New York Times Gets Electric Car Costs Very Wrong

The New York Times recently published an article titled “Electric Cars Too Costly for Many, Even With Aid in Climate Bill,” which put forward the misleading claim that, “[While] policymakers in Washington are promoting electric vehicles as a solution to climate change, (an) uncomfortable truth remains: Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.”

Is that fact true? Absolutely. Sort of. Is the New York Times presenting that fact in a misleading way? Absolutely. The only real question is: Why? And I think I have the answer. (Full disclosure: I’m about to go on a bit of a rant here, so — yeah.)

EVs Are NOT Too Expensive

That up there? That’s the Chevy Bolt — a capable, dependable, and not at all likely to catch fire battery-electric vehicle (BEV) capable of taking you and yours something like 259 miles before needing to be plugged into one of thousands of EV charging stations available across the United States.

Brand new, a Chevy Bolt starts at $31,500 before any federal, state, or utility incentives are factored in. At the end of the day, some customers in markets like Oregon and California will be able to drive home in this capable little EV for about $24,000 (plus, plus, plus — obvi.). Now, you may not know this next little factoid, but I’d bet that NYT‘s Jack Ewing does (or should, if he’s going to be writing for the Times). That is that the average transaction price of a new car in the United States increased to $48,043 in June of this year.

For those of you bad at math, that means you can get a brand-new Chevy Bolt EV for just a tick under half of the average selling price of a new car in the USA. It’s not alone, either. The upcoming Chevy Equinox EV and the Nissan LEAF are priced about the same as the Bolt. Even the hugely popular Ford F-150 Lightning has a starting price some $15,000 less than the average transaction price (with incentives). That’s being touted as “too much?” It’s not EVs that’s the problem, is it?

As noted above, included in the article was the statement, “Battery-powered cars are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.” The simple fact is that new cars are too expensive for the vast majority of Americans. That’s why most people buy used cars. Among new vehicles, though, there are electric vehicles that are, in fact, in “affordable” categories well below the average selling price.

Furthermore, operational and maintenance costs of EVs are lower, sometimes much lower. Resale value is also often higher for EVs than their gas-powered competitors. So, if you look across the whole vehicle ownership period of a new vehicle (for the buyer of the new vehicle, not the next person he or she sells that car to), EVs are actually much more affordable than is assumed by people who only look at the sticker price. For more on this fun topic, we’ve written about total cost of EV ownership for years — scroll through those archives. Our most recent story in that category: “My Tesla Model 3 TCO Estimate Sucked, Model 3 Was Cheaper To Drive Than Most Camrys!

It’s Not the Cars, It’s the Jobs

Image by Kyle Field, for CleanTechnica.

What the New York Times would seemingly like you to believe, based on the wording of its article, is that electric cars are the problem. They’re too expensive because of bottlenecks in the supply chain (the latest pro-corporate boogeyman), and “broader steps are needed to make electric cars more affordable.” The article also cites the notion that lack of at-home refueling is a real-world barrier to EV adoption — somewhat baffling, considering no one doesn’t buy an ICE car because they don’t have a gas pump at home, you know? (Like I said: a bit of a rant.)

Look, the real problem here is stagnating wages. Plain and simple. The NYT won’t ever admit that, either because the news giant is largely owned by Vanguard and BlackRock and serves its shareholders more than it does the public, or because the writing team genuinely doesn’t know any better and believes that the $66,000 Tesla Model Y (the only EV price cited in the piece) is the only EV out there. Let’s assume the latter, then, and do some more educating!

In 2009, the average price of a new car from an American automaker was $23,276. Adjusted for inflation (July ’09 to July ’22, using government metrics), that’s “just” $32,022 — nearly $16,000 less than the average price of a new car today. So, car prices are outpacing broader inflation. Furthermore, $16,000 is approximately the increase in average compensation in the country, not leaving any of that increase in wages for other rising costs. Actually, looking further back and taking broader economic factors into consideration, wages have been more or less stagnant for 50 years — except in C-level positions, where CEO compensation has risen more than 900% since the 1970s.

The short story is that most Americans cannot and do not buy new vehicles. There were approximately 15 million new vehicle sales in the US in 2021. That’s compared to 258 million adults. So, technically, the NYT is correct: brand new EVs (like all brand new cars) “are much too expensive for a vast majority of Americans.” However, if we’re comparing the 3-year or 5-year ownership cost of a new EV compared to some other new automobile, EVs stack up very well.


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