Sunday, January 26, 2014

BMW i3: Tax Credits and Leases and Residuals, Oh My!

Will BMW's financing options put the i3 out of reach for many of its enthusiasts?
There have been many discussions on various websites since an internal BMW document surfaced that led to people to believe the BMW i3 lease terms in the US would be very high. One potential i3 buyer even has his local dealer (Stevens Creek BMW) work up a lease quote using the information on the document. The i3 he built had a total price of $55,978.52. With very little money down the lease payment came out to be $930 per month. There were a couple things that led to this very high lease estimation and I thought it would be worth while to discuss them here.

The proposed i3 lease was posted by
First, the residual values on the document were very low, around 40%. Unfortunately this is basically in line with residual values of other electric cars and there are basically two reasons for it. First, electric cars are new to most people and there is a lot of uncertainty regarding what the secondary market will be. What will a 3 years old i3 with 40,000 miles be worth? How much will the battery have degraded? What will its practical range be at at that point? Until we have years of EV use behind us with tens of thousands of examples to draw data from, finance companies will likely err on the side of caution and offer low residuals on EV's. Then there are the tax credits and rebates. California is the largest market for EV's in the country and basically paves the way for everywhere else. EV's buyers in California not only get the $7,500 federal tax credit, but they also get up to a $2,500 State rebate. Therefore a used EV is instantly worth $10,000 less than a new one as soon as it rolls out of the lot.  So to be fair, you really should include the tax incentives and rebates in the equation when you discuss electric vehicle residual values, because that is the actual effective cost of the car to the buyer.. If you do that, the i3 residuals jump up to nearly 50%. That is still a bit low, but not really far off of what a typical car would be worth after a three year lease. 

The tax credit is now a center of debate
The document also showed that BMW is only going to apply $4,875 of the expected $7,500 federal tax credit as a capitol cost reduction to leases. This led some people to assume BMW is simply pocketing the $2,625. I raised this question to Timm Bock, Product Development & Pricing Manager for BMW Financial Services and he told me that BMW will only realize $4,875 for the federal tax credit and that they will pass every cent of what they get along to the customer. I still don't know exactly why they don't get the full $7,500 because it seems the other EV manufacturers do since they pass it along to the customer as a capitol cost reduction in their lease offerings. So either they get more than BMW does which would be surprising, or they are eating the $2,625 in an effort to push their electric vehicle offerings. This to me would be equally surprising, so I really don't know what the truth is at this point, but I will continue to investigate this. 

Timm was kind enough to also include an overview of the financing options BMW Financial Services will be offering for the i3, and this is what he sent me:

Please see my response below regarding the Lease and OwnerChoice products you had asked about, as well as how each product relates to the Federal EV Tax Credit when purchasing a BMW i3.

Traditional Lease - Our tax team has advised us that each leased BMW i3 qualifies us for a Federal EV Tax Credit of $4,875 - all of which is passed on to the consumer.  This $4,875 Lease Credit can be directly applied as a Capitalized Cost Reduction, or to other costs, at the time of lease-signing.  Regardless of your tax situation, by choosing a BMW FS lease with the $4,875 Lease Credit, you'll know exactly how much you will benefit, it’s applied at the time of purchase and there is no subsequent filing, administration or personal tax implications.
(As a reminder, only EVs purchased for personal use are eligible for the maximum $7,500 tax credit.  However, the benefit is reduced to $4,875 for 100% business use.  Regarding Nissan and Chevy, we can’t speak to why they are choosing to offer $7,500 or more; this may be part of the their incentive or discount strategy.)

But for customers who want to claim the maximum tax credits, we have made attractive alternatives to leasing available:  OwnersChoice and OwnersChoice with Flex.

· OwnersChoice – OwnersChoice provides:  low lease-like monthly payments, the lease-like option to return the car at the end of the term AND the eligibility for you to claim the maximum income tax credits.  

· OwnersChoice with Flex - In addition to the OwnersChoice benefits above, OwnersChoice with Flex allows you to increase your final balloon payment due at the end of the contract term by up to $7,500. Increasing the final balloon payment due further reduces your monthly payments, and in this way provides you with the opportunity to benefit from the $7,500 immediately.  OwnersChoice with Flex bridges the time-gap between the vehicle’s purchase date and your tax filing date.  We are proud to say that BMW FS is the first in the industry to develop an enhanced balloon finance solution like this for EVs. 

BMW Financial Services will also offer our traditional loan product.  Like both of the OwnersChoice products above, a BMW FS loan provides you the eligibility to claim the maximum $7,500 Federal EV Income Tax Credit.  

In general, due to the uncertainty and complexity of tax credit rules, we encourage anyone considering an EV to consult with a tax professional.

