Carbondale couple break even on $75,000 Tesla
Clean Energy Economy News
Craig and Colleen Farnum of Carbondale are a middle-class couple with professional jobs, a mortgage, school loans and a 9-month-old daughter. They are also the owners of a Tesla Model S all-electric car, which has a 250-mile range and cost $75,000.
The couple ran the math back in 2013, comparing the long-term costs of Tesla ownership to that of a conventional gasoline vehicle. They started a savings plan, ran more calculations and purchased the dark gray, five-passenger, all-wheel-drive Model S 70D in May 2015.
“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,” said Craig Farnum.
The couple’s commitment to an electric car started when they leased an all-electric Nissan Leaf in February 2013. It was Step 2 in their effort to reduce their carbon footprint.
“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.
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“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,” said Farnum, who is a counselor for Colorado Mountain College in Carbondale.
Farnum noted that even using electricity generated with a high percentage of coal, the carbon emissions from an electric vehicle are still less than even the most fuel-efficient gasoline models. And as the local and national electric grid shifts to more generation fueled by natural gas, wind and solar, harmful emissions from the electricity powering EVs will decrease even more.
The added benefits of the Tesla are a high safety rating, a 10-year warranty, free charging at Tesla facilities nationwide, and outstanding roadside service. Oh, and it’s a blast to drive.
“We love it. … It’s got a heated steering wheel, wipers and seats. It makes no noise. You can talk at a regular volume even when you’re going 75 to 80. And it’s fast,” Craig said.
During the week, Colleen uses the Tesla to commute from their home in Carbondale to her job as a physician’s assistant at Roaring Fork Gastroenterology in Glenwood Springs.
Colleen usually experiences two types of interactions with other drivers: those who want to talk about the car when it’s parked, and those who try to get out ahead of the Tesla on the highway once a stoplight turns green.
“If you floor it from a stoplight, it looks like everyone else has just put their car in reverse,” Craig said. He noted that Colleen is a cautious driver who doesn’t drag race, but that zero-to-60 performance is always available.
They prefer to channel that power into hauling a load that includes their daughter’s car seat, four bicycles, luggage and other gear. With snow tires, the car handled well on a recent trip to Leadville through a foot of new snow.
And because there’s no engine or transmission, the space under the front hood is a second trunk. Farnum calls it the “frunk,” and it’s been known to double as a diaper-changing area on fair-weather road trips.
So, the Tesla is fun, clean, sleek and sporty. But how does a $75,000 car pencil out for a middle-class family? In a recent interview, Craig walked through the math.
It was a careful calculation done in the process of obtaining a loan to buy the car. The couple used the Alliant Credit Union, a Chicago-based lender that offered a nothing-down, 2.2 percent, six-year loan for Tesla purchasers.
Although they had $18,000 in cash from selling their Toyota Tacoma pickup, the loan allowed them to finance the entire purchase price of the Tesla. Instead, they used the cash to remodel the basement of their home into a small apartment. The monthly income from a tenant nearly covers the $1,100 monthly auto loan payment.
The $75,000 purchase price is lowered by federal and state tax credits for EVs, which the Farnums will collect in early 2016, when they file their taxes. The tax credits total $13,500, bringing the net cost of the vehicle to $61,500.
Next, Farnum compared what are called life-cycle costs – the comparative costs of operating a vehicle over the next five to 10 years.
He estimates that a conventional gasoline vehicle will cost about $4,000 per year to operate and maintain: gasoline, oil changes, preventive maintenance for the engine and transmission. This compares to about $20 a month, or $240 a year, in higher electric bills for charging the Tesla.
“The only maintenance costs are tires and windshield wipers,” Farnum said.
Over the five-year loan period, Farnum estimates he will save $20,000 in operation and maintenance costs, lowering the comparative cost of the Tesla to $41,500. That brings the Tesla into the price range of a new Audi or Volvo sedan or wagon.
In years six through 10, once the car loan is paid off, operation and maintenance costs will be minimal. That’s when the savings will pile up.
Farnum noted that the initial car registration fee was $4,000, because of the high sticker price on the car. Insurance runs about $1,200 per year.
GETTING PAST ‘RANGE ANXIETY’
The Farnums usually charge their Tesla at home, once or twice a week, using a Level 2 charger they installed in their garage for the Leaf back in 2013. They can also charge the Tesla at any public charging station.
“When we bought our Leaf in early 2013, there was just one charging station in the area, at Carbondale Town Hall. Now they are all over. The charging infrastructure in this area is exceptional, and that’s thanks to the efforts of CLEER and CORE,” Farnum said.
“I’m really proud that Colorado Mountain College will soon have EV charging at nearly all 11 campuses,” he added.
Tesla is building a network of Super-Charger stations on major highways across the country, with 562 stations in the U.S. and southern Canada. The charger, free to Tesla owners, delivers an 80 percent fill in 40 minutes and a 100 percent fill in one hour 15 minutes.
To test out the whole system – the Tesla’s range and charging stations in the West — the family took a road trip in October to Eureka, Montana, just nine miles south of the Canadian border.
The car’s dashboard navigation system guided them to charging stations along the way. It also calculated how many miles the current charge would last.
“It calculates the weight in the car, the elevation gain and loss of the route. So we had to have the car all packed up – the three of us, the dog, our luggage and four bikes – for the car to calculate,” Farnum said.
“We would drive about three hours and then stop and charge for 45 to 60 minutes. That charging time was our family time. We’d go to a park, take a walk, eat lunch,” he recalled.
There was one gap in the SuperCharger network between Tremonton, Utah, and Butte, Montana. A physician in Idaho Falls, Idaho, who also owns a Tesla, offers free charging at a Level 2 station in the clinic’s parking lot.
“We had to stay there all day,” Farnum recalled. But Tesla is installing about 300 charge stations per year, so that gap on I-15 in Idaho may close soon.
The Farnums do have a second car, a 1994 Saturn sedan. It’s been an economical back-up vehicle, but it’s powered by gasoline, and the Farnums think they can do better.
“If people don’t start buying electric cars, we will continue to kick the ‘gas’ can down the road. This is voting with your dollars,” he said.
They are shopping now for a used Leaf to use as their around-town second car. Farnum noted that the market is tight for used Leafs, with purchase prices ranging from $8,000 to $10,000.
With a used Leaf parked along their Tesla, they will have hit their transportation milestone. Next up? Installing solar panels at their home.
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