The Electric Vehicle Mileage Fraud, Updated: Tesla Model 3 Energy Costs Higher than A Prius, Despite Crazy-High eMPG Rating

Nearly 8 years ago (can it be so long?) I wrote a series of articles about what I called the electric vehicle mileage fraud at the EPA.  Rather than adopt sensible rules for giving electric vehicles an equivalent mpg rating, they used a horrible unscientific methodology that inflated the metric by a factor of three (in part by ignoring the second law of thermodynamics).  All the details are still online here.  I am not omniscient so I don't know people's true motivations but one is suspicious that the Obama administration wanted to promote electric vehicles and put their thumb on the scale of this metric (especially since the EPA in the Clinton Administration has already crafted a much better methodology).  To be fair, smart people screw this up all the time -- even Eric Schmidt screwed it up.

Take for example the Tesla model 3, which has been awarded an eye-popping eMPG of between 120 and 131.   Multiplying these figures by .365 (as described in my linked article) gets us the true comparative figure of 44 to 48.  This means that in terms of total energy consumption in the system, the Tesla is likely better than most gasoline-powered vehicles sold but less energy efficient than top hybrids (the Prius is listed as 53-58 mpg).  At the end of the day, electric cars feel cheaper to fuel in part because they are efficient, but perhaps more because there is no little dial with rotating dollar numbers on the electric cables one attaches to charge them  (also, there are still places where one can skim electricity for charging without paying).

Basically, I have been a voice in the wilderness on this, but I just saw this note on the Tesla Model 3 and its operating costs from Anton Wahlman writing at Seeking Alpha

there are attractive and spacious hatchbacks yielding at least 55 MPG for under $25,000, without taxpayer funding needed. Just to be conservative and give the opposite side of the argument the benefit of the doubt, I’ll refer to these as 50 MPG cars, even though they perform a little better. Rounding down is sufficient for this exercise, as you will see below....

To find out [the price to charge a Tesla], you can go to Tesla’s Supercharger price list, which is available online: Supercharging.

As you can see in the table above, the average is close to the $0.24 per kWh mark. So how far does that $0.24 take you?

The Tesla Model 3 is rated at 26 kWh per 100 miles according to the U.S. Department of Energy: 2018 Tesla Model 3 Long Range.

In other words, almost four miles per kWh. It’s close enough that we can round it up to four miles, just to give Tesla some margin in its favor. That squares with the general rule of thumb in the EV world: A smaller energy-efficient EV will yield around 4 miles per kWh, whereas a larger EV will yield around 3 miles per kWh.

That means that at $0.24 per kWh, the Tesla Model 3 costs $0.06 per mile to drive.

How does that compare to the gasoline cars? At 50 MPG and today’s nationwide average gasoline price of $2.65, that’s $0.05 per mile. In other words, it’s cheaper to drive the gasoline car than the Tesla Model 3.

This result that the Tesla is slightly more expensive to fuel than the top hybrids is exactly what we would expect IF the EPA used the correct methodology for its eMPG.  However, if you depended on the EPA's current eMPG ratings, this would come as an enormous shock to you.

Electric vehicles have other issues, the main one being limited range combined with long refueling times.  But there are some reasons to make the switch even if they are not more efficient.

  1. They are really fun to drive.  Quiet and incredibly zippy.
  2. From a macro perspective, they are the easiest approach to shifting fuel.  It may be easier to deploy natural gas to cars via electricity, and certainly EV's are the only way to deploy wind or solar to transportation.



  1. ErikTheRed:

    "$0.24 per kWh" - Here in Teslaland (California) we can only dream of those prices for electricity. I think our top marginal rate (yes, we're tiered in some weird complex manner) is around $0.52 right now.

  2. obloodyhell:

    I still want to see someone replace the ICS engines in hybrids with a steam turbine. I suspect that a compact steam turbine can get far better energy out of its powerplant, save weight/equalize weight by not needing a transmission, and the hybrid design can deal with the historic disadvantages of a steam engine, by using electric power for the first five minutes or so...

  3. obloodyhell:

    Yeah, but cali has a stupid system, anyway, you're likely paying for most of your power coming in from out of state, still.

  4. Broccoli:

    Isn't most of the country around $.10/kwh? Is California really that ridiculous? In Colorado last year my cost was .11 and now in Texas it is .09. In a more reasonable state that would effectively double the equivalent MPG.

    On a side note, if these rapid chargers became popular you would start seeing a instantaneous demand fee imposed like utilities do for businesses. This can be as high as 50% of the monthly bill if your load is peaky and not smooth, as it would be for something like those rapid chargers. The only reason utilities don't do this now is because they EVs are so rare it would not be worth the bad publicity.

  5. CC:

    In my town in illinois the cost of electric to my home is $.05/hwh.

  6. mx:

    I think that's partially because of the tiered structure. PG&E's home EV rates ( aren't tiered the same way and run $0.12-$0.45 depending on season and time of day, less additional subsides and rebates we can ignore for their market-distorting effects (I guess you can say they make up for the cost of installing a home charger, which you'd otherwise want to factor into the cost-per-mile analysis since gas-purchasers don't have to install their own gas stations). Set your car to do the bulk of your charging at night, and you can pay $0.12/kWh, or around $0.03/mile, even in crazy California.

  7. C078342:

    Delivered and generation? That is cheap.

  8. jon49:

    EVs should have less maintenance too. Which would be really nice. They shouldn't have oil changes, if you use the "air breaks" your breaks should last just about forever. The motor should last a very long time, though your batteries won't!

  9. brec:

    In Las Vegas, with a home time-of-use "Electric vehicle" rate plan effective from 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM, I pay $0.051/kWh June through Septermber, and $0.038/kWh October through May. Superchargers are for long-distance trips.

