Costs of multimodal alternatives compared to the private fossil fuel car

The future of private car mobility might be predominantly electric and powered by batteries. However, the environmental impacts of electric vehicles increase significantly with larger battery sizes. When relying on car utilization, vehicles with smaller batteries (i.e. smaller car, shorter range) should generally be preferred. However, the adoption of small cars is exacerbated by misjudgments of customers: On the one hand, customers tend to misjudge their actual need for range in a car leading to range anxiety with regard to small EVs (Hao et al., 2020). Needel et al. (2016), for example, suggest, that carsharing could play an important role for increasing the diffusion of EVs, covering the rare cases when the range of an EV is not sufficient. Hoerler et al. (2021) empirically show a correlation between carsharing experience and openness to buy a small to mid-sized EV underlining the suggestion by Needel et al. (2016). As such, multimodal combinations of small EVs with carsharing or public transport could be a sustainable and comfortable alternative to owning a private fossil fuel driven car, without the need for strong behavior change. On the other hand, consumers commonly misjudge the total cost of ownership (TCO) of fossil fuel cars due to the suppressing of sunk and periodical costs, e.g. purchase price, maintenance, taxes, and insurance (Andor et al., 2020; Lane & Potter, 2007). While studies show that EVs could indeed lead to savings compared to owning a similar fossil fuel car, this is not yet considered by the general public (Bert et al., 2016). As such, awareness with regard to cost advantages of EVs as well as comparing the TCO of EVs with similar conventional vehicles might increase its uptake.

With our research, we addressed the various misjudgments and proposed alternative mobility lifestyles, both combining the use of a small electric vehicle (EV) for everyday trips up to 200 km and the use of alternatives for daytrips exceeding 200 km: the former in combination with public transport (alternative 1: EV + PT) and the latter in combination with carsharing/car-rental (alternative 2: EV + CS). We proposed a further lifestyle that combines public transport and carsharing/car-rental without car ownership, as this would result in an even more sustainable mobility lifestyle (alternative 3: PT + CS). Basing on data from the Swiss Household Energy Demand Survey (SHEDS), we calculated the TCO of the current mobility behaviour of Swiss car owners. Furthermore, we calculated the TCO of the respective alternatives and pose the following research question: Would Swiss conventional car users be financially better off, if they switched to one of the proposed alternative mobility lifestyles?

Results suggest that roughly 63 % of respondents would be financially better off switching to a combination of a small EV for everyday trips until 200 km and use public transport for the cases daytrips exceed 200 km. About 36 % of the respondents would be better off with a combination of a small EV and carsharing/car-rental and 96 % would be better off switching to a combination of public transport and carsharing/car-rental without car ownership. The following three figures show the percent of respondent that are better off by switching to the respective alternative differentiated by the size of the respondents’ conventional car.

To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to investigate the TCO of multimodal mobility lifestyles compared to a lifestyle based on conventional private car use. Our results could be relevant for public policy, mobility planners as well as mobility service providers who could use our results for promoting the cost advantages of alternative mobility lifestyles.

The findings were presented at the European Transport Conference and the Mobility Research and Innovation in Switzerland Workshop at the Verkehrshaus in Lucerne:

Raphael Hoerler at the Verkehrshaus in Lucerne


Andor, M. A., Gerster, A., Gillingham, K. T., & Horvath, M. (2020). Running a car costs much more than people think—Stalling the uptake of green travel. Nature, 580(7804), 453–455.

Bert, J., Gerrits, M., Xu, G., & Collie, B. (2016). What’s Ahead for Car Sharing? The New Mobility and Its Impact on Vehicle Sales. The Boston Consulting Group.

Hao, X., Wang, H., Lin, Z., & Ouyang, M. (2020). Seasonal effects on electric vehicle energy consumption and driving range: A case study on personal, taxi, and ridesharing vehicles. Journal of Cleaner Production, 249, 119403.

Hoerler, R., van Dijk, J., Patt, A., & Del Duce, A. (2021). Carsharing experience fostering sustainable car purchasing? Investigating car size and powertrain choice. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 96, 102861.

Lane, B., & Potter, S. (2007). The adoption of cleaner vehicles in the UK: Exploring the consumer attitude–action gap. Journal of Cleaner Production, 15(11), 1085–1092.

Needell, Z. A., McNerney, J., Chang, M. T., & Trancik, J. E. (2016). Potential for widespread electrification of personal vehicle travel in the United States. Nature Energy, 1(9), 1–7.

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