Thanks to government subsidies, high petrol prices and consumers looking to go green, electric cars have become a popular option. So when it comes to buying an electric car, what are the costs involved, and how much money do you save in comparison to buying a petrol car, if any?
Canstar compares electric cars vs. petrol cars, to see which is right for you.
In this article we cover:
- What are your options?
- Purchasing costs
- Running costs
- Maintenance and servicing costs
- How much can you save and is an electric car worth it?
Electric cars vs. petrol cars: what are your options?
There’s now an electric car to match almost every petrol vehicle. Whether you’re after a hatchback or sedan, crossover or large SUV, there’s an electric car option. However, every electric car option does come with more than just a range restriction: its price!
Electric cars vs. petrol cars: purchasing costs
How do electric cars compare to petrol ones when it comes to sticker price? In short, they cost more. Sometimes, a lot more.
According to Motor Trade Association Advocacy and Strategy Manager Greig Epps, the average cost of a new electric car is about $68,000. By comparison, Epps says consumers “can get a really good new petrol car for around $30,000”.
Currently, the cheapest new EV in the country is the GWM Ora, which comes in at around $42,000 (or around $36,000 after the Clean Car Discount). However, “affordable” EVs are becoming more and more common, with popular models like the MG ZS, BYD Dolphin and BYD Atto available for under $50,000 before the clean car discount.
To provide further insight into these costs, we’ve run the numbers on the top three selling EVs and petrol vehicles in New Zealand for the year so far.*
Top three selling EVs
|Car model||Approx starting price|
|Tesla Model Y||$67,500|
|BYD Atto 3||$54,990|
Top three selling cars
|Car model||Approx starting price|
|Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross||$36,990|
As you can see, the top three electric cars are more expensive than the top three petrol cars. And although the current clean car rebate slashes just over $7000 off the sticker price of each of the EVs, that rebate isn’t going to be around for much longer, which will push up the price of electric car ownership considerably.
* Correct as of 26/10/2023
What is the Clean Car Discount?
The Clean Car Discount is a government initiative that was introduced in July 2021. As electric and hybrid vehicles are typically costlier than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles, the initiative was designed to encourage Kiwis to opt for carbon-friendly vehicles by making them cheaper.
New Clean Car rebates:
- EV: New car: $7015 | Used car: $3507.50
- PHEV: New car: $4025 | Used import $2012.50
Since its introduction, the discount scheme has been tweaked a couple of times, and from July 1, 2023, updates to the Clean Car Discount scheme have changed the way it’s implemented. Notably:
- Increased rebate for used EVs and PHEVs
- A special rebate for new and used low-emission disability vehicles introduced
- For new vehicles, the maximum rebate decreased, and the maximum fee increased
- The threshold at which vehicles are subject to fees reduced from 192g of CO2 per km to 150g
However, the new government plans to make sweeping changes to the Clean Car Discount by the end of the year, removing many of the financial incentives and penalties associated with purchasing EVs and utes.
It’s also important to note that from March 31, 2024, EV users will also have to pay the road user charge (RUC), which will significantly increasing the cost of operating an EV.
RUC fees go towards maintaining and improving the road network, and are currently paid by those who drive diesel vehicles. Petrol vehicle drivers pay their part through tax on gas. However, from April 2024, EV car drivers will also have to contribute to the road network by paying RUCs. Currently, the RUC is priced at $76 per 1000km, which will increase the cost of using an EV to get around.
→Related article: For more details on the Clean Car Discount, click here.
What if you can’t afford $36,000 for a new car?
While a high-end EV costs no more than a high-end petrol car, the issue lies in that there isn’t currently a cheap EV market. So if you can’t afford $36,000 for the GWM Ora (after the rebate), then you can’t afford a new EV.
But there are some other alternatives, such as shopping second-hand. Though be mindful that older EVs don’t have the range or features of modern electric cars. And, on top of that, as an EV’s battery ages, its range diminishes.
But, saying that, a second-hand EV from 2020 will be a lot better than one from 2015. So if you can get your hands on a youthful second-hand EV, you could get yourself a great car.
Alternatively, hybrids and plug-in hybrids may be a cheaper option, and one that can still reduce your fuel costs, even if not providing the full benefits of an EV. Again, you may need to look second-hand, but as these vehicles still have petrol motors, any aging of their batteries will be less detrimental to their functionality.
Electric cars vs. petrol cars: running costs
This is where electric cars make a name for themselves: their running costs, due to the high price of petrol. Below we’ve crunched the numbers on the running costs for last year’s most popular petrol and electric cars.
|Car model||l per 100km||Cost per 100km ($3 per litre)|
|Mitsubishi Eclipse Cross||7.3l||$21.90|
|Car model||kWh per 100km||Cost per 100km (33.5c per kWh*)|
|Tesla Model Y||15.7kWh||$5.26|
|BYD Atto 3||16.0kWh||$5.36|
|MG ZS EV||17.1kWh||$5.73|
*Based on national average electricity price. Correct as of 26/10/2023
As you can see, the cost difference can be significant. Based on a fairly average travel distance of 14,000 km per year, the above works out to total yearly costs of $763 for EVs and $2842 for petrol vehicles. Over the course of the year, this is a difference of $2079!
