Hybrid

Electric Cars Get More Affordable, Kind Of

Way back in the distant past, perhaps as long ago as last year, prices for electric cars appeared so high that they may have been just for rich people.

Or technologically savvy first adopters. Or both.

Strangely, that's no longer the case. Electric car prices have dropped. In the case of the Nissan Leaf, the decline has been precipitous. As in ka-boom. According to the link, the base model is $ 21,300 with an asterisk that says "net value after federal tax savings."

That federal tax savings could be as much as $ 7,500, depending on what model is purchased. Still, not bad.

JQ Public makes a call

I first heard of this by way of a caller I'll dub Nathan. His was a random inquiry to the front desk at the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District where I work as a grants processor. Normally, those I speak with want to know about grants to replace heavy-duty semi-trucks, the bread and butter of the Incentives Department at the Air District in Fresno, Calif.

But Nathan had something else on his mind.

"Do you still have the grant for electric cars?" he asked. I didn't know anything about the program, but knowing about this stuff is my job. So I found out. Turns out the District has a Drive Clean rebate program that offers up to $ 3,000 reimbursement. Hardly insignificant.

Of course, the vehicle must be on the list. The Leaf is. So are others, including the Honda Accord plug-in hybrid, the Chevy Volt with low emissions package and a bunch of others. Some are quite obscure. Spoiler is the applicant must live in the San Joaquin Valley, a sometimes hot region defined as the southern borders of Kern to the northern borders of San Joaquin counties.

Affordability

Whether buying electric is a viable option depends on the person and car. Nathan went over his personal options with me. This is something I've become familiar with in the past year as truckers needing to meet California Air Resources Board emissions compliance dates do it all the time. Big question they have to ask themselves: Can I afford this?

After talking with Nathan, he got me believing that he indeed could. It was to be his second car. His wife has a pretty nice economical ride and this would be his work commuter. The Leaf was what he had his eye on. I mentioned the look of the car. I find it less than appealing. He said he's alright with it.

In addition to the Drive Clean grant, the Center for Sustainable Energy offers another source of funds. This is a state grant through the ARB and can be as much as $ 2,500. The level depends on the car. For instance, the RAV4 EV from Toyota gets the maximum amount.

Prices

The pricing page of the Nissan Leaf brings my total up to $ 29,650. But add in the tax savings and other grants and that could drive down the price by $ 12,000. Maybe. I'm not going to really test the concept.

Still, that's a pretty good deal for a car that doesn't need $ 50 in gas every week or week and a half. That's what I now pay to keep my Passat on the road. Well, that and a lot of maintenance costs. I just bought new eco-friendly tires for $ 600 or something like that.

Granted another electric car would be more expensive. The Tesla Model S, for instance, has a base price of $ 62,400. But that's a luxury machine, a hot looking car that I've been pining over for the past several years. Of course, I'd want the extreme version, the performance package for $ 87,400.

Electric cars aren't for everybody, but the prices do appear to be dipping somewhat. Perhaps that will entice more people to take the plunge.

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