If you're determined to park an electric car in your driveway today, there's but one choice: The $101,500 Tesla Roadster. While that sticker is far from cheap, new models promise to be more affordable. Tesla's second car, the Model S sedan, is slated to cost $49,900 when it goes on sale in 2012. The scuttlebutt on the Volt's as-yet-unannounced price says it could be a sub-$30,000 car. Nissan has set the Leaf's effective purchase price at just $25,280, which is the most promising news yet if you want to be an electric early-adopter.
2. The taxman
But before you head down to your local credit union and ask for 25 G's to buy a Leaf, you should know why the car manufacturers put asterisks next to the prices. Those numbers aren't the actual amount you need to buy the car, as they reflect a $7,500 tax credit you get from the IRS for buying a "qualified plug-in electric drive motor vehicle." To get the credit, you have to file Form 8936 with your Federal 1040 at tax time, which means that you're likely going to have to wait for your rebate check from Uncle Sam to actually pocket the money. Worse yet for young people with lower incomes, you'll have to have a pretty nice salary to be able to take the tax credit. Assuming you're single without kids, you'd need to make over $54,000 a year to have enough of a tax liability to take the credit.
3. Where to plug in?
Okay, so you've got a great job, and you've got the cash to buy your dream car and the income level to get the tax credit. One quick question: Do you live in an apartment? Because unlike a regular car, you're going to have to plug this thing in somewhere to refuel it, and throwing an extension cord out the window isn't going to cut it. Until there's an infrastructure built to accommodate quick-charging outside the home, electric car owners will need to have home charging stations installed. These are typically going to require 220-volt connections, like the kind a clothes dryer or electric range typically use. Nissan expects these chargers to cost about $2200, and they'll require professional installation. Bottom line here is that if you're a garage-less renter, you may want to wait to fulfill your electric dreams.
4. Back of the line, kid
If you're still with us at this point, I'm afraid we've got some more bad news: It's probably not going to be easy to get your hands on an electric car for a while. GM only plans to build a few thousand Volts in its first model year. And while Nissan has said it will be producing up to 50,000 Leafs, the company expects demand to be high enough that it has instituted a reservation policy requiring a $99 deposit. Even if you do get on the list, the wait for one of these new cars is likely to be months. Which begs the question, can your college beater last that long?
5. Not your father's Oldsmobile
It's worth mentioning that when it comes to purchasing an electric vehicle, there are other issues worth considering, regardless of your age. Truth be told, the auto manufacturers are probably correct in assuming that most people in the market for an electric will be buying it as a second vehicle. While the range of an electric should be entirely sufficient for most commuting duties, it is beyond challenging to make a long-distance trip in an electric. (When Tesla employees drove one of its Roadsters from company headquarters in California to the Detroit Auto Show, they had to stop at KOA campgrounds to recharge.) Electric cars represent the cutting-edge of automotive technology today, and while exciting, will certainly require a re-calibration of expectations.