The State of Electric Vehicles: Is It Time to Buy?

2017 Chevrolet Bolt

Tesla launched its Roadster a few years earlier, but for all intents and purposes, the United States’ age of electric vehicles (EVs) began with the Nissan Leaf in 2011. The market for electric vehicles has come a long way in 10 years, and now shoppers can buy an EV from any number of companies, from the Kia Soul EV to the BMW i3, and from a Tesla Model X to the Chevrolet Bolt.

Priced in the low $30,000-range, the 2011 Leaf offered all-electric range to the masses. But although the Leaf is currently the world’s best-selling, fully capable EV with over 250,000 global sales, its appeal to America’s masses was constricted largely because its all-electric range was too limited. Nissan may have sold the Leaf on a promise of 100 miles of driving range, but real-world experience returned a number closer to 70.

The Leaf has expanded its range since 2011 to 106 miles, but even 106 miles doesn’t cut it for many American car shoppers. Practically speaking, it may be all we need for regular day-to-day commuting, but in a country with an interstate system nearly 48,000 miles long, the allure of the weekend road trip is ever present, and nobody wants to post up at a charging station every 100 miles.

If Tesla hadn’t produced the Model S, capable of up to 315 miles of driving range, would electric cars have died out, due to a lack of interest? It’s certainly possible, but between the ceiling-shattering capability of the Model S and its fanbase’s Apple-like fervor, the demand for long-range EVs has never been stronger. On March 31, 2016, Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk unveiled the long-awaited Model 3: an all-electric sedan capable of 215 miles of driving range and priced at $35,000.

Or at least, that’s the idea. We haven’t seen a production-ready Model 3 quite yet, and although the Tesla website says it will return 215 miles of range and that it will start at $35,000 before incentives, right now you can only go as far as submitting a $1,000 deposit to reserve yours; deliveries are expected to commence in mid-2018 or later.

If you want an affordably priced electric car that can take you from Manhattan to Philly and back, Chevrolet is the only option today. While we wait for the undoubtedly more attractive Model 3 to show up in driveways, the Chevy Bolt can be taken home as early as this summer. Not only is the Bolt hitting dealers before the Model 3, but it’s doing so with a 238-mile range and some hardware to boot: The Chevy Bolt is the 2017 Green Car of the Year.

So, how can you go about buying an EV?

First off, Tesla has built its business model around direct sales, meaning there aren’t any Tesla dealerships. Instead, customers have the option of viewing and test-driving the Model S and Model X in galleries around the country, and purchasing can be done completely online.

Dealers, however, enjoy selling cars, and Tesla’s direct sales model has ruffled a few feathers. Thanks to some aggressive anti-direct-sales lobbying, there are three states where you can’t purchase a Tesla: Michigan, Missouri, and Texas.

If you’re more interested in buying a Bolt, you’ll be able to do so in every state by September 2017. As of now, however, Bolts have been delivered to only a handful of states, and Chevy is still rolling out cars to dealers around the country.

Beyond the typical benefits, buying an EV new comes with one major appeal: tax credits. Right now, the federal government is still offering a $7,500 tax credit to purchasers of new EVs, and many states will tack on their own tax incentives. There have been plenty of questions surrounding the future of this perk, as the new administration looks to lower government spending, but for now, the tax credit is still available.

2016 Nissan Leaf

One place you won’t get the tax credit, however, is on the used-car market. That might be alright, however, because for one reason or another, EVs haven’t displayed a penchant for retaining their value. CarGurus’ Price Trends data says a Tesla Model S that cost $80,000 in 2013 will have lost about 40% of its value by 2017. It’s even more stark on the other end of the spectrum: A Nissan Leaf SL cost $34,840 in 2013, but today the typical IMV for a 2013 with 30,000 miles on the clock is a touch under $11 grand.

We’re at an interesting juncture in the world of electric vehicles. The expensive Teslas are starting to drop in price, and the inexpensive but short-ranged EVs are dropping even further. Finally, with the Chevy Bolt and the Model 3 on its way, there’s a 200-mile range EV on the market for reasonable money—at least, while the government’s tax credit is still available.

Is it finally time to buy an electric car?

-Matt Smith

Find Certified Pre-Owned Cars and Used Cars in your area at CarGurus.

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