Total cost of ownership: Tesla Model 3 compared with Audi A5 and Toyota Camry

To regular readers of this column, it will be no surprise that Tesla’s Model 3 is cheaper on a total cost of ownership basis than competing luxury sedans from BMW and Mercedes, but a Toyota Camry? Model 3 is a state-of-the-art electric vehicle with a 5-star safety rating and a driving experience that’s gotten rave reviews from every auto mag under the sun. Is it possible that it’s even in the same price class as the entry-level, reliable-but-dull Camry?

Above: A look at the Tesla Model 3 photographed in Miami's Wynwood art district (Instagram: blizzard_the_tesla)

That’s the surprising conclusion of Loup Ventures, a tech-oriented venture capital firm, which performed a five-year comparative cost of ownership study. Loup first compared the two vehicles in 2017, and concluded that Model 3, which had a purchase price about 40% higher than that of the Toyota Camry LE, would end up costing 13% more to own and operate over five years. Considering that Model 3 includes Autopilot capability, over-the-air updates and a host of other features that you won’t find on the Camry (or any other Toyota), the Tesla still sounded like a pretty good deal.

Now Loup has updated its comparison. Using 2019 figures, the new study reached the astonishing conclusion that, when all relevant factors are taken into account, Model 3, which is indisputably a superior car, is slightly cheaper to own and operate over a five-year period than Toyota’s mass-market sedan.

When it comes to the purchase price (which, unfortunately, is the only number many car buyers will look at), the Camry still wins hands down. In fact, the price gap has widened to 59% since 2017 - the least expensive Model 3 you can order online is $32,690, whereas the Camry LE starts at $24,600.

Above: The 5-year total cost of ownership of the Tesla Model 3 vs. the Toyota Camry LE and Audi A5 (Chart: Loup Ventures)

UPDATE:  Since Loup ventures developed their cost table, the entry level price of a Model 3 has been reduced by about $6,000—a substantial decrease.The cost per mile for a Model 3, all other costs adjusted for the lower purchase price, drops to $0.41 per mile.

Referring to their original table, Loup found typical insurance costs for a Model 3 to be slightly lower than for a Camry - and the gap is expected to widen over the next few years as Tesla’s in-house insurance products become available (the program has already launched in Australia and China, and is expected to come to North America this year).

Costs for fuel and maintenance are far lower for any EV, compared to a legacy vehicle - Loup projects that Model 3 owners will save almost six grand on fuel and $2,800 on maintenance over five years, compared to Camry drivers.

However, it’s the comparative resale values of the two cars that closes the deal for the Tesla. As even a brief perusal of the pre-owned vehicles on sale will show, Teslas retain their value extremely well. Loup estimates that, after five years, the Model 3 will still be worth almost $19,000, whereas the Camry will fetch only $9,000. When the resale values of the two vehicles are included in the calculation, the cost per mile for a Model 3 comes out to $0.41 (updated), compared to $0.49 for the Camry LE.

Above: More details on Loup Ventures' total cost of ownership analysis of Tesla's Model 3 vs. Toyota's Camry (YouTube: Like Tesla)

That’s a pretty jaw-dropping conclusion, considering that we’re basically comparing a luxury, high-tech apple to a basic, low-budget orange. How does Model 3’s TCO compare to other sedans that are supposedly in its class? Loup also ran the figures for an Audi A5, and the result is...embarrassing? Game-changing? Adjectives fail us. The cost per mile of the German sedan over five years comes out to $0.80, a little less than double that of Model 3.


Written by: Charles Morris; Source: Loup Ventures; Video: Like Tesla