Enlarge /. Our electric 2019 Kia Niro.
Timothy B. Lee / Ars Technica
On Friday the 13th, my wife and I went to a Kia dealer to pick up a Kia Niro. With one of the last Niros from 2019, we paid $ 32,900 for a car that costs $ 41,000. Better still, when we file our taxes next spring, Uncle Sam will give us a $ 7,500 credit. So the after-tax cost is only $ 25,400.
Electric vehicle options have improved dramatically since our last car purchase in 2017. I also wanted to buy an electric vehicle at the time, but the choice was limited. Tesla's Model S and Model X were way out of our budget. My wife found the Chevy Bolt and Prius plug-in hybrids too funny. The Nissan Leaf was then rated with a range of 107 miles – far too little for road travel.
We tested Ford's C-MAX plug-in hybrid in 2017, but plug-in functionality seemed like an afterthought. The car had extra batteries stacked in the rear hold, leaving little room for cargo. So we decided on a Subaru Impreza with an internal combustion engine. Cost: $ 25,200.
When we were looking for our second car in August the options were much better. There were enough pure battery electric vehicles on the market that we didn't even consider plug-in hybrids. My wife (the main driver) tested an electric Mini, a BMW i3, a Nissan Leaf, a Hyundai Kona and a Kia Niro.
All of these vehicles were available for well under $ 40,000 – and under $ 30,000 if you factor in the tax credit.
Several factors ultimately sold them on the Kia. It had more interior space and greater range than the Mini and BMW. These weren't essential features as we could still use the Impreza for road trips, but they helped. More importantly, of all the cars she tried, the Niro had the most comfortable and enjoyable ride. And she was impressed with the elegant interior.
It is a good time to buy an electric vehicle
Enlarge /. Jennifer Ouellette from Ars Technica bought this lightly used BMW i3 in 2017 last year.
In 2017, buying a battery electric car meant sacrifice. There weren't many options on the market and consumers were faced with a choice between short range and high sticker prices.
There are many more options on the market these days and they are dramatically better value for money. You can find electric vehicles that meet a wider range of customer needs and a wider range of price points. Electric cars are approaching price parity with conventional gas guzzlers. Once you take into account the $ 7,500 tax credit, some arguably have hit it. Our Kia Niro EV doesn't quite have the range of our Subaru Impreza, but in every other way it's a nicer car. And the net cost was almost exactly the same.
Ars Technica's Kyle Orland also recently purchased an electric vehicle. He bought a Nissan Leaf last year. The sheet has been on the market for almost a decade and its reach has steadily improved. Today they are designed for a range between 150 and 220 miles.
"The only thing we thought about was the range," says Orland. "But once we looked at how we drive, there were maybe five trips a year when we did more than 150 miles." He and his wife planned to keep their old car – a gas-powered Toyota Camry – so they could take it on road trips.
He looked at the Chevy Bolt and the BMW i3. But Orland dismissed the Bolt because it got bad reviews, and he wasn't convinced the BMW was worth the higher price tag.
"We were looking for a relatively cheap car," said Orland. "We're not big car people."
Orland says he was pleasantly surprised at the liveliness of the paper. His driving experience belied the stereotype that affordable electric cars were glorified golf carts. "When I return to the Camry now, the handling and acceleration just seem sluggish," he says.
Another Ars writer, Jennifer Ouellette, bought a used 2017 BMW i3 last year. She paid $ 35,000 for the electric car, which was part of a corporate fleet and only had 1,700 miles. The $ 7,500 tax credit is available only to new vehicle buyers.
Like Orland, Ouellette was initially concerned about the short range of the car. But she realized that she and her husband would mainly use it for commuting and getting around. Like Orland, they also had a second car that they could take with them for longer trips.
"It's small and sporty, with great visibility and interior cabin design," she told me. "It drives very well with active braking and has solid acceleration."
More options also in the upper price segment
Enlarge /. Eric Bangemans Jaguar I-PACE 2019.
Eric Bangeman / Ars Technica
Ars Technica's Eric Bangeman fell in love with the Jaguar I-PACE after testing it for Ars last year. While Orland and I mainly wanted cars that could get us from point A to point B at a reasonable price, Bangeman was more demanding.
"I wanted something that was fun because that's an important part of owning a car for me," he said. He was ready to pay a premium for a great experience. He ended up paying $ 67,000 for the vehicle using $ 3,000 trade-in credit on his 2009 Toyota Prius. The next year, he received $ 7,500 in credit towards his taxes.
Bangeman had tested a friend's Tesla Model S, but said he enjoyed driving the Jaguar more. "The I-Pace was the complete package in terms of looks, range, performance and interior," he told me. In his opinion, the interior of the Model S was "not that refined".
The I-PACE's relatively long range – about 230 miles – was also a consideration. He regularly goes on weekend trips of about 200 miles. While he found a lot to like about the Audi e-tron, its range of 200 miles was not enough for his needs.
The options for high-quality electric vehicles have been continuously expanded. Audi has expanded the electric E-Tron line. For customers who have money to burn, there is the Porsche Taycan.
And a lot more battery electric vehicles will hit the market in the US next year:
- Ford will begin shipping its Mach-E Mustang shortly and is working on an F-150 electric pickup truck.
- The electric startup Rivian plans to deliver in 2021 (Tesla's Cybertruck is unlikely to arrive before 2022).
- The Volvo XC-40 SUV is expected to be released in the coming months.
- Mercedes-Benz has several models on the way in 2021.
- Volkswagen's ID.4 crossover is slated to hit the US market next year.
- Startup Lucid wants to launch Lucid Air in 2021.
All of these options allow more customers to find something that suits their needs and budget.
That $ 7,500 tax credit may not last forever
Enlarge /. President-elect Joe Biden wants to increase sales of electric cars.
SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images
The federal government is offering a tax credit of $ 7,500 on the first 200,000 vehicles a manufacturer sells. After reaching this threshold, the subsidy drops to zero over a year.
My wife and I haven't seriously considered Tesla's Model 3 or the Chevy Bolt as both have already hit the 200,000 vehicle limit and their tax credits are expiring. While they had similar sticker prices to our other options, the net cost would have been a lot higher for us.
If electric vehicle sales boom over the next few years, as many automakers hope, other companies will hit the same limit. Official numbers are hard to come by, but an unofficial review from a year ago found that Nissan, Ford and Toyota were the top-selling BEV manufacturers that were still creditworthy.
Nissan led the way with around 50,000 US vehicle sales before reaching 200,000. U.S. sales of the Nissan Leaf were anemic in 2020, so Nissan customers may get the credit for an additional year or two. But only Nissan and the IRS know for sure.
The same goes for Ford and Toyota. Both had sold more than 100,000 vehicles by the end of 2019. It is unlikely to hit the 200,000 mark in 2020 or 2021, but possibly soon after that.
The bottom line is that the next year or two is likely to be a golden age for EV buying. Consumers have many great options and benefit from the tax credit too. Even more electric cars are likely to hit the market in 2022 and 2023, but until then, the most popular car models may not be endorsed by Uncle Sam.
On the other hand, President-elect Joe Biden may extend the loan. According to his campaign website, Biden plans to "restore full electric vehicle tax credits to incentivize the purchase of these vehicles." It's not entirely clear what that means, but it may mean Tesla and GM vehicles will be eligible for the loan again and prevent a leak for other automakers. With Republicans in control of the Senate, Biden would likely need help from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put this into practice. So it's far from safe.