Doug Tiffany talks about reasons for buying an electric vehicle

Is an Electric Vehicle or a Hybrid the Right Car For You Now?

Update on Electric Vehicle Decisionmaking Tools

With the growing demand for electric vehicles in the United States, there are more and more tools out there for consumers looking to make decisions about which vehicle is right for them. Here are two more recent tools that we recommend:

  1. Vehicle Cost Calculator from the US DOE Alternative Fuels Data Center
  2. EVolution: Education on E-Drive Vehicles from Argonne National Laboratory
  3. Electric Vehicle Advisor from Xcel Energy

Alternative Vehicle Decision Tool

PUBLISHED: October 26, 2011

Doug Tiffany, University of Minnesota Extension Educator, recently created an Alternative Vehicle Decision Tool that is now available for use by the general public.

We chatted with Doug recently about this project and how some of his findings show that these may not be “alternative” vehicles for long.

Joel: What inspired you to create this tool?

Doug: My brother told me that he was considering purchase of a hybrid car or a conventional model in 2009 when gasoline prices were low. While gasoline prices were low at that time, he, like many consumers remembered paying $4.00 per gallon in the summer of 2008. My brother supplied me with the performance and price figures for comparable hybrid and conventional cars, and I quickly focused on a fair way to compare the vehicle lifetime of ownership and operational costs.

What do you hope people learn from using it?

I hope that people learn that the ownership costs of vehicles are often more important than the operational (primarily gas) costs unless one drives enough miles per year. I also hope that people utilize the feature of the tool that informs them of the emissions of Greenhouse Gases (GHG) that they emit in a year. Someday, I expect we will be assessed for the GHG emissions of our consumer choices, although as individual consumers we are getting a free ride for now. I expect consumers will make good decisions on the use of transportation fuels, electricity, and heating fuels when pricing of GHG emissions becomes formalized. This future possibility shouldn’t be feared because consumers have numerous choices to make consumption and operational changes in their energy use patterns.

What was the most difficult thing in creating the tool?

I started working on the tool and found a way to calculate reasonable comparisons of potential vehicles with a couple of two hour bursts of activity. However, I wanted to relieve the basic user of the tool from looking as many numbers that I used to calculated discounted costs of ownership and operation over the useful life of the cars. After putting this little project aside for a few days, I thought of a way to use graphs that immediately change whenever the user changes an assumption. This step has the effect of putting the consumer or user in the driver’s seat and posing the key assumptions with respect to miles driven per year, the price of gasoline and costs of the vehicles being considered.

Click here to download the decision-making tool now

Does this tool also help people looking at all-electric cars, like the Nissan Leaf?

Sure, the Nissan Leaf, which is an electric vehicle or EV, can be accurately analyzed with this tool. I have added supporting information so that users can look up their local electricity costs as well as the GHG emissions associated with the blend of electricity that they might use for charging their cars. The Chevy Volt, which is an Extended Range EV is also able to analyzed with this tool as well as conventional cars and hybrids (Hybrid Electric Vehicles or HEVs).

Were there any outcomes that surprised you as you entered various scenarios into the Excel tool?

I was a little surprised to see how competitive in terms of costs an EV like the Nissan Leaf or others that follow can be if the consumer can get along with the range issues of EVs. The EVs are very efficient in converting electricity stored in their batteries to mechanical motion. Even with electricity that is heavily dominated by coal-fired power plants, the electric vehicles (EVs) result in excellent reductions in GHG emissions. I was also able to use the tool to prove that the common hybrids like the Toyota Prius, Honda Civic, and the more recent Hyundais, Fords and others are excellent choices for consumers if they drive enough miles and gas prices stay the same or rise.

What kind of feedback have you heard from people using this decision-making tool?

I have had people thank me for the development of the tool even when they decided that they wouldn’t drive enough miles to justify the greater ownership cost of an alternative vehicle. Other people have been happy to see some quantification of the savings in GHG emissions that they would capture by going to an alternative vehicle versus a conventional vehicle. I am happy to help people balance their personal and altruistic goal of GHG emissions reductions and petroleum conservation within the reality of their own lives and budgets.


Alternative Vehicle Decision Tool
Guidance for Decision Tool

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