Update 10/28/2022: We have updated this story with the latest data and information to best represent the costs associated with owning the example vehicles.
Some EV aficionados might tell you that electric vehicles are cheaper to fuel and maintain, therefore they must be cheaper to own and operate. EV skeptics will counter with the premium pricing of many EVs, something that’s quantifiable when a brand sells both a gas-powered and full EV version of the same vehicle. So, are EVs really less expensive over the long haul of ownership? Sort of. Sometimes. As they say, it’s complicated.
To investigate whether an electric vehicle truly is cheaper than its gas counterpart to own and use as daily transportation we chose two models in the U.S. market that are available with both powertrains: The Hyundai Kona and Kona Electric, and the Ford F-150 and F-150 Lightning. We compared as much about their running costs as we could dig out from credible sources.
Three-Year Cost Analysis
We decided on an examination of the first three years of overall ownership cost. And we stuck with the numbers we could pin down. For the purposes of the clearest comparison possible, we are not including either financing costs or insurance premiums. How you choose to finance your vehicle—the term of the loan and the interest rate, or whether you decide to lease—can have a significant impact on your total costs. And insurance costs are widely variable as well, depending on your state, your driving record, and the coverage you choose.
Initial Purchase Price
Our journey starts with the purchase price. For the Hyundais, we used the most basic trim, and for the F-150s we used the XLT trim, which is a step above the most basic work truck trim in each model. We also equipped the Lightning with the Standard-Range battery. Any applicable Federal tax credits for the two EVs are figured in later in the calculations. The cars’ purchase prices (including destination charges) are as follows:
Hyundai Kona: $22,595
Hyundai Kona Electric: $35,295
Ford F-150: $40,960
Ford F-150 Lightning: $54,769
For annual miles driven, we went with 15,000—the de facto average mileage stat for U.S. drivers for decades. Both the electric vehicles included have EPA-estimated ranges near the industry median—258 miles for the Kona Electric and 230 for the F-150 Lightning—which should get owners to that number just fine. The result was a three-year mileage count of 45,000 miles.
More on Buying or Leasing a New EV
To calculate maintenance costs, we used AAA’s 2022 Your Driving Costs analysis. It determines how much you pay per mile in maintenance to drive a vehicle. The costs are placed into market segment silos (sedan, SUV, Pickup, EV, etc.) for service items such as tires, brakes, oil changes, and repairs over a five-year period. Yes, that’s longer than our three-year timeline, so in this case, the pre-mile figures might be inflated beyond what you would likely experience with these cars in three years. And these maintenance costs are higher than we experience in our long-term 40,000-mile tests. But AAA’s data gives us a solid basis for comparison, and all the subject cars are treated equally. As expected, without oil changes or other engine maintenance, the EVs are cheaper to maintain. Maintenance costs per mile and over the full 45,000 miles are as follows:
Hyundai Kona: $0.0984 per mile / $4,428
Hyundai Kona Electric: $0.0794 per mile / $3,573
Ford F-150: $0.0933 per mile / $4,199
Ford F-150 Lightning: $0.0794 per mile / $3,573
Comparing EVs and gas vehicles isn’t a straight comparison in most cases.
To calculate the energy usage of both types of cars we used the EPA’s gallons and kilowatt-hours used per 100 miles. For both of these units, the lower the number, the more efficient the vehicle. As you can see below, both the Hyundais are more efficient than the F-150s, which is to be expected for the subcompact SUVs versus full-size trucks.
Hyundai Kona: 3.1 gal / 100 mi
Hyundai Kona Electric: 27 kWh / 100 mi
Ford F-150: 5.0 gal / 100 mi
Ford F-150 Lightning: 48 kWh / 100 mi
For gasoline costs, we used the national average price of gas in September 2022: $3.70 per gallon for regular, which both the Kona and the F-150 take. As you likely know, gas prices are quite volatile these days, with inflation, the Russian Invasion, and other factors both raising the price and making future prices hard to predict. Nevertheless, the price of gas has trended downwards recently and may continue in that direction, though it’s unlikely we see pre-pandemic prices anytime soon. Still, for the sake of math, let’s assume it stays at October’s price for the foreseeable future. Here is the cost to drive the gasoline-powered Kona and F-150 for 45,000 miles.
