Are you looking for the cheapest electric car you can buy in the US? If so, the first thing you need to do is define your terms. There is great debate about whether a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt is truly an electric car. To purists, anything with a gasoline range-extending engine is not really an electric, even though it may have enough range to meet the driving needs of 90% of Americans 90% of the time. Rather than add fuel to that debate, this article will simply focus on cars that operate exclusively on battery power. Look for a subsequent story on plug-in hybrid car prices in the near future. But first a few caveats.
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles
Neighborhood Electric Vehicles are very popular and there are dozens of models available, but they are limited by law to roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and are banned from use on highways. While they fit the needs of many people and there are whole communities built to accommodate them, they are really glorified golf carts. In fact, some actually ARE golf carts! Since they are not designed to leave the area where they are used most frequently, they are not included in this article.
Many of the electric cars sold in the US are so-called “compliance cars” intended to meet the requirements for zero-emissions vehicles established by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). The Fiat 500e is a perfect example. It is available only in California and one or two other states. Availability of other cars like the Ford Focus Electric may be extremely limited in most states. You can probably buy one in Oshkosh, but don’t expect your local dealer to have any in inventory.
The Cheapest Electric Car Will Presumably Be The …
Electra Meccanica Solo
16.1 kWh battery, $15,500, 100 mile range
Priced at $15,500, the Electra Meccanica Solo is basic transportation for one person. This all-electric trike has an 82 horsepower electric motor and top speed of 80 miles per hour. The manufacturer claims a range of 100 miles. It has a 16.1 kWh battery, which is enough to qualify for a $5,000 federal tax credit. 0–60 acceleration is said to be under 8 seconds.
The Solo is no-frills transportation, but it does have 10 cubic feet of cargo space behind the driver. To put that into perspective, the Tesla Model 3 has only 14 cubic feet available to haul stuff around.
Is it worth waiting a year to get the cheapest electric car on the market? Is a single seat vehicle adequate for your needs? Will the car really be produced? Only you can answer those questions.
Until Then … The Cheapest Electric Car Is …
Smart ForTwo Electric Drive — $23,800
68 miles of range, 107 MPGe, 55 kW motor
The Smart Fortwo electric coupe goes the Solo one better. It seats two people, but has a smaller battery and less range. Still, it is available now and wins the award for the cheapest electric car you can buy in America today. Having the extra seat is a big plus, but the Smart Fortwo is still a diminutive vehicle that may not be suitable for all drivers. If you want cheap, you have to make some sacrifices.
What Is The Cheapest Real Electric Car?
So far, this article has focused on precisely what it says in the title – the cheapest electric car you can buy. The Solo and the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive qualify, but each has drawbacks that may make them unsuitable to mainstream drivers. When it comes to “real cars” that real people can drive in the real world, here are the cars you should be looking at. Keep in mind that not all of them will be available in all areas.
Hyundai Ioniq Electric — $29,500
28 kWh battery, 124 miles (EPA), 136 MPGe, 88 kW motor
The Hyundai Ioniq is the cheapest electric car in America with room for 5 passengers. It is also a 5 door hatchback design, which means people can bring their stuff with them when they go places in it. Availability may be limited in some areas, but the Hyundai Ioniq Electric is be offered in all 50 states. A version with a larger battery and more range is in the works.
Volkswagen e-Golf — $29,815
35.8 kWh battery, 124 mile range, 119 MPGe, 100 kW motor
The e-Golf comes with a larger battery for more range. It is the electric version of the tried and true VW Golf, one of the most successful car models of all time. The e-Golf can be outfitted with emergency braking and parking assist. The price, as you can see, is practically the same as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric.
Ford Focus Electric — $29,995
33.5 kWh battery, 115 miles, 107 MPGe, 107 kW motor
The Ford Focus Electric is comparable to the two models above and priced almost the same as well. It may be difficult to find outside of California, but that’s the case for the e-Golf as well and also for the Ioniq Electric until production ramps up.