While this doesn't really clear up the tax credit questions, it does give some clarity on the OwnersChoice with Flex product that they developed specifically for the i3. This will allow a buyer to get the full $7,500 tax credit, yet still return the car like a lease at the end of a predetermined period. It's a purchase, but allows the buyer to have a capitol cost reduction up to $7,500 (the customer decides how much they want BMW FS to deduct as a cap cost reduction) to lower their monthly payments. That money is then owed to BMW FS and the owner can pay it off anytime they want. The owner will then have the option of making a balloon payment equal to the residual value plus the additional $7,500 and buying the car outright, refinancing the balance and keeping the car, or simply paying back the $7,500 and returning the car as if it were leased. 

There is interest charged on the $7,500 cap cost reduction they applied that is baked into your monthly payment, but BMW will allow you to pay it back early and save on the interest expense. The best way to utilize the OwersChoice with Flex may be to pay the $7,500 up front when you take delivery of the car, therefore you'll never have paid a penny of interest on it. Of course you'll need to have the finances to do this, but since you'll be recovering the $7,500 a few months later when you do your taxes, you will only be a short time without the funds. (provided you qualify for the full tax credit)

I hope that provides a little insight into the OwnersChoice with Flex. However, admittedly it doesn't get us any closer to really knowing what leasing deals BMW will be offering. Until we get the official residual values, interest rates and terms, we're all just guessing. I just hope people don't expect the i3 to have leasing deals that are comparable to some other much less expensive EV's like the LEAF or Volt, let alone the great deals on some of the other manufacturers compliance EV's. These cars are subsidized by tens of thousands of dollars per vehicle just so the manufacturer can lease the minimum required be California, in order to continue to sell their gas cars there. BMW has been consistent with saying the i3 is going to be profitable from day 1, and BMW will not subsidize it. This will likely make the i3 more expensive to lease in California than a Honda Fit EV, a Fiat 500e or a Toyota RAV4 EV. However for the rest of the country this comparison really doesn't matter because those cars aren't available nationally like the i3 will be.

Personally I expect to BMW to announce the financing details pretty soon, like within the next couple weeks and I will certainly post them here. There is hope that BMW may surprise up with a good leasing deal after all though. This week at the NADA convention in New Orleans BMW's North American CEO Ludwig Willisch said "It will be an attractive lease offer" and "It will be in the ballpark of a normally equipped 3 Series". A friend of mine recently leased a pretty well equipped 328i and with $3,000 down and he's paying $415/month. I find it hard to believe the i3 will lease for that low, but I suppose it's possible on a base BEV i3 without any options. I'll pick this back up here once the details are revealed. 


  1. Thanks for the update, Tom. We went to our dealer yesterday and saw/drove the i3 for ourselves. I wrote up my reactions to it on my G+ page if you care to visit this link;

    Meanwhile, we wait. A lot is up in the air. What will be available, since we didn't order with the Electronaut code, what the financing will be, how we feel about BMW's decisions on profitability and allocations, etc... I suspect it will not happen for us but maybe we will take advantage of that low residual on someone else's lease when they turn in it. :)

  2. I think that leasing the vehicle is considered "business use" for the dealership and hence the lower credit. I would never thought of that, in my opinion business use would be determined by the actual lessee.
    Stan J.

  3. Thank you for the update Tom. I've said it before this site is the best source of information for the i3 anywhere, thank you for covering it so thoroughly.

    Please try to get a better explanation regarding the tax credit if you can. If it's correct and BMW doesn't get the full tax credit then they need to explain why that is or many of us aren't going to believe them.

    Can you also try to find out more on the sunroof. Will it be available at the launch? Should we hold off on ordering the car and wait a few months for it to be available or has it been cancelled? Thanks

    Phil Theobald

  4. My understanding:

    According to a couple of tax sources - the $7500 Federal tax credit is for cars on the Energy Department's current listing. I quote from another article:

    "The list of electric vehicles eligible for a federal tax credit is available at the Energy Department's fuel economy tax center site, which is updated as vehicles are added or deleted. Right now, the roll of qualifying vehicles is pretty short. It will grow with the introduction of new plug-in cars and trucks.

    As of this date, several cars are eligible for the maximum $7,500 credit. There are two plug-in hybrids: the new BMW i3, when purchased with the optional range-extending internal-combustion engine-generator, and the Chevrolet Volt. Battery-electric cars include the Chevrolet Spark EV, Fiat 500 EV, Ford Focus EV, Honda Fit EV, Mitsubishi i also known as i MiEV, Nissan Leaf, Smart Fortwo Electric Tesla Model S, Toyota RAV4 EV, Wheego Life and the BMW i3 without the range-extending engine-generator."

    The most important thing to remember is that you only get the credit, or as much of the credit, as you owe in the tax year of purchase/lease. If you only owe $5000 for instance, then that is the Federal Tax credit - the Feds will not write an additional $2500! So the use of the tax credit to determine 'final' lease value/payments is 'speculative', which reflects the last statement from Timm.

    Martin Booker

  5. Verry useful articles. I don't know, that I can get tax incentives.

  6. Great blog post.Thanks for the suggestions.GB car