Hyundai Kona: $5162
Ford F-150: $8325
Charging costs are tougher to determine. First off, many charging stations charge per minute instead of per kilowatt-hour. This way of charging can be frustrating for EV owners. Fortunately, there are changes coming, and Electrify America, one of the largest charging station networks, charges $0.43/kWh for DC fast charging and Level 2 charging in our home-base state of Michigan. Some of Electrify America’s units can charge at a rate of up to 350 kW, but most EVs can’t accept charging that fast. Still, paying per kWh evens the playing field cost-wise between electric cars that charge slower and faster.
To determine at-home charging costs, we took the average rate of $0.1546/kWh in the United States for July 2022, the most recent rate available. Electric utility rates in the United States vary wildly. In 2020, Louisiana paid only $0.0751 per kWh while Hawaii’s electric rates are a wallet-busting $0.2755 per kWh. So the price of charging at home is dictated by where you live.
Another piece of the EV charging puzzle is the split between at-home and on-the-go charging. A June 2021 study on EV consumer behavior by the Fuels Institute found that 70–80% of charging occurs at home or at a workplace parking lot. We went with an 80/20% split between home/public charging for our calculations.
We threw all these numbers on charging into a bucket to determine the amount it would take to keep the two EVs charged up enough to cover 45,000 miles.
Hyundai Kona Electric: $2548
Ford F-150 Lightning: $4529
The final piece of data affecting the cost of ownership of any vehicle is a big one: depreciation. It’s a knotty subject, as predicting depreciation is an educated guess based on past experience, customer demand, vehicle availability, brand reputation, and, for all we know, the phases of the moon. A quick look at the numbers and it’s clear that EVs depreciate quicker than their gas counterparts. Cari Crane, Director of Insights at ALG (which used to be known as Auto Lease Guide), told us that the high cost of electric vehicles contributes to their steeper depreciation. “Dollar wise, we do see a premium on top of a compatible ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) vehicle comparably equipped in age. It’s just that price point that’s really causing that steeper depreciation.” We landed on the following numbers for three years worth of depreciation using the source of AAA’s depreciation metrics, Vincentric.
Hyundai Kona: $9,795
Hyundai Kona Electric: $15,305
Ford F-150: $13,981
Ford F-150 Lightning: $15,738
Three-Year Ownership Cost Comparison
After three years the grand totals give some insight into the question, “are EVs cheaper?” Based on fuel, maintenance costs, and depreciation over a three-year period here’s what we’ve found for the cost-of-ownership of our subject vehicles:
Hyundai Kona: $19,385
Hyundai Kona Electric: $21,426
Ford F-150: $26,505
Ford F-150 Lightning: $23,840
EV Tax Credits
There are still additional variables, such as a $7500 tax credit on the table for both of the electric cars if you buy them new. Whether they’re eligible is a bit complicated. The Inflation Reduction Act signed into law on August 16, 2022, creates new rules for EVs purchased after that date. Firstly, the 200,000 manufacturer unit cap will be lifted by the end of the year, meaning brands that have sold a lot of EVs will once again be eligible for the credit.
However, there are also a few new criteria. First, the vehicle must have its final assembly in the U.S. The Lightning is manufactured in the U.S., and Hyundai has plans to start manufacturing EVs in the U.S. as well. In addition, to qualify for the credit, the buyer must have an income below $150,000 or $300,000 filing jointly, and the price of the EV cannot exceed $55,000 for cars or $80,000 for SUVs and trucks. While we can’t say whether your income qualifies, we can say that the MSRP of the electric vehicles we’ve looked at are both under the cap, though in the case of the Lightning, certain trims and options can lift the truck above it.
