I noticed recently that a common search term these days is “cheapest electric car.” Realizing that I’ve never specifically answered that implied question, and that it’s actually quite complicated, I’ve decided that today is as good a day as any to do so.
One of the complications with answering this question has to do with location. Not all electric cars are available everywhere. Since the search term is in English, I’ll focus this article on a handful of English-speaking locations to try to be as useful as possible. (Though, I imagine searches for “el más barato del coche eléctrico” and “günstigste elektro-auto” and “goedkoopste elektrische auto” and “moins cher voiture électrique” and “billigste elbil” and “mais barato carro elétrico” are also common… assuming Google Translate works perfectly. Hopefully the info below is useful to anyone in non-English-speaking countries who happen to land here as well.)
There are also different types of “cars,” so there’s no real clear answer in some cases — it depends on how you define that term. Additionally, actual electric car availability makes a clear answer a bit hazy. So, I’m giving a few potential “cheapest electric car” options for each location.
If you count a two-seater (with one seat in the back and one in the front) with very limited extras as a car, and during the times when you can find one of these on eBay, the Renault Twizy is probably the cheapest electric car you can find anywhere in the United States. However, with a top speed of about 30 mph (45 km/h), my guess is that this “neighborhood electric vehicle” (which does have the fun feeling of a race car a bit) wouldn’t qualify as a “car” for many of you, so let’s move on.
The next step up would be the Smart Electric Drive, but this is again a two-seater. Nonetheless, I think it fits the definition of a car, and its electronically limited top speed is an adequate 80 mph. If you don’t need an extra seat or two, this is probably your lowest-priced (new) electric car option. It sells for $19,900, or $12,400 after the US federal tax credit for EVs. However, you can reportedly get the purchase price much lower if you wish by renting the battery for $80/month instead of purchasing it with the car. To nail down what the purchase price would then be, it seems you have to get in touch with a local Smart Electric Drive dealer. For a bit more info, you can read my review of the Smart Electric Drive here — truth be told, though, I didn’t like it as much as the Renault Twizy. (Note: There’s also a convertible version of the Smart Electric Drive.)
Starting at $22,995 before the $7,500 US federal tax credit for EVs ($15,495 after it), the Mitsubishi i-MiEV is likely the cheapest “real car” in your area. It seats four people, can drive up to 130 km/h (81 mph), and, despite being quite basic, is (I think by all standards) a car. Just priced a few thousand above the Smart Electric Drive, if the extra 2 seats might be useful to you, the extra cash seems worth it.
Granted, the Mitsubishi i-MiEV isn’t available everywhere. If the i-MiEV isn’t available in your area, the next steps up would theoretically be the Chevy Spark EV, which retails starting at $25,995. However, this vehicle’s market is even more limited than the Mitsubishi i-MiEV’s, so my guess is that you can’t get it if you can’t get the i-MiEV.
If none of the vehicles above are available in your region (or don’t fit your description of a car), then the next cheapest electric car is the most widely available and historically highest selling electric car in the United States — the Nissan LEAF. The LEAF sells for $29,010 ($21,510 after the US federal tax credit), and it is a strong step up from the Twizy, Smart Electric Drive, and i-MiEV in terms of performance and design quality. Its interior is a level or two above these other vehicles. Compared to any gasoline car you can get for the same price, I think the Nissan LEAF is hands-down a much better option. But you can read my full Nissan LEAF review here for more information.
Like in the US, the Renault Twizy can sometimes be found on eBay in Canada. See the first paragraph under “USA” for some reasons why you might not consider it a “car,” though.
Again, the Smart Electric Drive would come next, and it is available in Canada (with a base price of $26,990), but as noted above, it is limited by the fact that it only seats two people. If you are looking for a car that seats at least four, you again have to step up to the Mitsubishi i-MiEV, which is also available across Canada and starts at $27,998, just a tad more than the Smart Electric Drive anyway.
Since I included it above and it is a big step up in quality from the other vehicles listed above, and because I was curious what its price is in Canada, I’m throwing the Nissan LEAF in here as well. Its MSRP in Canada is apparently $31,998.
No matter which car you choose, note that there are provincial incentives up to $8,500 in parts of Canada.
Like in the US, the Renault Twizy can sometimes be found on eBay in the UK. See the first paragraph under “USA” for some reasons why you might not consider it a “car,” though. Your next choice is surely again the two-seat Smart Electric Drive (or “smart fortwo electric drive,” as it is called there), but I can’t actually find a UK base price for the vehicle online (drop us a note if you know of one).
The Mitsubishi i-MiEV (see above for more discussion) is seemingly the next step up when it comes to a straight purchase at £28,499. See car specs and other info for the UK here.
However, the Renault Zoe is available in the UK for a starting price of £13,445 + a minimum of £70/month for leasing of the battery if that system sounds fine to you. The Renault Zoe comes with a host of awards thanks to its comfortable interior, good performance, and overall good value for the money. If I lived in the UK and was on the market for a car, I think the Zoe would be a tough one to beat.
Of course, the Nissan LEAF is also available in the UK, is a top-selling electric car there, and comes in at just a slightly higher £16,490 + a minimum £70/month battery lease. If you’re on the market for an affordable electric car in the UK, good luck deciding between these two! And be happy that you have these great options.
In Australia, it seems the cheapest electric car on the market is very likely the Mitsubishi i-MiEV (see discussion above for more perspective on the car), but I’m not actually able to find a price for Australia online. Next (presuming it’s not cheaper than the i-MiEV in Australia) would be the Nissan LEAF, which retails for $39,990.
In South Africa, there are very few electric car options, but the Nissan LEAF is there and seems to be the cheapest electric car option (price = R485,900).
Hopefully this rundown of the cheapest electric cars in a handful of English-speaking countries was helpful to you. Drop us a note if you have a suggestion for how to improve it.