Drive for Free? Deals on Electric Cars Keep on Coming

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Cameron Spencer / Getty Images for Nissan

The charging point of the Nissan Leaf

For many consumers, electric-vehicle ownership has been a nonstarter for purely financial reasons. The math indicated that the money one saved in gas from an EV was usually outweighed by the car’s high initial price. But the math has been changing.

The financial argument for buying an electric car is getting a lot more compelling lately, thanks to special lease deals from manufacturers and generous rebates and incentives from the federal government and certain states. One such state is Georgia, which gives an income-tax credit of $5,000 for the purchase of an electric vehicle. Add in special lease deals from Nissan for its battery-powered Leaf and the federal tax credit of $7,500, and out-of-pocket costs for a two-year lease in Georgia come to a smidge over $2,000.

The Wall Street Journal recently highlighted the case of one Georgia resident who did just that. Bronson Beisel traded in his SUV for a Leaf, and he figures the $200 per month he’s saving on gasoline more than makes up for the $2,000 or so the vehicle will cost him over the course of two years. Sure, there are electricity costs, but those are negligible, according to Beisel:

‘In March, I spent $14.94 to charge the car’ and a bit less than that in April, he says. He also got an electric-car-charging station installed at his house for no up-front cost.

‘It’s like a two-year test drive, free,’ he says.

(MORE: Tesla Beats the Odds — and the Haters — but Now Comes the Hard Part)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Nissan sold 200 Leafs in Georgia in December, which at the time was its best month ever in the state for sales. Nissan decreased the base price of the Leaf by $6,400 in early 2013, resulting in 2,236 units sold nationally in March, its best month ever. (March sales figures strictly for Georgia aren’t available right now.)

Nissan is hardly the only automaker getting creative in its drive to make electric cars appeal to the mainstream. In order to ease the “range anxiety” concerns of drivers who fear EVs will be impractical because of limited driving range, BMW and Fiat have begun including access to gas-powered loaners or rental cars free of charge with the purchase of an electric vehicle.

Automotive News reported that Smart car is trying out another strategy to entice buyers who are worried about the potential of a car battery losing power or malfunctioning over time. The solution offered by Smart car is a special arrangement in which the ForTwo Electric is offered at a price of $20,650 — $5,100 off the usual price — and the owner rents the car battery at a cost of $80 per month. If the battery ever needs to be replaced, that’s covered with the monthly payment, as is annual maintenance.

(MORE: What Would Make an All-Electric Car Appeal to the Masses?)

In a special lease deal, Smart customers can pay $2,000 down and then $199 per month, which includes the battery rental. Tax credits can bring drivers’ monthly costs down even lower. Chevy’s Spark EV and the Fiat 500e are also available in $199-per-month lease deals, though the Spark only requires $999 down.

Finally, there’s the Fisker Karma. The flashy plug-in once sold for around $100,000. Now that production has ceased and the vehicle has been declared a flop amid horrible reviews, there’s a slight upside for bargain hunters: Fisker Karmas are now cheap! Relatively speaking, of course.

Edmunds reports that owners are trying to unload their cars via eBay and other sales outlets. Used 2012 models have been selling for under $50,000, in fact. Considering how badly Fisker Karmas have been known to perform, however, are they even worth that price?

“There might be some collector value for the cars,” says Edmunds senior editor John O’Dell. “Maybe serial Nos. 1 to 10 will have some cachet.”