Auto industry Solo cheapest electric car

Published on May 28th, 2017 | by Steve Hanley


What Is The Cheapest Electric Car You Can Buy In The US?

May 28th, 2017 by  

Are you looking for the cheapest electric car you can buy in the US? If so, the first thing you need to do is define your terms. There is great debate about whether a plug-in hybrid like the Chevy Volt is truly an electric car. To purists, anything with a gasoline range-extending engine is not really an electric, even though it may have enough range to meet the driving needs of 90% of Americans 90% of the time. Rather than add fuel to that debate, this article will simply focus on cars that operate exclusively on battery power. Look for a subsequent story on plug-in hybrid car prices in the near future. But first a few caveats.

Solo cheapest electric car

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles

Neighborhood Electric Vehicles are very popular and there are dozens of models available, but they are limited by law to roads with a speed limit of 35 mph or less and are banned from use on highways. While they fit the needs of many people and there are whole communities built to accommodate them, they are really glorified golf carts. In fact, some actually ARE golf carts! Since they are not designed to leave the area where they are used most frequently, they are not included in this article.

Compliance Cars

Many of the electric cars sold in the US are so-called “compliance cars” intended to meet the requirements for zero-emissions vehicles established by the California Air Resources Board. The Fiat 500e is a perfect example. It is available only in California and one or two other states. Availability of other cars like the Ford Focus Electric may be extremely limited in most states. You can probably buy one in Oshkosh, but don’t expect your local dealer to have any in inventory.

The Cheapest Electric Car Will Presumably Be The …

Electra Meccanica Solo
16.1 kWh battery, $15,500, 100 mile range

cheapest electric car one seat

Priced at $15,500, the Electra Meccanica Solo is basic transportation for one person. This all-electric trike has an 82 horsepower electric motor and top speed of 80 miles per hour. The manufacturer claims a range of 100 miles. It has a 16.1 kWh battery, which is enough to qualify for a $5,000 federal tax credit. 0–60 acceleration is said to be under 8 seconds.

The Solo is no-frills transportation, but it does have 10 cubic feet of cargo space behind the driver. To put that into perspective, the soon-to-be released Tesla Model 3 has only 14 cubic feet available to haul stuff around.

There is a catch, however. The Solo is not yet in production. Although, the company says it will begin building cars early in 2018. It is accepting advance reservations now. A $250 refundable deposit is required.

Is it worth waiting a year to get the cheapest electric car on the market? Is a single seat vehicle adequate for your needs? Will the car really be produced? Only you can answer those questions.

Until Then … The Cheapest Electric Car Is …

The 2017 Smart ForTwo Electric Drive — $23,800
68 miles of range, 107 MPGe, 55 kW motor

cheapest electric car 2 seats

The Smart Fortwo electric coupe goes the Solo one better. It seats two people, but has a smaller battery and less range. Still, it is available now and wins the award for the cheapest electric car you can buy in America today. Having the extra seat is a big plus, but the Smart Fortwo is still a diminutive vehicle that may not be suitable for all drivers. If you want cheap, you have to make some sacrifices.

What Is The Cheapest Real Electric Car?

So far, this article has focused on precisely what it says in the title — the cheapest electric car you can buy. The Solo and the Smart Fortwo Electric Drive qualify, but each has drawbacks that may make them unsuitable to mainstream drivers. When it comes to “real cars” that real people can drive in the real world, here are the cars you should be looking at. Keep in mind that not all of them will be available in all areas.

2017 Hyundai Ioniq Electric — $29,500
28 kWh battery, 124 miles (EPA), 136 MPGe, 88 kW motor

The Hyundai Ioniq is the cheapest electric car in America with room for 5 passengers. It is also a 5 door hatchback design, which means people can bring their stuff with them when they go places in it. Sales have just begun in the US, so availability may be limited in some areas, but the Hyundai Ioniq Electric will be offered in all 50 states. A version with a larger battery and more range is in the works but won’t be here until next year.

