What Happens to Electric Resale Value as Longer-Range Cars Become Available?

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CC BY 2.0. Sami Grover

My assumption had been that older EVs would soon become obsolete. Now I'm not so sure...

A few years ago, I purchased a used 2013 Nissan Leaf for just over $10,000 and have been delighted with the car ever since. Of course, $10k for a 3-year-old car with extremely low fueling and maintenance costs is hard to beat, in pure financial terms.

That said, I had been worried that the price would plummet further as long(er) range versions come on the market. I'm starting to wonder, however, if that really is the case. Here's my reasoning:

1) As awareness of electric vehicles (EVs) grows, a larger number of people are realizing that even older models will meet at least 95% of their daily driving needs. That's leading to sites like Carmax getting increasingly proactive in educating would-be drivers about the benefits of various models. (See their recent useful video and infographic comparing the 2014 BMW i3 to the 2013 Leaf.)

2) Charging infrastructure is proliferating, meaning older models are actually a lot more practical than they were when they were new. True, you wouldn't want to take a long road trip in them, but for day trips that take you to the edge of your range, the comfort zone is getting significantly wider, thanks to both more Level 2 charging stations at various destinations and a growing number of CHAdeMO fast chargers at locations along highways.

3) Cities and countries worldwide are getting serious about curtailing gas and diesel car use, leading Torque News to report that recently Nissan Leaf prices were actually appreciating, thanks to a strong export market for lower priced used EVs. Add to that the fact that fleet owners will likely snap up older models for around-town use, and we may see a floor on the price of many used models for at least the next few years.

This view is bolstered by my own anecdotal "research." I keep meeting more and more people who are seriously considering a used EV for their family's second car—and that should serve to sustain prices for the next few years. However, this effect won't last forever. At some point, a metaphorical "Nokia brick" goes from somewhat valuable to entirely obsolete as newer, longer-range, more mainstream models (Blackberrys, iPhones) start making their way onto the used market too. But for now, I'd be as worried about older model gas depreciation as I would be a 2013 Nissan Leaf.

Indeed, a quick search for a 2013 Nissan Leaf returns some with resale prices not too dissimilar to when I first bought mine some two years ago. Let's see how long that lasts.