UCSB Clean Car Calculator shows that high efficiency vehicles are affordable options that save consumers money over time
Sangwon Suh, assistant professor at the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, University of California, Santa Barbara and a team of students have developed a “Clean Car Calculator” to help potential buyers of high-efficiency vehicles assess total lifetime costs for different vehicle options, and compare it with the lifetime costs of other cars.
The tool grew out of a class assignment in which Professor Suh had students compare two vehicles—one having a conventional gas engine and the other a high-efficiency engine—in terms of their total lifetime costs. Since then, it has been expanded so that anyone can calculate the lifetime cost of any car and compare it with the lifetime cost of other cars.
This net present value (NPV) calculation has yielded surprising results. Most of the students had anticipated that purchasing a high-efficiency vehicle, such as a Toyota Prius or Chevrolet Volt, would cost more over the lifetime of the vehicle (i.e. that savings from the higher fuel efficiency would not be enough to offset the higher upfront cost of the vehicle).
Instead, they found not only that established hybrids paid themselves back in fuel savings, but also that newly released vehicles, such as the Volt and the Leaf, were extremely affordable to begin with.
As a result of the initial findings, Professor Suh formulated a team of students to delve deeper. Over the course of five months, Phd candidate Zack Donohew and Christine Chen, Jake MacArthur, Ryan Smith, and Brock Treece gathered data, tested assumptions, and constructed a comprehensive spreadsheet calculator that would compare the total lifetime costs of any two vehicles.
With funding from the Bren School and the UCSB Institute for Energy Efficiency IEE), the team designed and then commissioned CleanCarCalculator.com to share these interesting results. The resulting website was created to simply and robustly communicate that high-efficiency vehicles are an affordable option that will save consumers money over time.
The calculator has fields for entering such information as the make and model of car, average annual mileage, and the type of driving you do most often. There are also fields for more detailed information, such as the average distance between charging stations in your area. Realizing that most people don’t know that, the team provided default values so that users can use the calculator using only basic information.