Can an electric car save you $284 a month? Tesla Motors thinks so

Tesla Model S red sideTesla Motors is doing so well that it recently cancelled plans for a base model that would undercut the $69,900 Model S. Still, it’s important to let customers know that they’re getting a good deal, and Tesla thinks its customers are. It thinks a combination of low electricity costs and government incentives will make the Model S significantly cheaper to own than a comparable luxury sedan.

The carmaker from Silicon Valley is starting a three-year lease program, financed by by Wells Fargo and US Bank, with a 10 percent down payment. It works out to an “effective monthly cost” of $471 for a base 60-kWh Model S, and $895 for the top 85-kWh Performance model. All of Tesla’s cost of wonership estimates are based on this leasing scheme.

Right out of the gate, Tesla expects EV tax incentives to cover most if not all of the 10 percent down payment on a Model S. Buyers in every state qualify for a $7,500 federal tax credit, but certain states offer more.

California gives buyers $10,000 in incentives, while West Virginia offers up to $15,000. New Jersey, Washington state, and the District of Columbia also don’t charge sales tax on electric cars.

Then there’s the all-important fuel savings tab. Tesla says that, even with higher electricity bills and a premium price, a Model S will still save its owner money.

Assuming the hypothetical Model S owner drives 15,000 miles over three years, with gas at $5.00 per gallon and electricity at $0.11 per kWh, Tesla says driving one of its cars will save $284 per month over an “average premium sedan.”

Tesla quotes an average fuel economy figure of 19 mpg for its competition. A 2013 BMW 550i with an automatic transmission returns 15 mpg city and 23 mpg highway. The larger 750i gets 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway, oddly enough.

Plugging in this week’s national average gasoline price of $3.65 (as reported by the Energy Information Administration), and the 5 Series’ EPA combined rating of 20 mpg, we got a still-substantial savings of $183 a month.

Since time is money, Tesla also lets potential owners calculate how much they’ll save by using carpool lanes for their commutes, and skipping stops at the gas station.

However, if these people decide to take their cars on business trips, they may have to make half-hour recharging stops at Tesla’s Supercharger stations. It might also be a good idea to budget time for repairs, since the Model S is a brand-new design.

After the three years are up, Model S drivers will be able to sell their cars back to Tesla for the same residual value percentage as a Mercedes-Benz S-Class, although Tesla doesn’t say which S-Class model it means. Guaranteeing this high resale value means buyers won’t have to worry about depreciation.

While it’s undeniable that electricity is cheaper than gas, it might not be a good idea to buy a Model S based on solely on the expectation of saving a certain amount of money.

A person’s driving habits and the national average gasoline price fluctuate too much to be accurately predicted over the course of three years.

Still, electric car ownership will save some money, and there are plenty of other good reasons to buy a Model S. After all, if all you care about is saving money, why bother with such an expensive EV at all? Why not buy a Nissan Leaf?

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