May 27, 2022 - Energy & Environment

The great American road trip, electrified

Data: ZETA; Chart: Axios Visuals

More Americans than ever will be hitting the road in an electric vehicle this Memorial Day weekend, avoiding the pain at the pump squeezing so many other families heading into the busy summer travel season.

The big picture: The United States is still in the early stages of a historic shift to electric transportation, with EVs accounting for just 4.6% of new car sales — up from 2.4% a year ago. But with gas prices soaring and longer-range EVs hitting the market, road-tripping in an EV is becoming more acceptable for many.

Driving the news: AAA predicts 39.2 million Americans will travel 50 miles or more from home this holiday weekend, nearly 90% of them by car.

  • But they'll shell out 50% more than last year to fill up their gas tanks.
  • The national average for a gallon of gas is $4.60, up $1.56 from last year, per AAA.

State of play: EVs generally cost more to purchase than gasoline-powered vehicles. That's one big reason people have been reluctant to switch — besides charging concerns.

Yes, but: EVs are often cheaper to operate over the vehicle's lifetime thanks to fuel and maintenance savings.

  • Consumer Reports, for example, says EV owners could save between $1,800 and $2,600 in operating and maintenance costs driving an average 15,000 miles a year, compared to drivers of gas-powered vehicles.
  • A more extensive study from Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology, a nonpartisan climate think tank, concluded that in most states, it is cheaper on a monthly basis to finance and own an EV than the equivalent gasoline car, despite EVs' higher sticker prices.

The intrigue: So what if you made your holiday weekend road trip in an EV instead of a gasoline vehicle?

  • We compared the cost of a 200-mile road trip in a gas-powered Ford F-150 pickup (America's best-selling model) with the cost of the same trip in an electric F-150 Lightning, using data from the Zero Emission Transportation Association (ZETA), an industry coalition.
  • At $4.60 per gallon, it would cost $119.60 to fill a gas-powered F-150's 26-gallon tank (capacities vary based on configuration).
  • We assumed the gasoline truck would get 24 mpg, based on Ford's specifications (real-world mileage depends on engine options and other factors).
  • Over 200 miles, our internal-combustion truck would burn 8.3 gallons of gas, costing roughly $38, or about 20 cents per mile. (Last Memorial Day, the same trip would have dinged us about $25.)

The same trip in the electric F-150 Lightning would cost about $12, or 6 cents per mile, based on national average electricity prices of 14 cents per kWh.

The bottom line: Given the months-long waiting lists for many of the most popular EVs, spur-of-the-moment decisions to go electric before Memorial Day aren't practical.

  • But with gas flirting with the $5 mark and high-quality EVs from GM, Volkswagen and others hitting dealerships this year, electrification could be on many a car owner's mind over the next few days.

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