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Just how "revolutionary" you think the just-announced lease option is for the Tesla Model S will depend on a lot of factors, like how much gas costs where you live and whether or not your current car drinks premium or not.

The promised "exciting" news from Tesla Motors is what the company calls a "revolutionary new finance product." It's not really a lease, but it is claimed to combine the "best aspects of car leasing and ownership." As with everything else, Tesla is going its own way here.

There are specific lease payment costs – $1,199 a month for the 85-kWh Model S, $1,421 for the 85-kWh Performance model and $1,051 for the 60-kWh version – but Tesla is putting up invisible asterisks all over the place.

There are specific lease payment costs – $1,199 a month for the 85-kWh Model S, $1,421 for the 85-kWh Performance model and $1,051 for the 60-kWh version – but Tesla is putting up invisible asterisks all over the place. Instead of highlighting those numbers, Tesla's online calculator talks about the "true cost of ownership." Tesla factors in the value of your time, cost of gas and EV incentives. We appreciate that there is much more to buying any car than the initial cost, but there is a lot of sunlight between Tesla's headline-grabbing $500/month cost and what you'll really pay. "Your net cost of ownership is five-to-six hundred dollars a month," said Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a conference call announcing the new pricing structure, adding, "As much as possible, I'd like to broaden the affordability of the car." Musk said he expects around half of the Model S "sales" in the US to be this new lease-like option.

I calculated my own numbers for the 85-kWh model and came out with an effective monthly cost of $1,133. Other Autoblog writers calculated theirs, and came up with results between $834 and $688. This makes us think that to hit that $500-a-month level you need to be in the center of a very strange Venn diagram.

In any case, Tesla has done some interesting things here. It worked with Wells Fargo and US Bank to reduce the cost of driving a Model S while also giving drivers the opportunity to own their cars. The banks, if you have good enough credit, will "provide 10% down financing for purchase" and that payment "is covered or more than covered by US Federal and state tax credits ranging from $7,500 to $15,000." Now, the loan is a 66-month term loan but, after 36 months, "you have the right, but not the obligation to sell your Model S to Tesla for the same residual value percentage as the iconic Mercedes S-Class, one of the finest premium sedans in the world, made by Daimler (also a Tesla partner and investor)."

So, that Tweet about how Musk was putting his money where his mouth is? As Tesla puts it: "Tesla CEO Elon Musk is personally standing behind that guarantee to give customers absolute peace of mind about the value of the asset they are purchasing."
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Tesla Unveils Revolutionary New Finance Product

Combines Best Aspects of Car Leasing and Ownership

PALO ALTO, Calif. – April 2, 2013 – Tesla Motors announced today that, in partnership with Wells Fargo and US Bank, it has created a revolutionary automotive financing product that provides the best elements of ownership and leasing to Model S customers.

Most people throughout the world prefer to own their belongings, rather than rent what is essentially someone else's property via a lease. However, leases do provide some key benefits, particularly a low initial payment, tax deductions, lower risk on resale value and the convenience of returning a car without the hassle of reselling it personally.

Working with some of the largest and most respected banks in the country, Tesla has been able to create a new kind of financing product that combines the surety and comfort of ownership with all the advantages of a traditional lease. Like the Model S, this product was created from the ground up to provide maximum benefit to consumers, rather than simply duplicating other financing programs that tend to favor companies at the expense of the individual.

How does it work?
  • US Bank and Wells Fargo have agreed to provide 10% down financing for purchase of a Model S (on approved credit)
  • The 10% down payment is covered or more than covered by US Federal and state tax credits ranging from $7,500 to $15,000. New Jersey, Washington and DC also have no sales tax for electric vehicles. These advantages are not available when leasing.
  • When considering the savings from using electricity instead of gasoline, depreciation benefits and other factors, the true net out of pocket cost to own a mid-range Model S drops to less than $500 per month.
  • After 36 months, you have the right, but not the obligation to sell your Model S to Tesla for the same residual value percentage as the iconic Mercedes S Class, one of the finest premium sedans in the world, made by Daimler (also a Tesla partner and investor).
  • Not only is Tesla guaranteeing that resale value, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk is personally standing behind that guarantee to give customers absolute peace of mind about the value of the asset they are purchasing.