Craig and Collen Farnum of Carbondale, Colorado are the proud owners of a Tesla Model S 70D, a car they paid $75,000 for in May. The Farnums are environmentally conscious people who are serious about reducing their carbon footprint.  They are a middle class couple with professional jobs, a mortgage, school loans, and a 9-month-old daughter. Buying a $75,000 automobile meant they had to examine their finances closely to make sure they were not getting over-extended. After much soul searching and crunching of numbers, they decided they could afford the Tesla because it would basically pay for itself.

The Farnum's Tesla Model S 70D

Wait. Can we have that again? A car that can pay for itself? How is such a thing even possible? Here’s how Craig and Colleen analyze things. Deduct the $7,500 federal tax credit and the $6,000 Colorado EV incentive and the car ends up costing $61,500. Craig says his Toyota Tacoma, which he sold to buy the Tesla, cost $4,000 a year to operate and maintain. He says the Tesla uses only $20 worth of electricity a month. That saves the family $3,750 a year.

They were able to obtain a no money down 6 year loan from Alliant Credit Union in Chicago at 2.2% interest. The couple took the $18,000 they got from selling Craig’s Tacoma and used it to build an apartment in their basement. The income from that covers most of the car loan. When the loan is paid off, the net cost of the car will be about $40,000, Craig says. He expects to keep the car for 10 years. The combination of rent from the apartment and minimal operating costs over the next 4 years means the cost of the car will be zero when all is said and done.

Okay. Let’s take a step back here. Any first year economist could blow holes in the Farnum’s analysis without breaking a sweat. First of all, not everyone can build an apartment in their basement and use the proceeds to pay for a car. Second, Craig is assuming no maintenance costs for the Tesla other then wiper blades and tires for 10 years. Third, he assumes any repairs needed will be covered by the Tesla warranty.

We all know a car — any car — is a lousy investment. Unless you’re talking about an original Ferrari Testa Rossa or a COPO 396 Chevelle in pristine condition, cars cost money. Craig and Colleen may have stars in  their eyes when it comes to running the numbers for their Tesla, but there’s a larger point here.

“We looked at our behavior, and asked ourselves how we could make a difference,” Farnum said. They had already started by adopting a mostly vegetarian diet. Transportation was the next milestone. “We wanted to buy a long-range electric family car made in America, and there was only one option. So we made it a priority,” Craig told Colorado’s Post Independent.

But the real story begins when the Farnum’s leased a Nissan LEAF in 2013. “We wanted to have zero local emissions for all of our transportation. We leased the Nissan Leaf as a test. We saved so much money on it, because we had no maintenance and no operating costs. After the first month of driving the Leaf, we realized we could never turn back. We were committed. So we saved for two and a half years to make it happen,” says Craig.

And that’s really the point. People who drive electric cars love electric cars and never want to go back to fossil fueled dinosaurs. Federal and state incentives may be all well and good. Improving the charging infrastructure may be needed. But when it comes right down to it, the way to get people to buy electric cars is to give them a chance to drive electric cars. There’s an old expression in the car business that goes like this: “The feel of the wheel seals the deal.” It’s still true.

In order to get the green car revolution to move forward, it’s essential to get more people behind the wheel of an EV and let them experience the joy of electric motoring for themselves. So far, manufacturers, dealers, and governments seem to be blissfully unaware of this simple proposition. Here’s a piece of free advice for all of them: Wake Up!!!!

Photo credit: Heather McGregor / Clean Energy Economy News