Electric car lease deals are the best way to drive an EV

Consumer Reports News: June 07, 2013 09:08 AM

Over the long haul, leasing is usually not the most cost-effective way to put a car in your driveway. It may not be the best choice for most car shoppers, but there are exceptions. Notably, if you're interested in driving electric, a lease may be the best way to go, as confirmed by our latest analysis.

We think it makes sense to lease electric cars, because the battery technology is unproven and represents a financial risk to consumers. If you were to buy an electric car for the long term, it's unclear how long the battery might last or how much it might cost to replace in several years. On the other hand, what is clear is that automakers, suppliers, and the government are putting tremendous resources into battery development, so the next generation of electric cars are likely to be more capable, even as their batteries cost less. That means today's technology is likely to become obsolete quickly, which could have a negative effect on resale values.

Is an electric vehicle for you? See our guide to alternative fuels to learn more.

Surveying the latest lease deals
Automakers need to sell all the electric cars they can to meet state and federal requirements. With sticker prices limiting buyer interest and inexpensive fuel several automakers have tried to jump-start transaction by making their electric-car lease deals especially attractive.

Chevrolet, Fiat, Nissan, and Smart have all introduced $199-a-month lease deals on their electric cars. And other competitors are likewise advertising low-cost leases. For instance, Honda is leasing the Fit EV for $0 down, and $259 a month. Ford is leasing the Focus EV for $929 down and $284 a month.

If you can't live within the limited range of an electric car, Chevrolet is offering a lease on the Volt (an extended-range electric car with a gas-engine backup) for $269 a month—if you put $2,399 down. Many local dealerships are offering even better lease deals.

Leasing a car locks in the costs for consumers for the specified time period, and moves these financial risks to the lessor or the automaker. So if you're considering an electric car, consider one of these leases.

Given the low cost of operating electric cars, several press reports have recently touted some of these lease deals as being "free" or next to free once you count the savings from buying gas for a conventional car. We wouldn't go that far, but it is the most enticing way of getting into zero emissions motoring virtually risk free.

Below, we highlight the basic, nationwide lease terms, and calculate the three-year cost to lease, combined with the typical energy costs, for comparison

Model Lease payment Term Down 3-yr cost (counting energy)
Fiat 500e $199 36 $999 $8,556
Nissan Leaf $199 36 $1,999 $9,560
Smart ForTwo ED $199 36 $2,494 $10,084
Honda Fit EV $259 36 $0 $9,710
Chevrolet Volt $269 36 $2,399 $12,818
Ford Focus EV $284 36 $929 $11,587

Click the model names above to get our impressions, and where available, our test results.

Learn more in our guide to alternative-fuel vehicles.

Eric Evarts

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