Rudy Valdivia

Brown Armstrong senior accountant Rudy Valdivia.

A 2003 episode of “The Simpsons” featured a fictional Epcot ride called the “Electric Car of the Future.” The car could speak, proclaiming in a pained voice, “I can’t go very fast or very far.”

Well, the future has arrived, and today’s electric cars have a range equal to combustion-engine vehicles and they can go very fast.

The first Tesla model, the Roadster, was released in 2008 and cost $109,000 (that is $129,885.89 for us inflation nerds). The Roadster had a 245-mile range.

In the past 11 years, the cost has come down and the range has increased to match its combustion-engine cousins.

Then there are the incentives.

Federal income tax credit up to $7,500. This credit begins to phase out once the manufacturer sells 200,000 vehicles.

State rebate up to $7,000. This credit is based on the buyer’s income as well as available cap-and-trade funds.

San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District rebate of $3,000.

Pacific Gas & Electric offers a rebate of $800, along with a special rate plan for customers with vehicle chargers in their homes. This plan features three tiers of rates to encourage charging and other electricity use during off-peak hours. These PG&E off-peak hours will increase significantly on Nov. 1, so the 3 a.m. laundry loads can soon move to a more convenient hour.

The installation of a charger costs about $1,000 at the high end. I categorize electrical work with dentistry – best left to the professionals.

A conversation with an electric car owner can be an interesting undertaking. Tesla owners, in particular, are an interesting group whose enthusiasm can be either contagious or mildly disturbing. With message boards devoted entirely to Tesla car naming, the internet is the natural home for the truly Tesla-obsessed. YouTube channels for Tesla owners are so lucrative that Rich Benoit quit his IT job to focus on his “Rich Rebuilds” YouTube channel. His channel has nearly 500,000 subscribers.

When the electric car fans gush about their freedom from the gas pumps, the most frequent question is the electricity costs. I asked a Tesla owner about his electric bills and other costs. My friend Jeff has owned his Tesla for about a year.

Miles driven in the first year were about 16,000. The car has a range of about 320 miles. Nearly all of the charging was done at home and free chargers were used when possible. Paso Robles is a garden of free chargers at the wineries. The free chargers run at the same rate as home chargers – in other words, slowly. But a free charger can add about 30 miles to the battery in an hour so you can make it home without a trip to the Supercharger.

At home, electricity costs increased roughly $300 compared to the prior year. So those 16,000 miles cost a bit less than two cents per mile.

Jeff a made a trip to Phoenix in the Tesla. This longer trip required visits along the way to Superchargers in Indio and in Quartzsite, Arizona. The Tesla Superchargers are fast but they are not free. A full charge at a Supercharger costs less than $10 and takes less than 30 minutes. That is about three cents per mile in fuel cost.

I know you have pulled out your calculator now, so let’s confirm your calculation of the cost of gasoline. At 35 miles to the gallon and a price of $4 per gallon, fuel costs are a little more than 11 cents per mile. 

Rudy Valdivia is a senior accountant with Brown Armstrong Accountancy Corp. He can be reached at 661-324-4971. The views expressed are his own.

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