And now we know: Tesla's Big Mystery Story, teased via more than one tweet from CEO Elon Musk, is this: You will soon be able to "lease" a brand-new 2013 Tesla Model S.
That's a good thing (though not nearly as much fun as some of the ideas proposed under the Twitter hashtag #TeslaPredictions). But we digress.
Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] has partnered with two banks, Wells Fargo and US Bank, to create a "new kind of financing product" that combines, the company claims, "the surety and comfort" of actually owning a car with the traditional advantages of a lease.
On a conference call held today shortly after the announcement, CEO Elon Musk said the new product would both make the Tesla Model S available to a much broader audience and address nervousness about the residual value of a battery-electric car with a battery pack whose capacity declines over time.
Here's how it will work, according to the company's press release:
According to Musk, this is effectively a five-year loan (he later clarified this to "a 66-month term") with the right to return the car after three years.
If Tesla buys the car back from the customer, Musk said, the company will pay at least the guaranteed value. If the market value is higher, Tesla will pay that amount.
The company suggests that with the guaranteed return value, the various Federal, state, and local incentives, and the lower cost-per-mile of driving on grid electricity, it will cost less than $500 per month to drive a new Tesla Model S.
Musk suggested that net cost of ownership would be "$500 or $600" a month, combining the lease payment and cost of electricity--and pointed interested customers toward a cost calculator on the company's website for the true net out-of-pocket cost for a Model S.
That calculator starts with a lease cost of $1,199 per month before the various incentives are applied. It includes cost savings both for the Business Tax Benefit (assuming that buyers drive their Tesla on business) and a value for time saved by not having to stop for gasoline.
Musk noted that current depositors will not be able to take advantage of the new lease product, essentially because it would mess up the company's accounting.
If drivers who finance the car decide not to return it after three years, they continue to make payments for two more years to pay it off.
The press release contained one line that raised eyebrows among several journalists: "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."