Still, the Inflation Reduction Act also stipulates that, in order to receive one-half of the credit, a certain percentage of battery materials must be sourced from the U.S. or countries with which the U.S. has free-trade agreements. To receive the other half, the battery must then be manufactured stateside. Using any battery materials sourced from a “foreign entity of concern” makes a vehicle ineligible for the credit.
All of that is complicated, and with different rules being phased in at different times, receiving an EV tax credit if you buy a car in the next year will only get more complicated. However, many manufacturers, including Hyundai and Ford, have plans to source and manufacture EV batteries in the U.S. in the near future, so for the sake of this math, let’s assume your particular car was sourced domestically.
Here, we’re awarding both vehicles the full $7500 new-car credit to calculate the new three-year cost of ownership, but we cannot guarantee that that will actually be the case. For more information, you can check the IRS’s page about the credit and use the NHTSA’s VIN Decoder to see where a particular vehicle was manufactured.
Hyundai Kona Electric: $13,926
Ford F-150 Lightning: $16,340
Which Is Cheaper to Own?
So, by our calculations this makes the electric F-150 $2664 cheaper to own and operate over the first three years than its electric counterpart—and that’s without the tax credit. With it, it’s a substantial $10,164 less. The Kona Electric, on the other hand, is more costly than the gas version by $2041 without the tax credit, but $5459 cheaper with it. There can also be state and local incentives for EVs to factor in if those are available. Plus, as the years progress the lower costs of operating an electric vehicle (fuel and maintenance) continue to accrue.
The current hitch is that not all new EVs are eligible for the $7500 incentive. As it stands, despite manufacturers’ plans to manufacture EV batteries in the U.S., the vast majority of batteries out there do not meet all the requirements listed in the Inflation Reduction Act. In fact, many vehicles will not be eligible at all, because their battery includes materials from China, which controls 76 percent of global lithium-ion battery production capacity as of 2020 and is likely considered one of the bill’s “foreign entities of concern.”
The other complicating issue is that comparing EVs and gas vehicles isn’t a straight comparison for most electric cars on the road. There are no Tesla Model 3s or Ford Mustang Mach-Es that run on gas. Buyers have to pit them against approximately similar gas vehicles. When you do that, the calculations to see which gives you the best bang for your buck can be even more headache-inducing than what we’ve attempted here. But there’s a better way.
Do Your Own Comparison
If you’re interested in figuring out the cost difference between an EV and a gas vehicle, there’s a handy tool on the US Department of Energy’s site that compares the overall cost of multiple vehicles at once based on your yearly driving habits, EPA data, and even loan information. It also takes into account your state so that it can adjust the fuel-cost data to fit the gas and electricity prices of your area.
So is owning an EV cheaper in the long run? All signs point to possibly. Maybe. Sometimes. But as we said, at this point in time, it’s complicated.
Car and Driver
Roberto Baldwin spends a majority of his time talking people into buying either EVs or sport wagons with manual transmissions. After over a decade of covering technology in Silicon Valley, he’s finally escaped to the glorious world of Car and Driver, where he’ll be covering car tech in Silicon Valley.
Sasha Richie is a local of the Detroit area, so cars have always been a big part of her life. Some of her fondest memories include driving her dad’s 1977 Pontiac Firebird Trans Am in the Woodward Dream Cruise the summer after she got her license and going to drag races with her grandpa. Currently finishing a Bachelor’s in Russian at Duke University, where she is the Sports Managing Editor of the Duke Chronicle, Sasha is excited to join the Car and Driver team for the summer.
Dave VanderWerp has spent more than 15 years in the automotive industry, in varied roles from engineering to product consulting, and now leading Car and Driver’s vehicle-testing efforts. Dave got his very lucky start at C/D by happening to submit an unsolicited resume at just the right time to land a part-time road warrior job when he was a student at the University of Michigan, where he immediately became enthralled with the world of automotive journalism.
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