2014 Prius Hybrid
John Goreham's picture

2015 Prius hybrid now matches the cost per mile of Leaf EV in some markets

Due to increasing electricity costs and decreasing gasoline costs, the most popular EV and most popular hybrid now have nearly identical costs for energy per mile of operation.

Over the past few years, Torque News has reported on the relative efficiency of green cars as well as their energy cost to run per mile. The prevailing logic since EVs re-entered the US market in 2011 was that over the years electricity costs would come down as the mandated use of wind and solar power becomes more cost effective. Most also assume that gasoline prices would go ever higher relative to inflation. Electricity prices vary widely by market, but it is safe to say that in some important EV markets, electricity prices are up, and gas prices are down since EVs began to sell in larger numbers.

Looking Back On Cost To Operate
18 months ago we compared the Prius hybrid to the Nissan Leaf to see which offered a lower cost per mile for “fuel.” In that story, the Leaf beat the Prius in our analysis, which was based on costs in the Mass. marketplace (where the author lives.) Mass. is not exactly a bad place to choose for our analysis. Mass. offers EV rebates and is one of the group of states that has banded together to force automakers to build and sell zero emission vehicles. Mass. also has a single party control all branches of government, so there is less arguing. That particular party is the one most commonly associated with green advocacy. If the Leaf isn’t cheaper here, with this perfect storm of green help, where would it work?

Our Analysis
To make our analysis here, we used FuelEconomy.gov as our source for energy usage of both vehicles.

Here is the formula to calculate the cost per mile for the Prius:
Gasoline is now $2.90 where I live, and the Prius gets 50 MPG
1Gallon/50 Miles X $2.90/1 Gallon =5.8 cents per mile for “fuel.”

Here is the formula to calculate the Leaf’s cost per mile for “fuel.”
Electricity in my area is now $0.188 cents per kWh.
0.3 kWh/mi x $ 0.188/kWh = 5.6 cents per mile.

Why did we pick the Prius and Leaf for our comparison? We did so because the cars have similar performance and similar initial MSRPs. They are also roughly the same size and both are by far the leaders in their green car categories.

Change over 18 months
In my area, electricity has gone up 10% over the past year and a half, and gasoline has come down 15%. What do you think will happen in 18 more months? My guess is that Mass. will begin to subsidize electricity more and will start to add costs to gasoline. However, projections on energy costs have been wrong in the past. At least for now the Prius and Leaf cost almost exactly the same to fuel since both round to 6 cents per mile for energy. We also foresee the next Prius increasing its fuel efficiency by between 5 and 10 percent. The next generation Leaf will likely have the same energy efficiency per mile. Maybe the results of this comparison are worth checking in on every year or so?

Related Stories:
The 2016 Toyota Prius will top 60 MPG
Why does the 2104 Toyota Prius have a 42% better resale value than the Nissan Leaf?
Will the Nissan LEAF copy the Tesla Model S with battery options?
Myth busted - Electric vehicles cost more to maintain than gas cars do

