How much cheaper is it to run an electric or hybrid vehicle vs. gas?

Electric vehicles are looking better and better to motorists fed up with higher gasoline prices.

Assuming all other costs are equal, it’s simply cheaper to run electric and hybrid vehicles compared to their gas-only counterparts. But all other costs aren’t equal, of course. Automotive analysts say you should expect to wait years before your accrued fuel cost savings exceed the additional money you spent on the vehicle.

the South Florida Sun Sentinel compared costs of running the various vehicle types at a Vehicle Cost Calculator website operated by the US Department of Energy.

These comparisons confirmed what consumers might suspect: Fully electric vehicles are cheapest to operate.

Using the Vehicle Cost Calculator, we compared the cost to drive four 2021 sedans, each rated slightly more than 200 horsepower, in city conditions for a week. To keep the comparison simple, we assumed that gas would cost $4.30 a gallon and that none of the travel would be on highways. We assumed that each car would travel about 200 miles, or 28.6 miles a day.

Also, we assumed that the vehicle would be charged at home at prevailing residential utility rates (currently about 12 cents per kilowatt hour). Using charging stations located along highways can be much more expensive and significantly increase costs.

Here are the results:

  • The all-electric Tesla Model 3 Standard Range Plus rear-wheel drive was by far the cheapest vehicle to run, with an annual fuel (or electricity) cost of $281 a year, or $5.40 a week.
  • A plug-in hybrid, Honda Clarity, was second-cheapest, with an annual electricity cost of $363 or $6.99 a week. Because this plug-in hybrid can run on electricity for 47 miles before switching to gas-engine mode, no gasoline was consumed in our example.
  • A traditional hybrid, Toyota Avalon XLE Hybrid, costs considerably more to drive. The Avalon used 4.7 gallons of gas, or $20 worth each week, increasing the annual fuel cost to $1,041 for 242 gallons. Still, the electric motor helped the Avalon achieve a stellar 43 mpg.
  • Finally, the gas-only Lexus ES 250 consumed eight gallons a week, or $34.40 worth. Over a year, that’s 416 gallons at an annual cost of $1,791. Fuel efficiency fell to 25 mpg, still better than many of the cars, trucks and vans on the roads today.
The Honda Clarity.
The Honda Clarity.(Honda)

‘Green’ vehicles, explained

You can run your own comparison, selecting various driving conditions and choosing among hundreds of makes and models, at afdc.energy.gov/calc.

Before diving in, however, it’s helpful to know the difference between the types of “green” vehicles on the market today.

Electric vehicles are completely powered by batteries. Owners can charge those batteries using their household current or at publicly available charging stations. Consumers can expect to pay $8,000 to $10,000 more for an electric vehicle compared to a comparable gas-powered vehicle.

Today in the United States, Tesla dominates the all-electric market, and other manufacturers are far behind.

While Tesla does not disclose US sales figures, Cox Automotive estimates that Tesla sold 352,471 cars in the US in 2021, a 71% increase over the 205,600 sold in 2020. Telsa models 3 and Y were the two biggest-selling electric vehicles, followed, at a distant third, by Ford’s Mustang Mach E.

For many consumers, all-electric vehicles are not yet a practical option because of their comparatively low traveling range between charges, which adds time and hassle to the prospect of a long-distance driving trip. Even the longest-range vehicles available today, such as the Tesla Model S, can only run about 400 miles between charges.

Hybrids occupy the space between gas-powered and electric vehicles. All hybrids have gas engines that enable owners to take them on long trips without worrying about the cost, wasted time or availability of public charging stations.

Hybrids come in three flavors.

A traditional, or self-charging, hybrid uses a battery to offload some functions of a gas engine, such as powering accessories and restarting vehicles that are designed to shut off at traffic lights. The battery is charged as the car runs on gas, but the functions performed by the battery enable the engine to use less gas and run more efficiently. Traditional hybrids can’t travel far or almost solely on their batteries and are never plugged into home or public chargers.

