2013 Tesla Model S CAPTIONS ON | OFF

In an attempt to diversify purchasing options for potential customers, Tesla Motors yesterday unveiled a new 36-month leasing program for the popular Model S electric sedan that partners with banks and includes several key promises in the hopes of easing public fears about the cost of ownership.

So, how much? For the 60kWh Model S, only about $500 per month. Oh, excuse me. That’s if you factor in down payments, federal incentives, a guaranteed resale value, business write-offs, and gas savings. If that sounds like a lot of qualifiers, it is. The true out-of-pocket monthly payment is over $1,000 per month ($1,097 when I input figures that would relate to my hypothetical purchase — try it yourself here). Tesla shouldn’t be faulted for offering an alternative ownership method, but they do deserve scrutiny for skewing the numbers a bit. Then again, maybe this does turn out to be quite the deal. Does it make you more interested in buying a Model S?

After all, the Tesla Model S is not an affordable car. Nor should it be. The five seater is bloody gorgeous, blasts from 0-60 mph in about five seconds and has an all-electric range of more than 230 miles (up to 300 miles in some trims). It isn’t the car of the future, but it will probably lead to the car of the future, and that shouldn’t come cheap.

The problem is that Tesla wants to build the everyman electric car, but you can’t do that by making an expensive car appear affordable. They’ve already killed plans for the cheaper 40 kWh Model S, citing low interest, so why not just embrace that the Model S is an expensive car for people with the means?

Instead, Tesla is trying to put a price on things like gas savings and time savings and factor them into your monthly payment. Those benefits of owning a Tesla Model S are all well and good, but if I’m on the fence about buying one, they aren’t going to open my eyes and lead me down a new path. I already know about the benefits of a Model S or I wouldn’t be considering one in the first place. The Model S is a great choice for people who can afford one, but asking them to consider hypothetical pennies saved doesn’t seem like a great marketing strategy.

Which is a shame, because the lease offer is attractive. US Bank and Wells Fargo put up 10% for a down payment, which depending on your state is likely covered by tax credits anyway, and after the 36-month term your Model S will have the guaranteed resale value of a Mercedes-Benz S Class.

It’s not a bad deal. It’s just not the deal Tesla wants you to think it is.

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By Ryan ZumMallen