Elon Musk is putting his money where his mouth is, but it's actually not much money at all, despite the big mouth.
Announced today, a new financing plan makes it possible for buyers to get their hands on an 85 kWh Tesla Model S for a claimed $543 "effective monthly cost".
It's not quite that simple.
You see, under Tesla's given scenario, you'll actually pay a 10% down payment ($7,999, based on the pre-incentive price of the 85 kWh Model S), and then $1,199 per month.
That's at 2.95% APR for 66 months, and without any taxes and fees.
But this isn't your typical financing purchase; Tesla guarantees the resale value of the car during months 36-39 of your loan term at a fixed 43% of the purchase price.
That 43% buy-back figure is based on the 12-month average resale value of a Mercedes-Benz S550. Not exactly a paragon of resale value, but a competing luxury car, so we'll call it even.
Nevertheless, Tesla insists you'll save money with the purchase of a Model S--to the tune of $656 per month.
How? Tesla says you'll save:
Given that the only direct involvement Tesla has in this financing scheme is the guarantee of the buyback price (the financing itself is done through two independent banks), we assume Musk's "money" is the guarantee itself.
Let's take a closer look at that guarantee.
Assuming a purchase price of $79,900 for a standard 85 kWh Model S, Tesla's guaranteed buyback will be worth $34,395.70.
Problem is, after 36 months of repayment on your 66-month loan, you'll owe about $35,268.46. That means even after Tesla buys the car back from you, you'll owe the bank another $873.
So really, Musk is saying he'll guarantee Tesla will buy the car back from you for less than you've contractually agreed the car is worth at that point, putting $873 of your dollars where his mouth is. What a nice guy.
To be fair, Musk believes the car will be worth more than the 43% figure, and says the company will guarantee the resale value at the higher fair market value if so.
Real cost of ownership
First, lets see what you'll have to lay out to own the Model S for both the 36-month lease/buyback case and for the 66-month outright purchase case.
In either scenario, the monthly payment will be the stated $1,199. Add to that a 10% down payment of $7,990.
Over 36 months, that's a monthly average cost of $1,421. Over 66 months, that works out to $1,320 per month.
Total out-of-pocket cost over 36 months: $51,156; over 66 months: $87,120.
Now, of course, you'll have to maintain the car at a Tesla facility (or an officially approved maintenance center) in order to stay in compliance with the terms of the resale value guarantee. If you don't live near one, you'll be shipping or driving the car both ways to get it maintained. And that's on top of the required $600 per year service contract you'll buy to keep from voiding your warranty.
Here's a handy map of service centers. Even if you're in California, you could be looking at a couple hundred miles in each direction to get your car serviced. The situation is much worse in the middle of the country.