A new study published by the US Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory offers the most comprehensive understanding yet of the cost of owning and operating a vehicle and how those costs vary across powertrains, from conventional to modern.

“Comprehensive quantification of the total cost of ownership for vehicles with different size classes and powertrains takes into account the aspects that were missing in the previous technical analysis: costs for insurance, maintenance and repair as well as taxes and fees, the cost of the vehicle, depreciation, financing and fuel costs . —Everything to calculate Total Cost of Ownership (TCO).

Levelized Cost of Driving (LCOD) for all drive trains for light SUVs, MY 2025

Much research has been done in the past on the cost of vehicles and fuel costs, but these other operating costs have not been explored in great detail. There were data gaps, especially regarding alternative fuel drives – electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles. They are new to the road so it has been difficult, for example, to determine their historical maintenance needs during their operating life. Our analysis helped fill these data gaps.

—David Gohlke, energy and environmental analyst at Argonne and co-author

The study, sponsored by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy’s Vehicle Technologies Office, is the result of a collaboration between Argonne and four other national DOE laboratories: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories.

The report covers light passenger cars as well as medium / heavy duty vehicles: tractor units; medium-weight vans and pickups; Transit buses; Box, commercial air and dump trucks; and garbage trucks. The study examined several powertrains: internal combustion engine, hybrid electric vehicle, plug-in hybrid electric vehicle, fuel cell electric vehicle, and battery electric vehicle.

Key insights include understanding vehicle depreciation, an in-depth study of insurance premium costs, comprehensive maintenance and repair estimates, an analysis of all relevant taxes and fees, and considerations of specific costs for commercial vehicles.

For example, the study finds that battery electric vehicles have 40% lower maintenance costs than vehicles with internal combustion engines. Overall, hybrid electric vehicles are usually the most cost-effective powertrain. Hydrogen-powered fuel cell electric vehicles will reach cost parity with conventional vehicles when the hydrogen price drops. Battery electric vehicles, meanwhile, will achieve cost parity as battery prices fall.

There is uncertainty about how quickly these costs will fall, but technology is headed in the right direction.

—David Gohlke

Other notable results are:

  • Cars lose value more quickly than light trucks. Older electric vehicles have a higher depreciation rate than newer electric vehicles.

  • Light commercial vehicle insurance costs are comparable for different powertrains, and vehicle size and occupation both affect the cost of medium / heavy commercial vehicle insurance.

  • Light commercial vehicle taxes and fees are similar for all powertrain types and sizes, although many states have slightly higher registration fees for alternative fuel vehicles.

  • Many electric tractor units would be adversely affected by additional battery weight, which would reduce the available payload capacity, and this cost can be significant.

  • Charging electric vehicles for commercial vehicles can be time consuming; When this billing is done at an hourly rate, labor costs can cause those costs to dominate the total cost of ownership.

For a simulated small sport utility vehicle in 2025 – modeled with Autonomie, Argonne’s tool for simulating energy consumption and vehicle performance – the hybrid electric vehicle has the lowest costs, followed by the conventional vehicle with an internal combustion engine. In the field of commercial vehicles, the study shows that, due to their large batteries, the most expensive battery-electric long-distance tractor units today will become the cheapest drive train in 2035 with further falling battery prices. For local delivery vehicles such as the Class 4 truck, however, the battery-electric vehicle is the most cost-effective option in 2025, the base year for the modeling of the study.

The results of the study will feed into future research related to vehicle technology, contribute to Argonne’s regular assessments of the potential benefits of the technologies developed by the DOE and others, and improve Argonne’s Environmental and Economic Transport of Alternative Fuels Instrument (AFLEET), which supports Fleet managers reviewing the economic and environmental costs of alternative fuel vehicles.

Fleet owners are especially sensitive to the bottom line and choose vehicles that can do the work they need at the lowest cost. The public availability and accessibility of this data with AFLEET will therefore help them in planning the purchase of vehicles with alternative fuels.

—Andrew Burnham, Argonne environmental scientist, creator and co-author of AFLEET


  • Burnham, Andrew, Gohlke, David, Rush, Luke, Stephens, Thomas, Zhou, Yan, Delucchi, Mark A., Birky, Alicia, Hunter, Chad, Lin, Zhenhong, Ou, Shiqi, Xie, Fei, Proctor, Camron, Wiryadinata, Steven, Liu, Nawei and Boloor, Madhur. Comprehensive quantification of the total cost of ownership for vehicles of different sizes and powertrains. United States: N. p., 2021. Web. doi: 10.21772 / 1780970.