Used Electric Cars Are Keeping Their Value

nissan leaf electric car

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Potential resale value has been a question raised about electric cars, and the answer, according to two recent used car pricing estimates, is that two best-selling electrics may lag behind similar conventional vehicles — but not by much.An all-electric 2012 Nissan Leaf (the 2013 is not on sale yet) is expected to be worth 20% of its new car list price after five years of ownership, compared with a used price in the low 30% range for a similar conventional Nissan Sentra compact sedan, according to price-tracker Kelley Blue Book.

An extended-range electric 2013 Chevrolet Volt is forecast to be worth 30% of its sticker price at the end of five years, not far from the similar, conventional 2013 Chevrolet Cruze compact sedan at 38%.

Another pricing service, ALG, pegs the resale value a percentage point higher each for the Leaf and Volt. The average resale value of a 2013 compact car over the same five-year period is 36.6% of list, ALG says.

But the comparison looks even closer when federal tax incentives of up to $7,500 to buy new electric cars are taken into account, they say. Those rebates, in effect, shave the actual new car price for these vehicles, making it worth less as a used car.

“If you only look at residual percentages, it’s on the low side,” says Eric Ibara, director of residual value consulting for KBB. “But if you look at dollars,” how much people actually spend to keep an electric compared with conventional car, “it’s not.”

Predicted depreciation is an important factor for acceptance of electric cars, which have higher upfront prices than similar gas-engine cars and even hybrids.

To get more cars into the hands of customers, Nissan and General Motors’ Chevrolet have been offering heavily discounted leases, but Ibara doesn’t think the tactic will hurt prices on the used cars when they land on lots in a few years. “It really doesn’t hurt the value,” he says.

Another resale-value concern about electric cars has been the lifespan of their expensive batteries, but that seems to have been eased by long warranties and the fact that the smaller but similar batteries in gas-electric hybrids, with a longer track record on the road, have shown themselves to be surprisingly robust.

When Toyota rolled out its Prius hybrid in the U.S. in 2000, predicted residual values were low because of questions about the longevity of the batteries, says Larry Dominique, executive vice president of and ALG, formerly Automotive Lease Guide. “But it came back.”

Now, he says, plug-in cars such as the all-electric Leaf, which is rated by EPA at a range of 73 miles before needing a recharge, and the Volt, which is rated at 38 miles of electric driving before the backup gas engine kicks in, “get the benefit of the Prius experience.”

Also helping value retention: Consumer Reports magazine says Volt topped its owner satisfaction survey a second-consecutive year, and Leaf also was among the top scorers.