Th!nk Ox Looks Promising but Read the Fine Print

My car is nearly 8 years old and soon I will have to pass it into the waiting hands of its next owner, a teenager. I have a couple of years until that happens and so I’m passively shopping for a new car. I decided shortly after buying my current car that I wanted a Mini as my next car. The Mini came out in the US just after I bought my New Beetle. I also would like a convertible. What would shake my convictions is if I could find a car that made such economic sense that I just had to buy it. It would take an extraordinary car to make me give up on owning a Mini Cooper S Convertible — do they even make that combination? A plug-in electric seems to have the potential to win my purchase. But then you start reading further.

What most people care about is what is the car going to cost me each month. Most people look at the sticker price or the monthly payment. Gas mileage is an after though. When you talk about gas-electric hybrid, people forget that you still have to pay for gas. Some of the hybrids get worse gas mileage than a diesel from 8 years ago. When people think about a plug-in hybrid or a plug-in electric they must think that the electricity coming out of the wall is free. Granted it almost is. I wanted to try to figure out how much it cost to operate a plug-in electric. How would you do that. I have looked around the web and not found that metric.

The best way I can figure out this problem is to look at the kWh capacity of the battery. I think a kWh is 1000 watts per hour. I have an electric bill that also uses kWh. My power company charges me 11¢ per kWh. So if we look at the Th!nk city‘s specs we can see that it has a 28.3 kWh battery. To keep things simple let’s assume that the battery only consumes what it needs to be charged and stops taking any juice. The web site says that the battery takes 10 hours to charge. It must go into some sort of topping-off mode after that which means it would be using more electricity. So that means that we are talking about $3.12 to charge the battery. Remember we are keeping thing simple. That sure beats the $50 I just spent to fill my tank with gas.

But you cannot compare a $3 charge with a $50 tank. I can drive 450 miles on my tank of gas. The little electric car has a range just over 106 miles. Once again we are keeping things simple. That is the range you will get when the battery is new and the temperature is nominal. What happens when it is 110º in Texas? Anyway, we need to keep things simple. Let’s convert them both to miles per $. How far can I travel on one dollar? My car gets 28 mpg and gas costs $3.75 per gallon. So the gas car cost 13¢ per mile and the electric car costs only 3¢ per mile. I’ve run this analysis before with a plug-in hybrid. When considering a plug-in hybrid you have to factor in the range you need to travel between charges because the economy goes down once you switch over to gas mode but the results we similar. By comparison a compact diesel comes in about 8¢ per mile even when you figure in the higher diesel prices. So far electric looks really good where do I get one?

Not so fast. You can’t get one yet. But when you can the price should be about $25,000. That still sounds great. Thats what I would expect to pay for a compact gas car.

Let’s say I drive 50 mile per on average and let’s multiply that by 24 days per month just to make the math easy. We can assume that I need to drive 1,200 miles per month. Now the gas car is costing me $160/month in gas while the electric car is only adding another $35 to my electric bill. What even better is that the $35 is hidden in my electric meter reading so I do not even notice it. That is a savings of $7,500 over 5 years. Advantage electric car.

Everything sounds great. So when they are available sometime in the next decade, I need to get one. Maybe I should order one now. Wait. What’s a Battery Service Contract? As you may have heard the achilles heel of the electric car is the battery. In 1990 the GM EV1 was leased because GM could not figure out a way to sell people a battery that was just so much toxic waste before it was paid for. Nearly 20 years later we have the same problem. My $1000 laptop has a $100 battery that is truly useful for about 1 year. The battery is 1/10 the cost of the computer and it is pretty much a joke by the end of 2-3 years. I do not know how to convert kAh batteries into kWh calculations but is is clear that the battery in an electric car is a much larger investment. Who wants to spend $10,000 to replace the battery in a 5-year old car? The folks at Th!nk have an ingenious, they sell you a service contract on the battery. They will take care of all the maintenance on the batter so you do not need to worry. They will even make sure you have the right kind of batter to match the climate and type of driving you will be doing. And this only cost you 200€ per month. That’s over $313 on this side of the pond at today’s exchange rates. That’s another $18,800 for the first 5 years. Add that to the price tag. That cost is more than twice the saving realized by the fuel economy. Now the electric car is costing you about the same as a gas guzzler that only gets 14 miles to the gallon.

The battery really is the big hurdle. Once the reliability goes up and the cost goes down the notion of a service contract on the battery will go away. The battery will be reliable enough to warrant. Let’s look at the plug-in electric cars again in a few years.

So all this to say that I’m looking forward to getting a Mini some day.

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