Electric Car Price War? Sorta, But California Has Most Options

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2013 Honda Fit EV drive event, Pasadena, CA, June 2012

2013 Honda Fit EV drive event, Pasadena, CA, June 2012

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If you live in California right now, it's a great time to buy a plug-in electric car.

Elsewhere in the country, your choices will be more limited.

Three small battery-electric cars are competing on lease pricing in the Golden State, with the default monthly price seemingly $199 or close to it.

Compliance car prices coming down

Last week, the lease price of a 2013 Honda Fit EV was cut to $259 a month (from $389 a month) and, as a bonus, Honda removed the mileage cap, which had been 12,000 miles per year.

The 2014 Chevrolet Spark EV, which will arrive at selected Chevy dealers in California and Oregon this month, is also priced at $199 per month.

And, similarly, the 2013 Fiat 500e will carry a $199 monthly lease rate as well.

Part of the reason for the price cuts is that carmakers are not moving enough of these three cars to meet their legal requirements under California's zero-emission vehicle laws.

The fines are substantial, and would cost them far more than boosting the incentives on these so-called compliance cars.

However, all three are compliance cars whose sales are largely restricted to California--and, in a quirk of the law, the dozen or so other states that have adopted California's tougher emissions laws, including Oregon and a handful of Northeastern states.

That explains why Honda has expanded Fit EV sales into several other states, including a few on the East Coast.

Aggressive Nissan Leaf pricing

Nevertheless, most buyers in areas of the country outside California will never have a chance to buy those cars. They can, however, buy a Nissan Leaf.

Not to be left out in the cold, Nissan has offered a $199 lease for its 2013 Leaf electric car as well--though it applies to the base model. 

The Leaf is a larger car than the Spark EV and 500e, which are minicars, and the Fit EV subcompact, and it sells in much higher volumes than any of the others.

In fact, now that the Leaf is built in Tennessee using locally-fabricated lithium-ion cells, Nissan has sold three times as many Leafs so far this year as it had at the same time last year.

Volt not being left behind

The 2013 Nissan Leaf carries a starting price of $28,800, which is almost $11,000 below the pre-delivery price of the 2013 Chevrolet Volt range-extended electric car.

This year's Volt sales have only kept pace with last year's, in part because it's simply more expensive than the others--than every other plug-in electric car except the Tesla Model S, in fact.

2013 Chevrolet Volt, Catskill Mountains, Oct 2012

2013 Chevrolet Volt, Catskill Mountains, Oct 2012

Enlarge Photo

But smart Volt buyers have found that dealers are offering substantial discounts on Volts--even fully-loaded models--that are largely subsidized by the maker.

Robert McDonald paid $34,700 (before incentives, and before sales tax) for a 2013 Volt with a sticker price of roughly $43,000 at Penske Chevrolet in Indianapolis, Indiana.

That price included leather seats, navigation, and Bose stereo, all optional equipment above the Volt's base price (with delivery) of $39,995.

The dealer priced the Volt (with a manufacturer suggested retail price of $43,000) at $36,751. McDonald got $2,000 cash back, paid $2,573 in sales tax, $170 documentation fee, $460 in gap insurance, and so ended up financing (at 0%) a total of $37,495 with no money down.

The car qualifies for a $7,500 Federal income-tax credit for which McDonald may be eligible when he files his 2013 taxes early next year.

Others available?

McDonald notes he saw a 2013 Volt advertised at $33,800 before taxes at a dealer in Columbus, Ohio. When he called Byers Chevrolet, he was told on the phone that they had another Volt for $32,495.

Note to Californians: These Volts may not have the emissions package that qualifies the car to receive a "green sticker" for single-occupancy access to the state's high-occupancy vehicle carpool lanes.

As always, read any offer from a car dealer carefully and make sure you understand all the financing, fees, and discounts before you sign anything.


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