Tesla Gambles on Lease or Own Options

Buying a Tesla sports car or a Model S sedan is truly a privilege. The cost of the nearly zero-emission electric vehicle is not ridiculous on the surface but is certainly not affordable for much of the public. Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) is trying to change that with new financing options.

Tesla’s announcement on Tuesday follows a tease from Elon Musk today that had investors and consumers wondering what was coming from Tesla. Via a partnership with Wells Fargo & Co. (NYSE: WFC) and U.S. Bancorp (NYSE: USB), Tesla is creating a new financing product that will blend elements of ownership and leasing to Model S customers.

One thing that customers do not really have to worry about too much is the financial creditworthiness of Wells Fargo and/or U.S. Bank. These were both on our list of the Safest Banks in America for 2013.

This new lease product from Tesla comes with a lower initial payment, tax deductions, lower risk on resale value. Perhaps the most important aspect of all, this will eliminate the risks and efforts for a buyer personally. After 36 months, the new buyers have the right to sell the Model S back to Tesla for the same residual value percentage as the Mercedes S Class. This is a lease to own model, but the buyers are of course not obligated to sell their cars back to Tesla.

U.S. Bank and Wells Fargo have agreed to provide 10% down financing for the purchase of a Model S for those with approved credit. The 10% down payment is said to be covered or more than covered by U.S. Federal and state tax credits ranging from $7,500 to $15,000.

New Jersey, Washington and D.C. also have no sales tax for electric vehicles. These advantages are not available when leasing.

Tesla says that when you tally up the true cost savings here the entire true net out-of-pocket cost to own a mid-range Model S is said to be dropping down to under $500 per month.

With Tesla effectively guaranteeing the resale value this may take out at least one of the “what if” questions from the public. 24/7 Wall St. cannot help but wonder what exactly Tesla will do with all the three-year and older cars once they start receiving these cars back. Will they be resold? What if the replacement costs in the future for batteries and technology actually go up rather than down?

Tesla’s move is one which could go either way, and it may depend upon issues that the markets do not really have answers for today. This will certainly drive up sales but it leaves an unknown about the future. Tesla will not just be selling new electric cars in the future. It will also have to figure out what to do with the models returned.

Wall St. investors and traders are having a hard time digesting the news and the implications of how this will impact Tesla’s finances in the future. The stock closed up almost 1% at $44.34 today but the shares have been down 1% to 2% in the after-hours trading session. Tesla shares have traded in a 52-week range of $25.52 to $46.68 and the consensus price target from Thomson Reuters was $41.45 before the effects of this news.

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