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Three electrics lead 10 worst cars for depreciation

Chris Woodyard
Tuesday, 19 Nov 2013 | 3:30 PM ET
Nissan Leaf electric car
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Nissan Leaf electric car

Three electric cars and a raft of luxury models are likely to perform the worst when it comes to resale value over the next five years, Kelley Blue Book reports.

KBB has already listed the models that it thinks will hold the most of their value over the next five years. The list was headed by Toyota's FJ Cruiser, an off-road oriented model that's entering its last year of production. It is expected to be worth 70% of its original value in five years compared to today.

But at the request of USA TODAY, KBB provided the other end of the automotive value spectrum, the 2014 models that are expected to be worth a paltry sum compared to their original purchase price.

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The list is led by three electric models. The worst was Nissan's Leaf, which is expected to be worth only 18% of its new-car price when 2019 rolls around. It's followed by the electric Fiat 500e, at 21%, and Smart ForTwo electric drive, at 21.5%.

Electric cars are sold with federal and state tax incentives. Buyers can write off up to $7,500 off the purchase of a Leaf or the other electrics on their federal taxes. States throw incentives in the mix as well. And sales incentives, no matter what the source, are one of the key factors in damaging resale value. Automotives strive to sell models for as close to original purchase price as possible.

But Eric Ibara, director of residual consulting for Kelley Blue Book, says there are deeper problems, too, when it comes to reselling electric cars.

"Pure electrics have been slow to catch on in the resale market," he says. Customers "have been willing to buy a new one, not a used electric vehicle."

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Just why, he isn't sure. Some buyers had hesitation about the durability of hybrid batteries a decade ago, but the fears proved unfounded. They don't conk out or lose storage capacity at the rate some feared. And resale values of Chevrolet's Volt, a plug-in with a backup gas engine are holding up.

Reached for comment, Nissan officials note the effect of federal tax incentives and how the reduced price of the Leaf this model year could affect residual value. Plus, the electric car, or EV, revolution is still in its infancy. The market for used electric cars is yet to develop.

"We expect to see a similar adoption curve for used EVs as we have for new EVs, and we are just now reaching the point where there are used EVs on the market," says Erik Gottfried, director of marketing for Nissan Leaf. "EVs are one of the most active and fast-moving segments of the automotive market."

(Read more: Musk sees opportunities in electric airplanes)

Actually, he says he thinks the Leaf will make a particularly appealing used car. Just like the new ones, the used ones are "quick, quiet, roomy, inexpensive to maintain and cost much less to fuel."

As for the rest of KBB's list, it's mostly luxury cars. They are likely to show a big drop in value because they sold for a high price in the first place. Prices fall more, although they still often resell for more than mainstream cars.

KBB's list of cars that lose the most value over five years, and the predicted percentage of their worth:

1. Nissan Leaf 18%
2. Fiat 500e 21%
3. Smart fortwo electric 21.5%
4. Jaguar XJ 22.2%
5. Volkswagen CC 25%
6. Mercedes-Benz CL-Class 25.8%
7. BMW 7 Series 26%
8. Volvo S80 27.3%
9. Lincoln MKS 27.5%
10. Jaguar XK Series 27.6%

—By Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY.

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