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I find this article to be completely inaccurate. Who is setting these expected mileage estimates at FuelEconomy.gov? They are WAY off the mark... I've never driven a prius from full to empty, but if they get a real world fuel economy of 50mpg, pair that with a 11.9 gallon fuel tank - just about 600 miles between fill ups? Maybe if you're very careful, but doubtful... If anyone get this kind of range with a prius regularly, by all means let me know, and I'll shut up. On the other side of this coin, I do drive a Nissan leaf, and have done so for 14 months now... 0.3kWh/mile?? so 3.33 miles/kWh? Again, way off the mark. Nissan's Carwings system tracking my Leaf has indicated about 9300 miles driven since the start of 2014, and I've AVERAGED an energy economy of 4.8 miles/kWh, with a relatively hilly commute, and I don't drive terribly economically. Instant torque is hypnotic and whenever I'm first in line at a stop light, I just can't resist flooring the accelerator. Key word above - Average. We had one of the coldest winters on record that I can recall here in Southern Ontario which has a tendency to kill your energy economy. During the summer months (May to September), I was averaging closer to 5.6 miles/kWh to compensate for the lower mileage I was getting in the winter. Lastly, I don't know where American power generation comes from, but in Southern Ontario, we only pay 7.5 cents/kWh (for nightime or off-peak hours - when most EVs are actually charging), but even at 18.8 cents/kWh, it's still not 5.6 cents/mile: 4.8 miles/kWh (average) = 0.208 kWh/mile 0.208 x $0.188/kWh = 3.91 cents/mile Based on the fuel economy estimates provided, I can only presume that an 80 year old nun was driving the Prius, and an F1 driver was driving the Leaf; these estimates take the best of the prius and the worst of the Leaf. EVs will never catch on at a mass scale when crap like this is printed. If you really want to know how an EV performs, ask an EV driver.
Thanks Brennan. I think your point is worthy of discussion. I will say that the DOE is decidedly on the side of EVs and if the DOE can't publish a good energy per mile number for some reason they can defend that (I can't). I will say that I do test a lot of Toyotas and hybrids. I have always exceeded the EPA combined number. I got 43.5 MPG in a Corolla recently, so getting 50 MPG in a Prius is not outrageously optimistic. - Before I wrote the story (which was inspired by a Ford Fusion Energi I am testing) I did check with some EV folks to make sure I was not off by an order of magnitude (by a factor of 10) on the miles per kWh. They report between 3 and 5 miles per kWh in a variety of EVs. The number that fueleconomy.gov is publishing for the Leaf is 3.33 miles per kWh (30kWh/100Miles). - With regard to electricity rates, Niagara is a blessing. Here in my area our power comes from primarily Nukes, hydrocarbons, and trash cogeneration (burned with nat gas).
I commute an 8 year old Prius II 75 miles a day. I mainly drive highway at 55-65mph, and get consistent 50+mpg (distance measured with GPS and fuel at the pump). Careful driving, yes, but real world numbers. You are now officially free to shut up.
Great hook! The "Our user's average mpg" on fueleconomy.gov is the best efficiency reporting. After 70k miles in my LEAF, I know that 3.3 mi/kw is really difficult to do even with the heater on full blast, driving 70 mph into a head wind. Even if a gas-burner could get cĺose to the LEAF cost per mile, the total cost of ownership is still and will always be much higher on it. Oil filters, transmission fluid, oil changes, mog checks, leaks ...... and the list goes on. An EV will never have those cost or headaches.
Thanks Brian. Here in the state I live in the MOG check is a "safety check" and still required for EVs. I agree with you that EVs (like the Leaf) should cost less to maintain, but do they? There is a link at the bottom of the story that does the math and the answer is surprising. Finally, with all the government money given back to us to buy an EV, that alone should make it cheaper. However, when it comes time to turn in the Leaf or sell it on, it has the lowest cost of ownership of any car (link to that as well). So challenge the assumptions, and run the numbers.
I love both these cars, but your numbers are way off in the real world. Since my Leaf is charged by solar panels on my roof my cost is $0 per mile, but my average is 4.6 mi/kw with my 3 year old leaf. Prius ave. is 38 miles per gallon for me and 41 for my wife. If i had to pay for fuel for my Leaf it would be just over half the cost of driving the Prius. Its just an electric car there is no reason to fear it America!
The solar panels that you installed had no cost? And you are not able to sell the energy you generate from them back to the utility? Of course if the government makes the cost of electricity zero it is cheaper to run an EV than a gas car.
