How to bypass nearly every restriction of the EV tax credit by leasing

Last week, the IRS updated the EV tax credit with new battery sourcing requirements set to go into place on April 17, with the effect of lowering purchase credit amounts for many new EVs.

But since the law defines individual and commercial credits differently, those requirements – along with MSRP and income requirements – can be bypassed on consumer-leased vehicles.

The Inflation Reduction Act changed the way EV tax credits are defined, making them simultaneously more complicated and more restrictive but also increasing their availability to more total vehicles in the long run.

There are a lot of new requirements, including maximum MSRP (which differs for cars and trucks/SUVs), income limits for taxpayers, and new battery requirements. Plus, cars need to be assembled in North America to qualify. This means several vehicles no longer get a tax credit after the changes last August.

The tax credit is also nonrefundable, which means that taxpayers need to make enough money to have $7,500 of tax liability to be reduced, but not enough to be above the income limit. Additionally, taxpayers need to wait until they file their taxes in order to take advantage of the credit, which means they have to front the $7,500 and get it back later. But both of these downsides will be fixed next year when the tax credit is due to become available upfront at the point of sale.

“One simple trick” to bypass tax credit restrictions

But all of these complications can seemingly be avoided with one simple trick! – leasing.

Per an IRS note from December, EVs can avoid the foreign-assembly restriction of the law if they are leased, not purchased. This interpretation was originally pushed for by South Korean automakers who felt jilted by the domestic assembly provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act. Hyundai and Kia have been the best-selling non-American EV brands in the US with their excellent Ioniq 5 and EV6 (built on the E-GMP platform), so these changes threatened to take the wind out of their sails (and sales).

The reason for this is due to two different sections of the law: 30D and 45W. Section 30D deals with individual purchase credits, and 45W deals with commercial credits. One is meant to stimulate personal vehicle purchases, while the other is intended to stimulate large commercial EVs like buses and dump trucks but also smaller vehicles for purchase or lease in commercial fleets.

All of the aforementioned restrictions are only present in section 30D of the law, not section 45W. Commercial vehicles can be over 80k MSRP, they can be assembled outside of NA, their battery sourcing isn’t as controlled, and buyers can make more than $150k income.

The “loophole” comes in due to the IRS’ December interpretation of how leases are categorized. IRS states in their fact sheet (topic G, Q5) that businesses that lease vehicles are allowed to claim the commercial EV tax credit for each leased vehicle. This means that as long as the vehicle fulfills the relatively minor requirements of 45W (and is a “bona fide lease” as laid out in Q6 of the same fact sheet), then a lessor (i.e., the manufacturer’s leasing arm) can file for the $7,500 EV tax credit. This applies regardless of whether the lessee is a business or an individual.

Presumably, then, the lessor would be able to pass along those savings in the form of reduced lease payments.

Some brands already offering $7,500 off leases

So far, this particular workaround has not gotten much press. Since these credits are filed for on the back end by dealerships and don’t really require action from the consumer, it’s up to dealers to notice this and offer lease discounts.

But consumers should still know about these deals, as EVs are often cheaper than their MSRP might suggest. For many years, under the old credit, you’d routinely see an EV with around $30k MSRP leasing for approximately $199 per month.

A few manufacturers have already started offering lease discounts. Hyundai is offering significant discounts on the Hyundai Kona EV and the excellent Hyundai Ioniq 5. Polestar has a “Clean Vehicle Lease Rebate” on the Polestar 2 (which it says will expire May 1, though there is nothing in the law suggesting that will happen), and Lucid offers $7,500 off on leases as well. Tesla’s head of policy recently acknowledged that the law allows for this interpretation, but Tesla hasn’t announced any specific lease discount.

As word gets out about this workaround, we would hope to see more companies offer lease discounts and for EV leasing to perhaps become more prominent, especially among those brands that don’t qualify for the full EV tax credit. For example, the Chevy Bolt EV and Bolt EUV, the Ford Mach-E, E-Transit, Escape PHEV, and Corsair PHEV, and the standard range Tesla Model 3 are all expected to have their credit amounts reduced come April 17.

But for all of these cars, due to the way the commercial tax credit works, it looks like leasing could give access to the full $7,500. It’s just on the dealers to file for it and pass it along to the consumer.

However, given that the EV market is still impacted by high demand and low availability, some brands and dealers may think they don’t need to pass along these savings because they’ll be able to sell or lease cars regardless to a populace that ravenously demands the limited available supply. We’re not seeing those “$199 per month” EV lease deals that we used to see (and which we catalog here on Electrek) because EV demand is just so high right now.

Hopefully, if EV demand starts to normalize, this will be reflected in EV lease prices. Then, we might see some big growth in EV leasing as consumers see that better deals are available.

But EV demand might not normalize until ICE cars die out, which is a trend we’re seeing signs of in China right now and which could repeat in other markets as well.

Electrek’s Take

We noticed this “loophole,” if you want to call it that, a little while ago but thought it was too good to be true. If leasing means the foreign assembly provision could be bypassed, as we learned in the IRS note in December, then why can’t other 30D provisions be worked around?

But this isn’t necessarily solely a positive development. On the one hand, it makes the process much simpler for the consumer since you can just lease any car, and the tax credit gets dealt with by someone else. No need for a fancy flowchart; just go in and get a cheaper lease.

But on the other hand, it also undermines the whole point of the law. The IRA was passed to encourage domestic manufacturing, particularly of green vehicles. And it has done so – the Biden Administration says that $45 billion in EV manufacturing investments have been made since the law was passed, and it looks like there’s more to come.

These boosts in manufacturing are important, because as mentioned above, EV supply lags far behind EV demand, and I believe the best way to accelerate EV adoption is to actually start building them. Knowledge of this workaround could jeopardize the strides we’ve made in EV manufacturing commitments.

If companies can easily get around those domestic assembly provisions with a lease, then that could give them less incentive to accelerate their domestic EV manufacturing plans. US Senator Joe Manchin, who was instrumental in crafting the domestic assembly provisions of the IRA and getting the law passed in the first place, has spoken out against this lenient interpretation of the commercial credit, even calling it a “betrayal.”

That said, leasing makes up a small percentage of the car market (less than one-fifth) and an even smaller percentage of the EV market (about one-tenth). Many consumers just would rather not lease. There are plenty of people who could get away with – and even save lots of money from – not owning a car. But part of the psychological draw of owning a car is the idea of freedom that it gives you, and leases take away some of that freedom – it’s not your car, and you’re not allowed to use it exactly how you want: mileage restrictions, worries about penalties for scratches or dings at lease end, etc.

So there’s still some incentive for manufacturers to announce more car and battery factories since it’s unlikely that leasing will make up a majority of EV sales, even with big incentives. Even when lease deals were rampant, they still didn’t make up a majority of EV sales.

Of course, demand is still much higher than supply. So companies should be announcing car factories and battery factories everywhere all the time. Nobody is ramping up fast enough, so they should all take any excuse to ramp up faster, both due to the market and the ever-important threat of climate change.

So even though everything about these tax credits has been somewhat, let’s say, “inartful” in its implementation, I think, on the whole, we’ve gotten close to an end-point of a law that expands the availability of tax credits to more people, while still also encouraging increased domestic manufacturing and a multipolar EV manufacturing environment. This will have beneficial aspects both for US EV adoption and for the industry in general.

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