Electric cars are less expensive due to government support and subsidies. Autos powered purely by electricity receive a sales subsidy equal to some $7,000 in the UK and Japan and $9,000 in the US.
"The subsidies are reasonably expensive at the moment, but they are expected to tail off," said James Tate, who led the research, along with Kate Palmer and colleagues at the University of Leeds, UK, the Guardian reported.
The findings reveal that the electric car will be the cheapest vehicle to own even without the subsidies over the next few years. Tate estimates that by 2025 electric cars such as the Nissan Leaf will — even after removing the government subsidies — be as cheap to own and run as a petrol car.
Researchers analyzed the cost of ownership over a four-year period, taking into account purchase price and depreciation, fuel, insurance, taxation and maintenance, and were surprised to uncover that pure-electric cars were the cheapest in the following markets: UK, Japan, Texas and California.
Cars powered purely by electricity have lower fuel costs as electricity remains much cheaper than fossil fuels. In addition, the engines of purely electric cars and brakes work more efficiently than fossil fuel powered cars, saving maintenance costs.
Researchers also found that hybrid cars — those that use a small onboard engine to charge batteries and occasionally the drivetrain and cannot be plugged in — were slightly more expensive than fossil-fuel powered cars. Plug-in hybrids were significantly more expensive in all markets, except for Japan, where plug-in hybrids are eligible for high government subsidies.
"We were surprised and encouraged because, as we scale up production, [pure] electric vehicles are going to be becoming cheaper and we expect battery costs are going to fall," Tate said, adding that the new findings are "a really good-news story."
According to Viktor Irle, an analyst at the The Electric Vehicle World Sales Database, some good electric car options are inexpensive, like the Nissan Leaf, alongside more luxurious options like the Tesla Model S. However, there are not many options that fall between these two extremes.
"There are no good options at the moment," Irle said. "I guess the traditional car manufacturers are a bit afraid it will cannibalise sales of their conventional cars, which are bestsellers."
Dangerous air pollution in China is an expanding market for a country that has consistently been shown to have the biggest market for automobiles powered by electricity. According to Tate, "China is stealing the march on everybody and they will be the leaders of that market."
"The European and US motor industry have been caught napping," he added.