However, once a road user tax for EVs is introduced in June 2024, these savings will decrease significantly. Currently, diesel vehicles pay a Road User Charge (RUC) of $76 per 1000km, and it is expected that EVs will pay a similar rate. This means that EVs will incur an additional cost of $1064 per year (based on an average travel distance of 14,000 km per year). As a result, the annual cost of running an EV will be $1827, reducing the savings for EV drivers to only $1015 per year compared to a petrol vehicle.
However, there are still ways of lowering the running costs of an EV. If you choose a power plan with off-peak power rates, your EV running costs could be significantly lower.
Or, even better, if you opt for a power plan with free power hours, you could wind up paying nearly nothing at all.
Another way to score yourself free EV power is to install solar at your house. That way your car could run on nothing but sunshine!
→Related article: What is the Road User Charge?
Compare electricity providers with Canstar Blue
If you have an EV, or are thinking about getting one, the right power plan is paramount. But finding the right provider can be a real challenge.
If you are looking to change electricity providers, or are unsure if you are getting the best deal, Canstar Blue can help. We rate NZ power companies for customer satisfaction and value for money, just click on the button below for the full results of our survey.
Electric Cars vs. Petrol Cars: Maintenance & Servicing Costs
The average EV only has around 20 moving parts, compared to over 2000 in an internal combustion engine vehicle. So you should expect less maintenance is required to keep your car on the road.
As a result, EVs should cost less in service and maintenance than petrol cars.
However, there is still some level of servicing needed, and the actual cost of that maintenance isn’t always clear, as many mechanics don’t advertise EV service pricing. Furthermore, not all mechanics even offer EV servicing. But, if you can overlook the inconvenience of finding an EV technician, you’ll be saving some big bucks! For example, Pit Stop does advertise EV servicing starting from $129, which is $70 cheaper than the next cheapest service option.
What about the battery?
Battery replacements have long been the boogieman for EVs. And while it’s true that, currently, a battery replacement could set you back well over $10,000, there’s no need to panic just yet.
For starters, it’s rare for EV batteries to just die. Most replacements occur due to the range decreasing over time. Furthermore, EV batteries come with a significant warranty (often eight years), which covers not only the rare instances of batteries malfunctioning but covers your battery for a certain percentage of its capacity.
So if range becomes an issue, it could be covered.
However, a 2020 study by Geotab found EVs lose, on average, just 2.3% capacity annually. Assuming this, after eight years, your battery would still be operating at 81.6%. On a Tesla Model 3 with a staggering 491km range, that’s still a range of about 400km after eight years.
Not only that, but if in 10 years you do need to replace your battery, you can expect the cost to be significantly lower than at present, due to the EV industry’s constant growth and evolution.
How much can you save with an electric car?
We all want to get the best deal possible when buying a new car, whether that’s a discount on the price tag or cheaper servicing if you take it back to the dealership. But if you opt for an electric car over a new petrol model, how much are you actually saving?
Put simply, that depends on how long it takes you to recoup the upfront costs.
If you budget for a $30,000 petrol car, but opt for a $40,000 electric car instead, then you’re instantly $10,000 in the red. It could take a few years before you make that back in cheaper running costs, and then a few years more before you see actual savings. Especially if you took out a personal loan for the purchase.
On the other hand, if you have a $70,000 budget for your next car, opting for an EV won’t cost you any more in upfront costs. Leaving you to reap nothing but benefits.
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Is an electric car worth it?
Cars are a depreciating asset, electric or not. So whether a shiny new EV is ‘worth it’ is hard to say. If you don’t need a new car, it’s probably not a good idea to buy one.
But if it is time for an upgrade, and your budget allows it, an electric car could be worth it. However, remember that once RUCs are introduced for EVs, you won’t be saving a huge amount of cash each year. Although, having an EV can help future proof you against rising fuel costs, while helping reduce your carbon emissions. It’s not all about money; the chance to do something better for the planet is always nice, too.
Key benefits of electric cars include:
- Lower operating costs – electricity costs on charging an electric car are significantly cheaper than petrol prices
- Environmentally friendly – the total emissions per kilometer for battery-powered cars are lower than comparable cars with internal combustion engines. Especially in NZ, where much of our energy comes from renewable sources
- Clean Car Discount – EVs and plug-in hybrids currently qualify for a government rebate
- They’re smooth and quiet – there’s no engine noise and, with no gears to work through, an EV is able to apply full power as soon as you touch the accelerator
- Exempt from road user charges – until March 2024
- Added safety – the weighty battery pack gives your EV a lower centre of gravity, so it’s less likely to roll. The lack of petrol or diesel also reduces the likelihood of it catching fire in a crash
- NZ’s climate is ideal for electric cars – extreme heat and cold can impact an electric car’s battery life. Thankfully, many parts of NZ has an ideal temperate climate
About the author of this page
This report was written by Canstar Content Producer, Caitlin Bingham. Caitlin is an experienced writer whose passion for creativity led her to study communication and journalism. She began her career freelancing as a content writer, before joining the Canstar team.