  10. Craig:

    Because California utilities must take all renewable electricity generated, they have more generation in the spring and fall than they can sell (they have to keep conventional generation going to back up the system). To get rid of the excess MWh, (you can't bury it) they pay Arizona utilities to take the excess. Thank you California!

  11. Variant:

    Been a while since I looked at the KWh price on my SCE bill, but I believe it's about $0.14/KWh for "Tier I". Easily can get up close to 30 cents per KWh if you get into Tier IV.

  12. Daniel Barger:

    When you can set the "standards" anyway you desire you can tout ANY vehicle as being the best at ANYTHING. Have you EVER seen a model that the manufacturer didn't claim was "best in class".....? That's because the standards for a "class" are created so restrictively EVERY car is in it's OWN CLASS. And thus is "best in class". It's all advertising bullshit....nothing more.

  13. cc:

    should be kwh not hwh--that is what is on my bill

  14. roger:

    I'm still waiting for the "fist-sized gas turbines these new ceramics are going to allow;" heard from an R&D VP at the MilSpaceCo I worked at in 1980.

  15. BobSykes:

    Growing up in Boston in the 50’s, we still had electric buses. These were powered by overhead lines carrying DC. It was impossible for the cars of the day to out accelerate these buses. Teslas must have the same torque.

  16. markm:

    Roger: "Fist-sized turbines" are available - but only on a government budget. You'll find them in military drones and cruise missiles.

  17. markm:

    Keep in mind that a Supercharger facility has substantial expenses above the electricity cost. There's the normal business overhead, and the pay, benefits, and taxes of the employees. Insurance is probably higher than for most businesses of similar size, because insurance companies don't know how to rate the risks - and they _are_ pumping very high power into cars that are known for catching fire.

    I'd think that a facility that buys electricity at $0.10/kwh and sells it at $0.24 is making more than expenses - but it's probably not going to make a reasonable return on the capital (including paying the power company to install a heavier transformer and power lines) until it's fully utilized most of the day. That is, it needs customers lining up and waiting to get into a charging booth - as if interrupting your trip for a 15 - 30 minute charge every 300 miles isn't bad enough. And that 300 mile range is optimistic; it doesn't leave you much margin to get to a charger, your margin can disappear overnight when you stop at a mote, and the range is reduced by using the heat or A/C - and maybe that's rarely a problem in Calfornia, but in the midwest extreme temperatures are more common than comfortable temperaturs.

  18. markm:

    That reminds me of an advertising campaign some years ago for the Dodge Dakota, touting it as the best "small" pickup. I owned one and was pretty happy with it, but I'd test drove the competitors before I bought it - and every one of them was too small for my taste, and in some I even had to look back to confirm I hadn't climbed into a sedan by mistake. The Dakota was just big enough, and quite definitely a truck rather than a car with an open box in the rear. In other words, the best truck in the class was the biggest and most truck-like. If it had been classed with trucks like the F150, it wouldn't have rated so well...

  19. glenn.griffin3:

    Converting natural gas to gasoline is old technology, but various people have claimed to be able to produce it in scalable fashion more efficiently. World War 2 Fischer-Tropsch method can produce a barrel of gasoline feedstock for $35, but Synfuels (2008) claims a catalyzed acetylene method for $25/bbl, and Siluria Tech (2014) claims a virus-modified-bacteria catalyzed ethylene method (really?) for $15/bbl.

    Considering the existing infrastructure for gasoline production, this would probably be much more reasonable than natural-gas -> electricity, while preserving gasoline convenience (fast fill up, range, flammable death vapor, etc.)

  20. Brad Warbiany:

    I just looked at my bill (California), and my average cost per kwh was about $0.19. Apparently it's .17/kwh in tier 1, and .25/kwh in tier 2, and I was just a little bit into the tier 2 usage range.

    What's interesting about that, though, is that it means I couldn't base the idea of an EV on $.19/kwh. Since I'm already in Tier 2, adding EV charging onto my current usage would be entirely tier 2 as a marginal rate, because it's not electricity I'm using now. So it would cost me more to "fuel" an EV at home than at a supercharging station.

  21. Brad Warbiany:

    FYI the biggest issue that I see with pure-EV is the range limitation. It basically means that unless you have very limited driving needs, your pure-EV becomes a second vehicle, or daily driver, but that you need an additional vehicle when you need longer hauls. A hybrid or plug-in hybrid in my opinion makes the most sense, but they're nowhere near as fashionable as a pure-EV because they still burn gas.

    So what I see here in California is that people who have the income to buy a second vehicle as a pure fashion statement*** are the ones who drive pure electrics. For very few of them is a pure EV their only vehicle, whereas a plug-in hybrid or hybrid could be their only vehicle easily.

    *** Which I don't necessarily criticize, as I've got the family hauler for practicality and a Jeep Wrangler for fun--in addition to my wife's car which is her daily driver. The Jeep is entirely a "want to have" car, and I acknowledge that.

  22. marque2:

    Some people get confused and just read power cost when "transmission" cost is separated on the bill. Both are really one and the same. Also some states allow buy plans where late night is cheeper. If you can charge the Tesla from 11 pm to 5 am you get a bargain.

  23. marque2:

    Yes CA is roughly twice the US average. I pay I believe 18 cents for the first 450 kwh and 26 cents for the rest. Average house uses 900 kwh per month.

  24. Dalben:

    One advantage of electric cars that seems nice, albeit not nice enough to get one right now, is that you can refuel it at home. Imagine every time you get up in the morning your car is fully fueled/charged and you never have to stop at gas station, at least for normal daily trips. Since, I don't live in a house at the moment, need longer range, and they're still really expensive I wouldn't get one, but that aspect does seem pretty nice.