My electric car problem

posted by Jeff | Wednesday, April 8, 2015, 11:39 PM | comments: 0

I know I've said this before, but I am so not a car guy. Cars as status symbols are super stupid, but I do respect that some people are into cars more for the technology, engineering and design. The former people annoy me, but the latter I get, even if I don't share their enthusiasm. I mean, I'm so utilitarian about cars, that the first thing I did when I first scored a contract gig over $50/hr. is buy a Toyota Corolla (which lasted a good six years, and certainly could have gone longer).

But electric cars have totally sucked me in. As is the case with hybrids, part of it is certainly the energy efficiency. That much of our electricity is generated by fossil fuels is still a bummer, but the cost in dollars and carbon emission is still way lower than using gas. The other part of course is the technology itself. Electric motors are hardly exotic, but the evolution of batteries sure is interesting. If you've driven an electric car, you also know that the pure torque is addictive. The Nissan Leaf is no Tesla P85D, but I dare you to not love the feeling of jumping off a line in that little car when the light turns green.

Tesla announced a new Model S today, replacing the 60 with the 70D. Its base price is higher at $75k, but it's a higher capacity battery (240 miles) and includes the dual-motor setup for all-wheel drive. With certain necessary options, I price it around $81k, which is still a lot better than the near $100k that I used to dream about.

I'm not gonna lie, it's the first car I've ever been truly excited about in a totally irrational way. I actually looked at the 3-year lease math and figured that if I put a huge amount down, money that's in the bank, it would only change monthly cash flow by a little compared to our current car payment. Fortunately, my rational self kicks in and sees that the total cost is still absurd, at the cost of four family cruises each year (that's 12 cruises over the life of the lease). That doesn't exactly work with my "experiences not stuff" theme, but it would be a fairly suitable midlife crisis, and hopefully not a destructive one.

We're really enjoying the Leaf that we started leasing back in September. Putting the trade and a little cash down kept the payment at a $100 per month, so it's reasonable. It's super fun to drive, quiet, and smooth. It doesn't feel cramped for a small car at all. Despite the 80-100 mile range limitation, we've never had any range anxiety, and Diana and I both charge at work. So in other words, the electric car experiment is a huge success. (The only problem: We've been talking with my brother-in-law's family about doing a cruise together, and with one range-limited car, we can't all drive to the port.)

So unless I come into some unexpected money, I don't think I'll have a Model S. But 2017 should be interesting. That's the year that Tesla's Model 3 is supposed to come out, and at a $35k target, that's supposed to be the "every man's" electric car. It's still expensive by my car standards, but not awful if they still have the $7,500 federal tax credit. The next generation Nissan Leaf is supposed to come out that year as well, if not sooner, though they're saying almost nothing about it because obviously they sell a shit load of cars and they don't want to cannibalize those sales. It's supposed to easily do 125 miles. GM announced the Chevy Bolt, which should be similar in range to the next gen Leaf, so we'll see how that goes. And who knows what BMW will do with the i3. That car has brought all kinds of people who never thought about BMW into their fold.

The only problem? The lease for our Leaf ends September 2016. The next Leaf might be out by then (their model years are about 5 months early), but it's hard to say. The finance guy at the dealer said you could just continue the lease month-to-month, but I didn't ask if that was a lease provision or a state regulation or something. I need to read the lease, but that would buy us some time. Meanwhile, our Prius V, which has been a completely awesome car for us, will be about 4.5 years old, and I fully expect we can get six or seven years out of it.

I'm still not a car guy, but electric cars fascinate me. I just have to keep in mind that I only drive about 3 days a week because I work from home more than half of the time!


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