2017 Volkswagen e-Golf — $29,815
35.8 kWh battery, 124 mile range, 119 MPGe, 100 kW motor

VW e-Golf

The e-Golf comes with a larger battery for more range. It is the electric version of the tried and true VW Golf, one of the most successful car models of all time. The e-Golf can be had with emergency braking and parking assist. The price, as you can see, is practically the same as the Hyundai Ioniq Electric.

2017 Ford Focus Electric — $29,995
33.5 kWh battery, 115 miles, 107 MPGe, 107 kW motor

The Ford Focus Electric is comparable to the two models above and priced almost the same as well. It may be difficult to find outside of California, but that’s the case for the e-Golf as well and also for the Ioniq Electric until production ramps up.

2017 Nissan LEAF — $31,545
30 kWh battery, 107 miles, 112 MPGe, 80 kW motor

Nissan LEAF

The LEAF also got a larger battery for 2017. That increased the price, but the extra 30 miles of range should give drivers more peace of mind and freedom. The LEAF is not the most stylish of vehicles, but people who own them are quite pleased with the ride and handling — and the generous amount of interior room. More LEAFs have been sold worldwide than any other electric car in history. With a great balance between size, range, price … and availability, it’s no surprise that the LEAF continues to see solid sales. That said, much of that is claimed to be due to handsome discounts Nissan has been offering, discounts that may well make the car the cheapest electric car on the market in many regions.

2017 Fiat 500e — $32,780
24 kWh battery, 84 miles, 112 MPGe, 83 kW motor

The electric version of the fun-to-drive Fiat 500 is strictly a compliance car available only in California and Oregon. Fiat often has special promotions on the 500e, like ultra-low lease rates designed to move them off dealer lots in order to make the people at CARB happy. This is the car that FCA head Sergio Marchionne once begged people not to buy because he says his company loses over $14,000 on every one it sells. That’s a dubious claim as production/sales ramp up and the R&D expenses get spread beyond more models, but you get the point — Sergio doesn’t want to sell EVs. That’s why it’s been a surprise that the 500e is sometimes the cheapest electric car on the California market (with discounts).

2017 Kia Soul EV — $32,800
27 kWh battery, 93 miles (EPA), 105 MPGe, 81 kW motor

The Kia Soul is not available in all states, but it is the same cute, cuddly vehicle that Kia introduced to the market several years ago with a highly successful ad campaign featuring hip, happy hamsters. If the Kia Soul is your cup of tea and you can live with limited range, it may be just the car for you.

2017 Chevy Bolt — $37,495
60 kWh battery, 238 miles, 119 MPGe, 150 kW motor

Chevy Bolt CARB point of sale EV rebatePhoto by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

The first all-electric car from Chevrolet with long range is wrapped in an attractive 5 door hatchback crossover-style body. It has almost as much range as a base Tesla Model S and has won several awards for its advanced engineering. Base models lack many safety systems and high-speed charging capability is an $800 extra, but for the money, it is a very attractive package. It is considered the first long-range, fully electric “affordable” car.

2017 Mercedes-Benz B250e — $40,825
28 kWh battery, 87 miles, 84 MPGe, 132 kW motor

The battery-electric version of the Mercedes B-Class, the B250e, is overpriced for what is has to offer. It is an example of another compliance car where the manufacturer tried to shoehorn an electric battery and powertrain into an existing gas model to save money. It shows. Although it is a 5 door hatchback vehicle, the battery takes up much of the available cargo space behind the rear seat.

2017 BMW i3 — $43,395
22–33 kWh battery, 81–114 miles, 118–124 MPGe, 125 kW motor

Photo by Jose Pontes | CleanTechnica

The BMW i3 is a miracle of modern technology and engineering. It features a carbon-fiber chassis that provides a safety cell around the occupants. It also is the only non-Tesla car that currently offers customers a choice of battery size. Pick the version (and the price) that fits your needs. The i3 is also available with a two-cylinder range extender to eliminate range anxiety. Its styling is offbeat and it drives like a BMW should.

What About Tesla?

