Skip to main content
Energy Systems Division

Economic Analysis of Vehicle Technologies

Quantifying the costs to end-users of purchasing and operating vehicles

Argonne has extensive work in estimating the costs and benefits of new transportation technologies. Advanced vehicle technologies are sometimes more expensive to purchase than conventional technologies, but often pay for themselves in reduced operational costs. To accurately compare vehicle costs, total cost of ownership (TCO) should include all costs related to purchasing and operating the vehicle. Argonne has led efforts to quantify the most important costs incurred by a vehicle owner, including vehicle cost and depreciation, financing, fuel costs, insurance costs, maintenance and repair costs, taxes and fees, and other operational costs. For each of these cost parameters that together constitute a comprehensive TCO, extensive literature review and data analysis were performed to find representative values to build a holistic TCO for vehicles of all size classes. From an operational perspective, Argonne’s Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation (AFLEET) Tool assists fleet managers in examining the environmental and economic costs and benefits of alternative fuel and advanced vehicles.

Key findings from a recent multi-lab report include insights into vehicle depreciation, in-depth examination of insurance premium costs, comprehensive maintenance and repair estimates, analysis of all relevant taxes and fees, and considerations of specific costs applicable to commercial vehicles. We find that cars depreciate faster than light trucks and that older plug-in electric vehicles have a greater depreciation rate than newer electric vehicles. Light-duty vehicle (LDV) insurance costs show comparable costs for different powertrains, and lower costs for larger size classes. Medium- and heavy-duty vehicle (MHDV) insurance costs vary significantly by vocation. Electric and electrified powertrains have lower maintenance and repair costs than internal combustion engine (ICE) powertrains for all vehicle sizes, relative to vehicle price. MHDV maintenance and repair costs depend heavily on vocation and duty cycle. LDV taxes and fees are comparable across powertrain types and size classes, though marginally higher registration fees exist for alternative fuel vehicles. MHDV fees depend on the vocation, weight rating, and state. Many electric tractor trailers would be affected by additional battery weight, reducing the available payload capacity, and this cost can be substantial. Electric vehicle charging for commercial vehicles can be time-consuming; labor rates can cause this cost to dominate TCO.

With improved knowledge of each of the cost components, we calculate a lifetime TCO for comparison across vehicles of different types and attributes, which are representative of those that are on the road today and expected to be available in the future. For a simulated small sport utility vehicle in 2025, modeled using Autonomie, the hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) has the lowest cost, followed by the conventional ICE vehicle. For MHDV, TCO can be drastically different depending on the vocation. Long-haul vehicles typically have the lowest per-mile costs. Excluding labor costs, the class 4 delivery has a comparable TCO to the day cab. Vocational trucks, refuse trucks, and transit buses have a high per-mile cost of ownership due to maintenance and insurance. For all of these vehicles, the cost of operating the vehicle is heavily weighted by the labor of the driver, followed by the fuel costs. While the HEV begins as the lowest cost powertrain for passenger vehicles, fuel cells are forecast to reach cost parity by 2030 when hydrogen prices reach $5/kg while battery electric vehicles (BEV) reach cost parity by 2035 at a battery cost of $98 per usable kWh of capacity, with these two technologies being the lowest cost in 2050. For the class 8-day cab tractor, the HEV and ICE vehicle begin as the lowest cost powertrains, and the 250-mile BEV reduces in cost from the most expensive to the least expensive by 2030. Cost modeling for the class 8 sleeper cab shows the same trends as the day cab, except that the 500-mile BEV becomes the cheapest option by 2035. Cost modeling for the class 4 delivery truck finds the 150-mile BEV the least cost option in 2025, while the conventional diesel ICE is the most expensive powertrain by 2030.

Argonne assesses the potential benefits from the technologies being developed by the U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, due to successful development and commercialization of research sponsored by the Vehicle Technologies Office and Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Technologies Office. This benefit assessment links vehicle component and subsystem costs and performance metrics to vehicle price and fuel economy.  From this, potential future reductions in petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are estimated for the entire U.S. on-road fleet.

Featured Publications

Comprehensive Total Cost of Ownership Quantification for Vehicles with Different Size Classes and Powertrains