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Most expensive cars to own long term – Electric vs Petrol

A battery-electric vehicle (BEV) with 300 miles (482km) of range is the most expensive vehicle to own over the course of 15 years, but is the cheapest to maintain.

This is according to the Comprehensive Total Cost of Ownership Quantification for Vehicles with Different Size Classes and Powertrains study compiled by the US Department of Energy.

The report took into account all forms of vehicles that are expected to be widely available in 2025 and compared the total cost of ownership (TCO) over a 15-year period.

A small BEV SUV with at least 300 miles of range – which is expected to be the standard in 2025 – has a slightly higher total cost of ownership than comparable vehicles with different powertrains, mainly due to its higher initial price – which impacts the financing and insurance amounts.

With the price you pay to buy and insure the BEV taken out of the equation, it is the cheapest vehicle to maintain over the period.


The US study measured the costs of light-duty vehicles (LDV), medium-duty vehicles (MDV), and heavy-duty vehicles (HDV) across fuel and battery-powered drivetrains.

The study goes into incredible detail to reach its conclusions, with elements such as the purchasing price, financing amount, insurance costs, depreciation, fuel economy, manufacturing costs, mileage, maintenance, repairs, and taxes and fees all taken into account.

Even the varying weights that MDVs and HDVs experience while consuming fuel and loading and unloading cargo were calculated in this study.

To accurately compare the data, a range of vehicles that are expected to be widely available in 2025 were then modeled.

These include spark and compression-ignition internal combustion vehicles (ICE-SI/ICE-CI), hybrid-electric vehicles (HEV), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles with 50 miles of electric range (PHEV50), fuel-cell electric vehicles (FCEV), and battery-electric vehicles with 300 miles of range (BEV300).

The “small SUV” was used to compare the costs of the various powertrains, as this is expected to be one of the most popular body styles in 2025.

The results

The results of the study conclude that hybrid-electric vehicles will cost owners the least over a 15-year span, starting in 2025, at 44.6c[US]/mile (R4.24/km).

The ICE-SI, ICE-CI, FCEV, and PHEV50 drivetrains achieve a slightly higher cost of driving at 48c[US]/mile (R4.63/km).

The BEV300 drivetrain then has the highest cost, at 51.8c[US]/mile (R5.00/km).

The report also noted that a BEV with 200 miles of range has a significantly lower cost of 45.3c[US]/mile (R4.38/km) – mainly due to higher assumed battery costs for the model with more range.

In total, the various powertrains in a small SUV are predicted to cost owners approximately:

  • ICE-SI (petrol) – $84,000 (R1,297,200) over 15 years
  • ICE-CI (diesel) – $84,000 (R1,297,200) over 15 years
  • HEV – $82,000 (R1,266,300) over 15 years
  • PHEV50 – $85,000 (R1,312,600) over 15 years
  • FCEV – $84,500 (R1,304,900) over 15 years
  • BEV300 – $96,000 (R1,482,500) over 15 years

It must be noted that these figures are based on data gathered in the United States – where petrol, diesel, and alternative fuel vehicles (AFV) are generally more affordable, and taxes and fees are calculated differently than in South Africa.

For all powertrains, the most expensive single cost over the 15-year period is the vehicle purchase price, followed by repair costs in second – except for the FCEV.

“For petroleum-fueled vehicles, this is followed by fuel, then insurance,” said the report.

“For electric-fueled vehicles (both BEV and PHEV) and hybrids, reduced fuel costs lead to higher insurance costs than fuel costs.”

“Hydrogen fuel cells have a different cost breakdown, where the cost of fuel is higher than maintenance and repair and insurance.”

The data also indicates that BEVs, FCEVs, HEVs, and PHEVs are expected to become more affordable as time goes by, while prices for ICE powertrains are expected to increase.

“Between 2020 and 2025, the prices drop for most AFV due to reduction in technology costs, while prices increase for ICEVs due to required increases in fuel economy,” said the report.

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