Can we afford to lease a Tesla Model S?

model-s-500-leaseeditors-blog-entry3So, Tesla’s trying to make things more interesting for folks who would love to have a Model S, but who clearly are not in the right income bracket to buy one — that would be us — with a lease deal it’s offering via a partnership with U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo.

I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty details here, or into a long discussion about whether Tesla’s pushing “fuzzy” math by including too many different variables in its monthly lease cost calculator (though, now that I’ve played with the calculator a bit more, unfortunately, after having already written this entry, I think the calculator is highly misleading, even bogus).

Instead of dwelling on the bogus-ness of what appears to be a phantom $500 monthly lease for the Model S, I’m going to fantasize about us actually getting into a Tesla Model S for $500 a month, and, allegedly, no money down (Tesla says the Federal/State tax credits go toward a down payment on the Model S).

Out of our price range?
At first glance, $500 per month is out of our price range. In fact, my wife’s first response to me floating the idea of a Tesla lease for us was a rather harrumphing, “I’d rather go to Hawaii!” – and, to be fair, we’ve never been to Hawaii 😉

However, IF we reduce our household car total from two cars to one car, things start to look a bit different – again, assuming Tesla’s $500 per month number is for real.

model-s-colorado-taxPlenty of households in our very middle class income bracket in America have two car payments of $250 per month each for two separate cars. And, of course, their $500 per month for two car payments doesn’t include monthly gasoline costs, or maintenance costs, or insurance costs (okay, we’re not likely going to save on car insurance costs with a shiny Tesla in our garage 😉

Ah, but you say – and you would be correct: ‘Christof, you drive two gas clunkers, and haven’t had a monthly car payment in more than a decade.’

True, and if that were the point of comparison – total costs for our two gas clunkers vs. $500 per month for a Model S, the gas clunkers would win out. In fact, our costs for our two-car clunkers are, somewhat sadly — I’d love to be tapping the solar electricity from our 5.59 kW system now — lower than those for any single new EV. Period.

Two Versas vs. a Model S
However, home solar or not, in many ways it isn’t really fair to compare the costs for two decades old gas cars with the costs for a brand new EV. So, I’m going to take a different point of comparison here: Two brand new, leased Nissan Versas. Why the Versa?

versa-two-of-themBecause, at least as new cars go, the Versa’s cheap, cheap, cheap; it’s practical for our family of four; and, finally, it’s fun for me to get a few folks out there who dislike the Versa vs. Nissan LEAF comparisons I’ve made in the past a bit hot under the collar 😉

So, drum roll please: What would be more expensive for us, in our unusual case in which we’re sitting on 7,000 kWh worth of solar-generated ‘banked’ electricity, or about 24,000 miles worth of electric driving, two, bright blue, leased Nissan Versas, or one dark blue (wish it weren’t so dark, actually), leased Tesla Model S?

First, we’d be giving up the convenience of two cars for the comparative inconvenience of having just one, though I’m sure we could do it if we really wanted to.

Second, let’s crunch the numbers, which, again, in terms of our zero fuel costs/banked solar electricity situation, are admittedly very unique:

Our 3-year cost for 2 Leased Nissan Versas
$4,000 down payment ($2,000 each) +
$7,200 (total leasing costs: $99 per month each x 36 months) +
$8,100 (gasoline/fueling costs: $4 per gallon, 30 mpg, 20,000 miles per year)

= $19,300

Our 3-year cost for 1 leased Tesla Model S, 60 kWh model
$0 down payment
$18,000 (total leasing costs: $500 per month x 36 months)
$0 (fueling costs)

= $18,000

This is a rough estimate: Some dealers advertise Versa leases for as little as $69 per month, though $99 is certainly realistic. And, if the Tesla calculator is to be believed (again, it’s very confusing), when I punch in our Colorado location, put in 20,000 miles driven per year, 30 mpg and $4 per gallon for gas, Tesla spits out a ‘true cost of ownership’ of $365 per month – and this clearly doesn’t account for the fact that we’ve got free gas for life, thanks to our 5.59 kW home solar system.

On the other hand, in the “Finance” column on the Tesla calculator page, I’m seeing a monthly cost of $1,100, or more than twice the $500 per month number you see on the Tesla entry page. If that’s the actual monthly lease payment for us: a) it’s WAY, WAY out of our price range; b) WAY more than leasing two new Nissan Versas for 36 months, in fact about three times as much; c) indicative of WAY misleading advertising on Tesla’s part.

I’m not going to officially crunch various different numbers here. However, it’s fair to say that, in our specific, and, yes, unique instance, when compared to the total cost of ownership of two, new leased economy cars, the three-year cost of ownership of a leased Model S for us – assuming that we could in fact lease it for $500, and not $1,100 per month — is in the same range as the cost of leasing two brand new economy cars.

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Tesla Model S calculator bogus?
In fact, I should have looked at the Model S calculator a bit more closely before I got deep into writing this blog entry, as the more I play with the calculator, the more bogus the $500 per month lease cost appears to be. Indeed, now I’m pretty certain that we would be paying considerably more than $500 per month – it looks like at least $800 per month, if not more, to lease a Model S.

However, at this point, the apparent bogus-ness of Tesla’s calculator and ad pitch that it’s leasing the Model S for $500 per month is grist for another entry – I think I’m going to call Tesla and ask them for a direct answer on how much our actual, out-of-pocket, hand it over to the bank monthly charge for a Model S will be, and write about what they say.

For now, though, I’ll put on my Pollyanna hat, and fantasize that the $500 per month figure is actually what we’d pay out of pocket for a Model S, and dream about actually being able to drive a solar-charged Tesla.


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