Nissan LEAF — $31,545
30 kWh battery, 107 miles, 112 MPGe, 80 kW motor
The LEAF also got a larger battery for 2017. That increased the price, but the extra 30 miles of range should give drivers more peace of mind and freedom. The LEAF is not the most stylish of vehicles, but people who own them are quite pleased with the ride and handling — and the generous amount of interior room. More LEAFs have been sold worldwide than any other electric car in history. With a great balance between size, range, price … and availability, it’s no surprise that the LEAF continues to see solid sales. That said, much of that is claimed to be due to handsome discounts Nissan has been offering, discounts that may well make the car the cheapest electric car on the market in many regions.
Fiat 500e — $32,780
24 kWh battery, 84 miles, 112 MPGe, 83 kW motor
The electric version of the fun-to-drive Fiat 500 is strictly a compliance car available only in California and Oregon. Fiat often has special promotions on the 500e, like ultra-low lease rates designed to move them off dealer lots in order to make the people at CARB happy. This is the car that FCA head Sergio Marchionne once begged people not to buy because he says his company loses over $14,000 on every one it sells. That’s a dubious claim as production/sales ramp up and the R&D expenses get spread beyond more models, but you get the point — Sergio doesn’t want to sell EVs. That’s why it’s been a surprise that the 500e is sometimes the cheapest electric car on the California market (with discounts).
Kia Soul EV — $32,800
27 kWh battery, 93 miles (EPA), 105 MPGe, 81 kW motor
The Kia Soul is not available in all states, but it is the same cute, cuddly vehicle that Kia introduced to the market several years ago with a highly successful ad campaign featuring hip, happy hamsters. If the Kia Soul is your cup of tea and you can live with limited range, it may be just the car for you.
Chevy Bolt — $37,495
60 kWh battery, 238 miles, 119 MPGe, 150 kW motor
Photo by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica
The first all-electric car from Chevrolet with long range is wrapped in an attractive 5 door hatchback crossover-style body. It has almost as much range as a base Tesla Model S and has won several awards for its advanced engineering. Base models lack many safety systems and high-speed charging capability is an $800 extra, but for the money, it is a very attractive package. It is considered the first long-range, fully electric “affordable” car.
Mercedes-Benz B250e — $40,825
28 kWh battery, 87 miles, 84 MPGe, 132 kW motor
The battery-electric version of the Mercedes B-Class, the B250e, is overpriced for what is has to offer. It is an example of another compliance car where the manufacturer tried to shoehorn an electric battery and powertrain into an existing gas model to save money. It shows. Although it is a 5 door hatchback vehicle, the battery takes up much of the available cargo space behind the rear seat.
BMW i3 — $43,395
22–33 kWh battery, 81–114 miles, 118–124 MPGe, 125 kW motor
Photo by Jose Pontes | CleanTechnica
The BMW i3 is a miracle of modern technology and engineering. It features a carbon-fiber chassis that provides a safety cell around the occupants. It also is the only non-Tesla car that currently offers customers a choice of battery size. Pick the version (and the price) that fits your needs. The i3 is also available with a two-cylinder range extender to eliminate range anxiety. Its styling is offbeat and it drives like a BMW should.
“You get what you pay for” has never been more true than when it comes to electric cars. The least expensive models come with few options and limited range. Many are only available in California and a few other states. The good news is that there are now two “real” electric cars that are available nationwide with prices starting under $30,000. Both are eligible for the full federal tax credit of $7,500. That means a careful shopper like you could park a brand new electric car in your driveway that has a net cost to you of $22,500 … before other incentives, like California, Colorado, and a few other states offer.
But be aware, you only get to take full advantage of that federal tax credit if you have a federal tax liability of $7,500 or more. If your total federal tax bill is $4,000, that’s all the credit you can get and you cannot carry any unused portion over to subsequent years.
Shop carefully and make sure you are getting all the car you need for the price you are willing to pay. A Solo or Smart Fortwo may be cheap, but if you need to transport three or more people on a regular basis, that low price is not going to leave you feeling happy about your buying decision.