Photo by Kyle Field | CleanTechnica

The Tesla Model S sedan and Model X SUV cost too much money to be included in this discussion. The midsize Model 3 is supposed to go into production in July of this year, but if you don’t already have a reservation, you probably won’t be able to buy one and have it delivered until late 2018 or early 2019. The company has about 500,000 reservations for the Model 3 worldwide. Although the base price is $35,000, the expectation is that the average selling price with options will be closer to $42,000, according to Mr. Elon Musk. But that’s just a rough guess, and we don’t know what the average selling price of any other electric cars is.


“You get what you pay for” has never been more true than when it comes to electric cars. The least expensive models come with few options and limited range. Many are only available in California and a few other states. The good news is that there are now two “real” electric cars that are available nationwide with prices starting under $30,000. Both are eligible for the full federal tax credit of $7,500. That means a careful shopper like you could park a brand new electric car in your driveway that has a net cost to you of $22,500 … before other incentives, like California, Colorado, and a few other states offer.

But be aware, you only get to take full advantage of that federal tax credit if you have a federal tax liability of $7,500 or more. If your total federal tax bill is $4,000, that’s all the credit you can get and you cannot carry any unused portion over to subsequent years.

Shop carefully and make sure you are getting all the car you need for the price you are willing to pay. A Solo or Smart Fortwo may be cheap, but if you need to transport three or more people on a regular basis, that low price is not going to leave you feeling happy about your buying decision.

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About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • Contrary to what you report, I was able to take my $7,500 federal tax credit on a 2015 purchase of a Tesla Model S over two years. Also, I question the cargo volume you cite for the upcoming Model 3, which I believe will also have a trunk in front or frunk, like the Model S.

    You also forget to mention how little marketing and advertising is being done for all-electric cars, which, even with limited ranges, are ideal for retired folks and other older Americans whose driving is limited — if you can just pry their fingers loose from the steering wheel of those 20-year-old Camrys, Buicks and so forth,

    And isn’t it time to stop pretending the Chevy Volt is an “electric car”?

    • Steve Hanley

      Hope you had an accountant do your taxes. The law specifically states it only applies during the year of purchase and no carryover is permitted to subsequent tax years.

      The carrying capacity for the Model 3 comes straight from Tesla, which says the number included the frunk.

      • I did have an accountant do my taxes. Not sure you are correct, because I have been taking federal tax credits on a big rooftop solar project every year since 2009, when I laid out tens of thousands of dollars under a state rebate program. I do know law limits how much you can claim each year, hence the rollovers.

        • Steve Hanley

          Found this at Dated March 29, 2017. I am not an accountant, nor have I ever played one on TV, but I believe the provisions are different for the solar power credit than they are for the EV credit.

          “The federal incentive is usually referred to as a flat $7,500 credit, but it’s only worth $7,500 to someone whose tax bill at the end of the year is $7,500 or more. Let’s say you buy a Nissan Leaf or other eligible vehicle and you owe $5,000 in income tax for a particular year. That’s all the tax credit will be. Uncle Sam’s not writing a refund check for the other $2,500. And an unused portion of the credit can’t be applied against the following year’s taxes.”

          Here’s the link:

          • Thanks, Steve. I’m sticking with my accountant’s advice. And did you know there also is a federal tax credit for installing a 240-volt outlet in your garage to charge an electric car?

          • Steve Hanley

            Yes, I knew that but it’s good to remind people once in a while. It is a largely unknown benefit/

        • The solar credit carries over, the EV one doesn’t. You might want to check again to see what actually happened.

          • I did get my tax refund a few weeks after my return was filed, and it was substantial, but unrelated to the electric-car credit. I’m not sure what else would happen, if my return is not audited.

  • PLC Fischer

    If you want a really cheap electric car, look at new 2016 models that have around an 80 mile range. I picked one up three months ago for just under $22,500 before the $7,500 tax credit. That is the on the road, after taxes and other fees (not including shipping from Baltimore to Chapel Hill). So far I have just over 5,000 miles on it and am averaging 125 MPGe. Not too bad for an FFE. Yes, I do know that my MPGe will go down in the high heat of the summer and the cold of the winters.

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