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February 12, 2013

Paying to Power Our Cars

Chevy Spark2-13

According to a new report "Where Your Money Goes" by Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), the average American spends $22,000 to pay for gasoline over the lifetime of the vehicle. That's about as much as some people spend on the cars themselves!

President Obama doesn't like this equation at all. In this week's State of the Union address, the president proposed a new Energy Security Trust that would use funds generated by oil and gas revenues on public lands to invest in advanced vehicle technology that will "shift our cars and trucks off oil for good."

UCS further found that only about 81 cents per $50 fill-up goes to the local service station, and the vast majority of the money goes directly to U.S.-based Big Oil companies and state-owned foreign oil companies.

Plug-in electric vehicles, however, are powered partly or fully by domestic electricity sources. "Freedom from oil" is a reason that many EV drivers cite for switching to plug-in cars. Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran Tim Goodrich in a previous Sierra Club blog post said he bought his Nissan Leaf because

the cost of filling up with gas is just too much. I'm not just writing about the price we're paying at the pump; I am also referring to the cost to our future generations, our national security, and our economy. As a veteran, I have seen the toll these costs take and I am doing what I can to stop contributing to the problem.

In terms of dollars and cents, some are wary of an EV purchase price that is often more expensive than gasoline-powered counterparts. However, our friends at Plug In America contend that EVs are actually cheaper than many gas-powered vehicles when you factor in all the costs, including purchase/lease price, maintenance, and fuel. They did the math and found that over a ten-year period, a Nissan Leaf would cost about $38,430, a Toyota Matrix about $58,613, and a Toyota Prius V about $51,359. And of course for the electric car, no money goes to Big Oil.

Out-going U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu recently announced a new Workplace Charging Challenge, an effort to provide more people with the opportunity to charge their EVs at work. Google, Verizon, and the Big Three U.S. automakers are among the 21 founding partners of the workplace charging program (at no tax-payer expense) that pledge to "assess workforce plug-in electric vehicle charging demands, and then develop and implement a plan to install workplace charging infrastructure for at least one major worksite location."

These workplace EV chargers will help as more people do the math and figure out how to free themselves from oil.

(Photo: Jesse Prentice-Dunn.)

-- Gina Coplon-Newfield is the Sierra Club’s Director of Green Fleets & Electric Vehicles Initiative.


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