I drive a little 1997 Geo Prizm with about 260,000 miles (try to contain your jealousy) on it and had planned to drive it until it died. Recent calls by Governor Polis to increase the amount of subsidies for electric vehicles (EVs) got me thinking, however. I like my little red wonder, but $12,500 can really turn a guy’s head.
You see, I don’t have any animosity to EVs. In fact, they might work really well in my situation. I live in a small town and more often than not I drive less than 15 miles a day. I’m also handy enough that I could wire in my own charging station and save on that expense. My only concern in the process would be that I replace like with like: I don’t want a step down in my standard of living or performance. Enter the government to plunk $12,500 in my hands to pay down the higher purchase price of an EV. Surely with generous subsidies like this, I too can own an EV. Let’s tool up and go shopping.
Before I get to what I found, let me lay out the parameters of what I’m working with. To match what my current car does, any prospective future car would need to be able to drive at most 15 miles per day on a normal day along with a fortnightly trip to Denver (126 miles one way plus some errand running). It needs to be able to do this year-round in all weather. To not have a big hit to my standard of living, I can put $5,000 cash on the barrelhead and, on a good day, get about $1,500 trade-in on my Geo. So, I can buy anything below $6,500 (I set aside an amount to cover the fees, taxes, etc); I can’t afford to take out a note on a car with my current budget both because of the car payment and increased costs for comprehensive insurance.
From what I have seen and heard looking into this, the new $7,500 credit from the feds (part of that $12,500) is a tricky one to get. It’s got more strings than a Michael’s yarn section. That presents two research problems: how do I know if the vehicle of my dreams is one that qualifies, and what source do I use to tell prices and etc.? In the end I chose to use Xcel Energy’s EV navigator website. They automatically calculate the incentives you can get by simply plugging in your zip code, and a quick look at the site should convince you that I didn’t choose it because Xcel hates EVs.
It turns out that I needn’t have worried about the conditions on the $7,500 federal credit. Xcel says that even with incentives, the cheapest new EV is $15,000, well above what I can afford. So, it’s off to the used car lot, where that $7,500 doesn’t apply. When I change the settings to “pre-owned” the prices get a lot friendlier. Not all of the cars are things I’d want to drive, mind you (some look as if they put a cab on top of a rollerskate), but men that drive Geo’s are used to putting utility before pride.
I give more detailed results in a series of posts on my Substack page and thus won’t go into particulars here, but I do want to highlight some things. First, EVs lose range as they age, about 10 – 15% over 6 – 8 years by my quick calculations. Second, older EVs never had the best batteries or ranges to begin with.
I will pause here for a quick aside to mention a particularly absurd result in my car shopping. Battery degradation and low design range combine to give a plug-in hybrid EV that has zero range on its battery. Yes, you could in theory get a subsidy for an EV that is running entirely on gas.
Back to more reasonable used EVs. To summarize a lot of looking, anything in my price range has a range of anywhere from 0 to 111 miles range on its battery. Enough for everyday use, and the higher-range cars could get me close to Denver. I suppose I could stop to recharge a couple times on the trips to Denver, but my schedule is usually crowded enough that this would be a serious hassle. Additionally, I’m pretty certain that these ranges are for optimal weather conditions. In winter the ranges could drop by up to half, necessitating yet more time charging. A decent plug-in hybrid EV would get me to Denver, but I might as well buy any kind of hybrid if I do that: I can get a newer, regular hybrid with good mileage for much cheaper (even without a subsidy). None of this, of course, matters because when you use Xcel’s search tool to see what you can actually buy in Colorado (not just what kind of vehicle would fit your needs), the available used EV’s are in the mid $20,000’s and they sell quickly.
Don’t think I have a rosy picture of the used market. Calling up used cars below $6,500 brings up quite a motley bunch. The thing is, used gas-powered or regular hybrid cars will meet my needs and not reduce my standard of living. I can’t say the same for a used EV right now, subsidy or no. Still, I’ll get to chip in on providing subsidies for others. I’ll get to pay more so that other people (likely better off than myself) can afford an EV.
Is that what the Democrats running this state mean when they talk about equity?
Cory Gaines lives in Sterling on Colorado’s Eastern Plains.
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