Tesla Model S Buyers Face Year-End Deadline: $7,500 At Stake


2013 Tesla Model S

2013 Tesla Model S

Enlarge Photo

More than 13,000 people have put down deposits to join the waiting list for the Tesla Model S electric sports sedan.

Each of us eagerly awaits delivery of our much-decorated, cutting-edge car.

But as 2012 winds down, several hundred of us at the front of the queue are especially antsy. 

It's not just a question of whether we'll get a cool new car under the Christmas tree.

There's real money at stake: Will we get our cars by December 31, in time to qualify for the $7,500 Federal tax credit this year?

Or will we end up on the wrong side of  the 2012 delivery bubble, and have to wait an agonizing 15 months--until April 2014--to reap the tax benefit?

When I signed my purchase agreement, back in September, I was told Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] would deliver my car in "November or December."

But production snags have slowed deliveries, and November is clearly out of the question. And December is looking dicey.

Signatures Okay

It appears that customers who ordered the more expensive Signature cars--the first 1,200 or so cars off the line--will all get their cars this year.

Roughly 600 Signature cars have been delivered so far, and Tesla says it will ramp production rates from 200 a week at the start of November to 400 by the first week in December.

With production of Signature cars winding down--most likely by the end of November--the factory is expected to start building standard models early in December. 

My reservation for a regular Model S is Number 717. If Tesla indeed builds 400 cars a week by December 1, it appears my car would roll off the production line in mid-December.

But hold the Champagne.

A number of complicating factors could delay my delivery until after the first of the year:

*The delivery process. I live outside New York City, 2,500 miles from the Fremont factory. My Tesla rep tells me delivery takes one to two weeks.

*Production batching. Signature cars have not been produced in sequence order, but rather in batches based on options and equipment. Back-ordered parts and post-production correction of quality flaws also scrambled delivery order. So there's no guarantee my car will be built or delivered in sequence.

*The 60-kWh factor. I ordered my car with the mid-size 60-kWh battery. Tesla hasn't yet certified the EPA range numbers for the 60-kWh or 40-kWh cars. Until it does, production of those vehicles can't start.  So Tesla is likely to start building  a batch of already-certified 85-kWh production versions before starting on 60-kWh and then 40-kWh models.

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

Enlarge Photo

A Tesla spokesman told me that 60-kWh cars will go into production in "late December," followed by 40-kWh cars in January. My place in the 60-kWh queue--and the number of 85-kWh models to be built first--is unknown.

It all boils down to a stew of uncertainty worthy of Heisenberg.

No Refund

My own odd financial situation makes this uncertainty all the more nettlesome.

IRS rules say that the $7,500 tax credit for an electric car purchase may only be applied to Federal taxes owed.  In other words, if you owe less than $7,500 in tax, there's no refund of the difference. You can only reap the full benefit if your actual tax bill totals at least $7,500.

Due to odd circumstances, my Federal income tax bill may be substantially less than $7,500 this year.  My tax guy advised me to cash in about $20,000 from my IRA, to bring my tax liability up to the $7,500 level so I can take full advantage of the credit.

But if I make the IRA withdrawal and then the car isn't delivered until after December 31, I've just screwed myself out of several thousand dollars.

If the car is delivered in the last few days of 2012--as looks quite possible--I won't have time to make the IRA withdrawal, which I'm told takes several days.

It appears that I--and several hundred other owners on the December 31 delivery bubble--can only sit tight, cross our fingers...and await our fates.

David Noland is a Tesla Model S reservation holder and freelance writer who lives north of New York City.

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