Doug Kerr, daughter Andie Kerr, fiancee Barbara Gleason; Fiat 500e, Ford Focus Electric, Fiat 500eEnlarge Photo
In the early years, electric-car leases offered a high residual value to lower the monthly lease payment. The "residual" is the predicted value at the end of the lease, and what you would pay if you want to buy the car when the lease ends.
Obviously, if that residual value far exceeds the price similar used electric cars sell for, you will want to return the car to the dealer rather than buy it at that price. (More about this later.)
Buying an electric car is a lot simpler than leasing: If you don’t mind the poor resale values and plan to keep your EV for many years, purchasing is as easy as using a buying service for the car of your choice and coming up with the lowest quote.
Then, find five or so dealers in your area, and make an offer—by phone or email only, no visit yet—to the internet manager of the one furthest away for a few thousand dollars below the lowest quote from a buying service.
Negotiate that dealer's lowest price from there, then see if the dealers closer to you will beat that offer. You may end up with a lower price from a dealer closest to you.
But ... negotiating a lease for an electric car is something else altogether. I've done it four times in four years, all in California.
2018 Chevrolet Bolt EV electric car and 2018 Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybridEnlarge Photo
The best place to start is a website that compares lease deals on the car(s) you're interested in. I found the best and most up-to-date plug-in electric-car lease listings on a small site maintained by "an early adopter."
That page provides an astounding amount of information, and its owner updates the information weekly.
Note that the numbers used on the site for comparison are before tax—and, often a dealer will add additional fees.
When I first started calling dealers to discuss leasing, I was stunned to find out the numbers advertised were far, far lower than the actual, final lease cost per month. The dealer would tell me the base lease and the down payment didn’t include taxes. Okay, fine.
The numbers still didn’t add up, though. I found later on that dealers may also include an “acquisition fee” and “registration fees” and “document processing charges” and so on and so on.
Then I had to learn that rebates and credits are subject to sales tax. As my lease page shows, the “upfront taxes” are $1,069.91.
2018 BMW i3sEnlarge Photo
Why is this number so high? Because my federal, state, and manufacturer incentives—both purchase rebates and “noncash credits”—come to a total of $13,000, taxed at 7.75 percent (your taxes will vary).
To find out what incentives are available for you, Plug In America offers an easy to use map at State & Federal Incentives - Plug In America.
While someone who leases an electric car isn't eligible for the $7,500 federal income-tax credit, automakers usually (but not always) pass all or most of this amount to the buyer to lower the lease payment.
Granted, you could school yourself in the intricacies of lease computation, as described on LeaseHackr, and learn how to calculate lease payments by hand.
That requires educating yourself on money factors, depreciation, finance charges, and much more. If you’re into that kind of thing, you have my admiration.
My alternative is simply to ask the dealership internet manager what my total lease payment will be, including taxes, registration, and fees. They call it the “out-the-door" number.
2018 Nissan Leaf electric car, test-driven by Shiva of Fremont, California, Oct 2017Enlarge Photo
You can ask for the final totals for both the up-front down payment and the recurring monthly payments, and as a total number spread over the term of the lease. (Though even I can add these two numbers to come to the effective lease cost per month.)
Sometimes you get pushback. One salesperson told me, “I don’t know what those numbers are, because that’s what the finance department does.”
If the salesperson can't plug in the numbers and give you the final figures you'd be committing to, leave and go elsewhere.
After a few dealer experiences, you'll get a good idea of the deals that go beyond what the automaker offers, and often beyond what the dealer will advertise to the public.
Most recently, when I got down to the lowest lease price from the furthest dealer, I simply called the others to see if they could beat $205 per month on a 36-month lease covering 10,500 miles a year with a $2,500 down payment.
Fortunately for us, most electric cars have relatively simple pricing and limited trim levels and options.