A recently introduced flavor is known as a “mild hybrid.” These have small batteries that capture energy expended when braking. The batteries have only enough power to enable the engine to be turned off when a vehicle is coasting, cruising or stopped. At traffic lights, the batteries keep the car running while the engine turns off, then smoothly restart the engine again when the light turns green.

Plug-in hybrids are equipped with a battery that owners can charge overnight at their homes. The newest models can run 30 to 50 miles on their battery before they must be switched over to their gas engines. Like traditional hybrids, recharge their batteries while the car operates on gas and help conserve gas by offloading many of the functions to the battery.

Many consumers want to transition to all-electric vehicles by first buying a plug-in hybrid, said Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor at Edmunds, a California-based automotive research organization.

“The plug-in hybrid is a nice in-between,” Montoya said. “It won’t leave you stranded. If you are only taking small trips during the week, you don’t need to fill up your gas tank very often.”

Coming in late 2023, the $105,000 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV RST will be the first model in...
Coming in late 2023, the $105,000 2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV RST will be the first model in the pickup truck’s EV lineup. (Chevrolet / TNS)

Sales are climbing rapidly

While increasing rapidly, sales of “green” vehicles reached 1.2 million last year, or 9.5% of the 14.9 million vehicles sold to consumers, according to the National Auto Dealers Association.

That market share is expected to increase rapidly over the next six years as manufacturers begin to introduce a wider variety of models and styles, said Sam Fiorani, vice president of global vehicle forecasting for AutoForecast Solutions, a Chester Springs, Pa.-based analysis firm .

By 2028, about 53% of all new vehicles sold in the US will have an electric motor, Fiorani said.

Electric vehicle sales will increase from 423,000 in 2021 to 4.1 million — more than 25% of all vehicles sold — by 2028, he said. Hybrids, which accounted for 800,000 sales last year, will make up another 25% of sales in 2028, he said.

Consumers will have more options: Electric versions of the best-selling Ford F-150 and Chevy Silverado trucks, GMC’s Hummer and numerous full-size SUVs will beckon big-vehicle fans just as more electric sedans and crossovers will be trotted out for small- car buyers by Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Kia and Volkswagen.

For muscle car fans, a new Dodge will be introduced in 2024, designed to appeal to Challenger and Charger fans. It will be sold alongside Ford’s all-electric Mustang Mach E.

Slim pickings for now

Analysts’ forecasts assume that car manufacturers will make good on their promises to bring planned models into the marketplace.

For now, everyone is still dealing with supply chain issues that have slowed delivery of common gas-powered engines.

Currently, Tesla buyers are forced to wait months to get their chosen model. Elsewhere, dealer lots have a limited selection of affordable green vehicles.

At Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, the nation’s largest auto retailer, less than 2% of available stock falls into the “specialty” category occupied by green vehicles, said Marc Cannon, the company’s executive vice president.

Production is ramping up gradually among auto manufacturers, Cannon said. “You can’t just flip a switch,” he said. Cannon expects availability of electric vehicles to remain limited and prices to remain high over the next few years while “early adopters” buy up the fun new models, like the upcoming Chevy Silverado.

A used 2020 Tesla Model 3 is shown on a CarMax lot on March 10 in Burbank, Calif.
A used 2020 Tesla Model 3 is shown on a CarMax lot on March 10 in Burbank, Calif. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

While gas price hikes might be sparking renewed interest — searches for information about green vehicles on Edmunds.com for the week ending March 13 increased 39% over the previous week — buyers ready to take the plunge might be better off waiting a bit longer, Montoya said. Even though they cost less to drive, electric vehicles aren’t necessarily cheaper to own, he pointed out.

“You need to consider that electric vehicles are not going to be a silver bullet,” he said. “They’re expensive compared to gas vehicles.”

It could take years for the savings in fuel costs to exceed the difference in price, he said. “You have to factor in the price you’re paying for that car.”

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel (TNS)