Go Electric Now: There’s never been a better time to drive an electric car–especially in California

By Paul Gipe

With a slew of new electric vehicles (EVs) on the horizon, dealers are trying to move existing electric cars off their lots. One long-range EV, the Chevy Bolt, can be had in California for the price of an inexpensive cell phone plan.

Here are some simple Rules for Going Electric in California.

  1. Lease, don’t buy.
  2. Lease for 36 months, nothing less.
  3. Pay as little down as possible.
  4. Focus on total cost of the lease.
  5. Always insist on DCFC.

Note: In 2020 both Tesla and GM have exhausted all federal tax credits so there’s no longer any advantage to leasing these vehicles. The technology in both brands is mature. It now makes as much sense to buy as lease depending upon what is best for the driver.

Lease–don’t buy–an EV. The technology is changing so fast you don’t want to be stuck with yesterday’s electric car. For most, leasing is the only way to take advantage of the Federal tax credit of $7,500, especially if you’re retired. When you lease, the manufacturer uses the federal credit to lower the cost of the lease. EV drivers in the know, lease.


When you lease a new EV, lease for 36 months. California and regional subsidies are conditional on a 36-month lease. And these subsidies are substantial: $2,500 from the state*, and a whopping $3,000 from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. At the end of your lease, turn the car in so someone else can drive electric as you move on to your next EV.

Pay as little down as possible. If the car would be totaled during your lease, anything you paid up front is lost. Savvy EV drivers have paid zero down. Of course paying zero down increases you monthly payment. This isn’t a bad thing.

Focus on the total cost of ownership, not the amount down or the monthly fee alone. The total cost of ownership is the sum of the amount down and the product of the monthly fee (taxes included) times the 36 months of the lease. For example, we leased a Nissan Leaf for $3,000 down (see Buying an Electric Vehicle Mail Order for details) per month for 35 monthly payments. (The first month was forgiven.) That’s a total of $10,580 or a total $294 per month for a car with only an 84-mile range.

Today, you can lease a Chevy Bolt with a 248-mile range from some dealers in California for about $7,000 in total cost—or less than $200 per month! Now that may be for only one car on the lot and it may be for the base model without DC Fast Charging, but the offers are out there. “Your price may vary.”

But it gets better. If you live in the polluted San Joaquin Valley, you may qualify for $3,000 in subsidies from the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. Including a 500 subsidy from PG&E or SCE and the state subsidy of 2,500, you may qualify for total subsidies of $6,000. Thus, you could pay as little as $1,000 in out-of-pocket costs ($7,000 total costs minus $6,000 in subsidies) or about $30 per month to drive a brand-new, long-range EV for three years.

If you’re a low to moderate income Californian who happens to live in the San Joaquin Valley, you may also qualify for an additional $2,000.** In other words, you will be paid to drive a new, long-range electric car.


Always insist on DC Fast Charging(DCFC). While DCFC should be standard on all EVs sold today, that’s not the case. Both Chevy and Nissan offer DCFC as an option only. The utility of an EV is severely limited if there’s no way to fast charge the car on an intercity trip. This is especially important for the new, long-range EVs now on the market. For example, it will take about 10 hours to charge a 60 kWh Chevy Bolt with the standard 240-volt charger. However, with DCFC it may take only 1.5 hours to charge it from empty to full. In practice, drivers on a road trip can add about 25 kWh—90 miles of range–in 30 minutes from a DCFC station. Without the DCFC capability, the driver would need to charge for 5 hours before continuing. The added expense of DCFC capability is worth it. Insist on it.

*The $2,500 subsidy to drive an EV in California has not been confirmed for 2018. It is possible, but unlikely, that the California Air Resources Board will increase the subsidy when it rules on the program.

**At this time, funding for this subsidy is still available.

Data on lease deals in CARB states can be found on ev-vin.blogspot.com.  In the image below, I’ve extracted data only for Chevrolet’s Bolt EV to compare with our lease on a 2015 Nissan Leaf.