by the EPA to achieve 32 mpg combined. If gasoline costs $2.50 per gallon (today’s average, according to the AAA, is $2.394), you’ll be able to buy 4,608 gallons of the stuff for the difference in price between a Sentra and a Leaf Plus – enough to travel up to 147,456 miles in a Sentra before you begin to recoup the difference in price between the Sentra and Leaf Plus. Of course, you’ll need to do some maintenance on the Sentra. Nissan recommends oil and filter changes every 5,000 miles/6 months. That’ll run about $60 a year at your local Jiffy Lube. You’ll need to replace the air filter every 30,000 miles/3 years for about $20 if you do it yourself. At 105,000 miles, you’ll need to replace all four spark plugs for about $7.50 each/$30.00 total. Let’s add in three batteries at $200 each, and a major service (timing belt, CVT fluid, radiator fluid, etc.) at the dealer every 50,000 miles, for about $500 a pop. We’ll ignore maintenance items that are common to the gasoline and battery vehicles, like tires, brakes, brake fluid and such.
Here’s a basic cost breakdown to keep the Sentra maintained for 147,456 miles, then:
Oil/Filters: 30 services @ $30 each: $900.00
Spark Plugs: 4 @ $7.50 each: $30.00
Battery Replacement: 3 @ $200 each: $600.00
Major Service: 3 @ $500 each: $1,500.00
Assuming that you drive somewhere near the national average of 15,000 miles, that’s just over $300 per year in maintenance for ten years of service.
Charging an electric car is not free. This is where my math gets really fuzzy and estimated, because electricity rates vary so widely based on a number of factors. Residential rates average about $0.12/kWh, but there are different rates for different levels of usage, times of day, and other factors. The best estimates that I’ve found assume that it costs about $2.50 to bring an average electric car (whatever that is) to a full charge from empty. Charging at commercial charging stations can be by kWh, by time, or flat rate, depending on the system. A Level 2 charge can be as little as $2.50, while a DC Quick Charge usually starts at about $10.00. To make the math really simple, let’s assume that the Nissan Leaf Plus can be charged for about $0.10 per mile. That’s probably a low estimate. So, over 147,456 miles, electricity will cost you at least $1,475.
There are other factors to consider. The Leaf Plus battery is going to degrade over the course of use. Nissan’s warranty covers it for eight years or 100,000 miles against defects and excessive capacity loss, so those last 47,456 miles will be uncharted territory. My assumption is that it will take more electricity to get the same distance over time – and higher electrical costs as a result.
You might have access to free charging at work, or at a public station in a liberal metropolis. But if BEV adoption rates increase at predicted rates, those resources will become harder to come by as competition for charging stations intensifies.
You may be considering the installation of solar panels, which would benefit both your general home electricity bill and your vehicle charging. I can’t even begin to do the math on that.
But the basic math between a Nissan Sentra and a Nissan Leaf Plus does not provide a definitive answer.
Here’s my basic breakdown for ten years/150,000 miles of ownership:
2019 Nissan Sentra:
$18,480.00 purchase price
$ 3,030.00 unique maintenance costs
$11,718.75 gasoline (150,000 miles @ 32 mpg X $2.50/gallon)
2019 Nissan Leaf Plus
$30,000.00 net purchase price
$ 0.00 unique maintenance costs
$ 1,500.00 electricity (150,000 miles @ $0.10 per mile)
This is back-of-the-envelope stuff, and not entirely scientific. The Leaf Plus would appear to pay off – but just barely. And there are tons of variable here. Gas prices could vary wildly over the next ten years. So could electricity prices. We don’t really know how well the Leaf Plus batteries will hold up over 10 years – Nissan warns that range will decrease with time and use, which means that costs will increase. We have a pretty good idea that a well-maintained Sentra is capable of 150,000 miles of trouble-free operation, though. According to Kelley Blue Book, a 2009 Nissan Sentra S with 150,000 miles on the clock lists at $4,799, while a 2011 Nissan Leaf (the first year of production) with 100,000 miles on the odometer lists at $5,290, so depreciation is also something to think about.
After reviewing my math, I still have a hard time recommending the purchase of a new Nissan Leaf Plus – for now. Stay tuned.
Photos (c) Nissan