We Own both a 2006 Prius and a 2012 Leaf. And the LEAF blows it away in terms of $$/Distance. I'm also in Southern Ontario, and our commutes with both vehicles is flat and a combination of Urban and Highway Driving. The Prius gets around 40 Miles Per gallon (and far less than that in the Winter with cold temperatures and Snow Tires eating away at the energy efficiency. And the Leaf gets about 6km/kWh (3.7miles/kWh) which drops to about 5km/kWh (3.1 miles/kWh) as the cold sets in. The price of gas in Toronto is currently about $1.20/litre ($4.50/US-gallon) and the cost of electricity is $0.08/kWh Worst Case Leaf (3.1miles/kWh) - $2.48 for 100 Miles Best Case Leaf (3.7miles/kWh) - $2.08 for 100 Miles Worst Case Prius (40MPG) - $10.00 for 100 Miles Best Case Prius - (45MPG) - $11.25 for 100 Miles You can blame the high cost of gasoline in Canada (we tax gas a lot higher here) but for a Canadian The Leaf is unquestionably a more cost effective vehicle in terms of how cost of fuel to distance travelled, it's not even close...And that is not even count the number of 'free charges' I get at work and various freebie public charging stations, which slant things way more in favour of the Leaf. We have two types of EV's and the Battery-EV used more use than the Hybrid-EV precisely because it is way cheaper to drive here. The Prius enables long drives, which is critical to our lifestyle (Cottage/Roadtrips) but for regular daily use, we both 'fight' over who gets to drive the LEAF because it is a way better drive, and way cheaper too.
Kurt, in markets where there is low cost electricity (due to hydro or other reasons) of course a Leaf is lower cost. Also, where the government taxes gasoline very highly and the cost per gallon is very high, of course the EV is cheaper to run. There are many markets in the US where the Leaf is much cheaper to run than a Prius. However, here in the US there are 9 states that heavily support EV adoption, and one of them is Mass. In that state, right now, the conventional wisdom does not hold.
Hi John, I'm afraid that despite costs of electricity and fuel, Kurt is correct. Even if the calculation of a Prius being 5.8 cents/mile is maintainable in the real world, the calculation of 5.6 cents/mile at 18 cents/kWh with a Leaf just doesn't make sense. Of the 5000 or so Leaf drivers worldwide who pit each themselves against one another for the crown of most efficient driver, I usually fall mid-pack. Even at your stated 18 cents per kWh, I'd still be under 4 cents per mile, and I'm not even that efficient with my Leaf. You're talking nearly a 40% margin of error in cost... Pretty significant. And there`s still all those other Leaf drivers who have figured out how to squeeze more mileage out of their cars than I can! 3.33 miles/kWh = about 5.4km/kWh... not even at my worst have I gotten energy economy that low. February 2014, in the dead of winter, was my worst monthly average to date where I averaged 6km/kWh, still well above FuelEconomy`s "average" economy.
In Ontario (where I live also) The electricity price is 7.7 off peak, 11.4 mid peak, and 14 on peak. So I think you are guessing you only change at the cheapest rate. Your numbers are still way off. The KWH you pay on your bill are an adjusted kwh, which takes into account all the line, and distribution losses.(If you consume 100 kwh, they charge you for like 105 kwh they had to produce to deliver the 100 kwh to your door) Then add in the delivery charge, Regulatory charge, debt retirement charge, HST You are probably paying 17-18 cents, same as me.
Check out the cost in Hawaii.
I have driven the Leaf for three years. Based on my electric meter (I only charge at home) change for an entire year, odometer change for that same period and cost of electricity in Los Angeles with a dedicated EV meter (as shown on my bill - 12.16 cents/kWh), my ACTUAL (not calculated) cost per mile driven was 3.5 cents.
Bill, thank you so much for sharing this info. If you come up with 3.7 cents per mile with an electricity cost of 12.16, then that pretty much matches the numbers I used which were from fueleconomy.gov. When I do the math I come up with 5.7 cents per mile based on your efficiency and my actual electrical cost. Also the way you explain it raises the question of whether those that report their mile per kWh take into account the (minor) losses from the charge point to the expended energy that moves the car. I am testing an EV right now and I wish I had the type of dedicated meter you describe. The energy into the car is higher than energy the car has usable power (small delta).
As many have said this is a bad "analysis " on so many levels. By the way, electric cars have value to consumers beyond just fuel savings. I own a Prius and drive a leaf for work. I prefer the leaf.
Compare all that to a 1989 GEO Metro Lsi that I bought new for $6,999. It got 49.5 mpg measured over the first 20,000 miles on mixed hwy, city driving. I drove the car until it had 265,000 miles on it then sold it. So in all of these years, we really haven't made any improvements on mileage to speak of, but the price of the cars has gone exponentially high.