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Thought I'd document a bit of our electric journey and wanted to share it here. Will continue to add more write ups.



Chapter 1 - Jumping out of one lease and into another.

A while ago, my wife and I decided that our next car would have some level of electrification. Not a traditional hybrid, but either a plug-in hybrid-PHEV (which has some electric range) or a fully electric vehicle.

And then we entered Covid, where an opportunity presented itself to move that timetable up.

It’s been interesting to watch the automotive market during the pandemic. Yes, there was a huge hit to automotive sales in the beginning (March/April/May) as everything shut down, but the industry has bounced back considerably quickly, particularly in the luxury set. Automakers turned up incentives pretty quickly to try to sustain any sort of sales volume to help keep revenue rolling. It worked! Actually maybe too well. Inventories were soon pretty depleted across the industry, especially since suppliers and factories were finding it tougher to open back up to help replenish those inventories.

What does this have to do with our going electric? It has to do with our outgoing car. We had leased a 2019 BMW X5 xDrive40i (that’s BMW speak for the 6-cylinder all-wheel drive X5) early last year. Typically, BMW leases are pretty aggressive, meaning they’re priced for a fairly low monthly payment, making them attractive to many shoppers. They do this in a multitude of ways (something we’ll deep dive into in a future post!) including boosting the lease end residual or forecasted resale value.



While nice for low lease payments, it can typically make jumping out a lease before the end financially difficult. There would typically be a big negative gap between the car’s trade in value and the payoff/buyout on the lease. However, low inventories, for new and used, started to lift values, as demand remained high.

I looked at our lease buyout value online and started to keep track of potential trade in values. While I could try to sell the X5 private party, that’s a bit involved. Could also look to transfer the lease to someone, but that could potentially take a while as well as that person needs to apply and get approved through BMW Financial. I thought if I could find a trade in value that wouldn’t be too negative, maybe we could swap out and get into something else.

At the same time, I started looking at… what could we get? We loved our X5 and BMW just released the 2021 X5 xDrive45e (again, BMW speak, this time for their new plug in hybrid). So we could keep something familiar and achieve our wish for electrification. The X5 PHEV has a pretty substantial 31 mile electric range, far above the current Volvo XC90 (just 18 miles) and the Lincoln Aviator PHEV (21 miles). Audi recently debuted a Q5 PHEV with 20 miles of range but it’s a bit tighter size wise than we’d want, more akin to the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60, which also have their respective plug ins.

After speaking with our BMW dealer, they indicated that the deal we got on our X5 would be hard to replicate on the new plug in. BMW wasn’t, at the time, providing any of the federal rebate pass through on the plug in lease as you typically see manufacturers do. So it would be a substantial payment bump to go into a new X5 PHEV. That didn’t really seem worth it.

In my research, I started to hear rumblings of some incredible lease deals on Audi e-trons. There were plenty of leftover 2019 model year e-trons, this is in September of 2020, when we typically see 2021 model year vehicles coming out. With my estimates and calculations, I figured that we could get a 2019 e-tron Prestige for LESS than our X5. This would be despite the nearly $10,000 higher sticker price on the e-tron than our X5. Making this possible was a full pass through from Audi Financial of the $7,500 federal tax credit to reduce the vehicle price, hefty potential marketing allowances that are available to dealers, as well as dealer discounts. So we had our target.

Emailed a number of local Audi dealers that had vehicles in stock in colors that we would be willing to take and laid out the deal we were looking for, basically a max discount offer with full pass through of the marketing allowance, additional dealer discounts, etc.

While waiting to hear back from that side of the equation, I got to work on firming up a potential sale/trade out of our 2019 X5. While in the past, CarMax was the only typical source for a consumer to be able to offload a car easily without having to buy a vehicle at the same time, there are now a multitude of options like Carvana, Vroom and even local dealers and national dealer groups that will provide offers on your potential vehicle sale. AutoNation has an easy online appraisal submittal, while 3rd party sites like KBB, TrueCar and Edmunds also allow you to shop your vehicle out to local dealers for bids. Through CarMax, our BMW dealer, Carvana and Vroom, I was able to secure at least one offer that was pretty close to a full buyout on our X5.

Back to the e-tron. One of the larger dealers near me hemmed and hawed a bit and in the end wasn’t willing to go that low on an e-tron deal. But one dealer a bit further out was quick in their communication and responses when I detailed my specific deal parameters. We had a deal! As one last element, knowing that dealers are generally in short supply of good clean used vehicles, asked if they’d match the top offer on our X5, so I could just do all the paperwork with one store, and also be able to drive there and drive the e-tron home without having to get my wife and daughter to come with. They confirmed a few items of the car through pics in text and confirmed that their sister BMW store would be able to match the offer. So that’s how we ended up being able to jump out of our X5 lease half way through it, with no negative gap to cover, and jump into a new (albeit 2019 model year) e-tron for a LOWER monthly payment. We also wouldn’t have to pay for premium grade gas anymore, which is starting to inch it’s way back up in price.

So that is our long story of how we made the jump to something electric. Coming up next... why not a Tesla?

 

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Inevitably, the elephant in the room when discussing getting an electric car is why not a Tesla?

Of course this makes sense, Tesla is by far and away the most popular selling electric car brand in the U.S. They’ve pushed the electric car envelope more than any other company to date. Tesla has made impressive stats around driving range, ludicrous acceleration, a direct retail model, technologies like over the air updates and their proprietary supercharging network.

But there are still many elements that keep me from getting a Tesla. Much has been documented about Tesla’s build quality and consistency, which leaves a lot to be desired, especially for their premium price points so I won’t dig more into that here. Tesla also lacks a number of general features that are becoming fairly commonplace on luxury cars and even some mainstream cars. Compared to our X5, we would lose ventilated front seats, we would lose massaging front seats, we would lose a 360 degree parking camera (although I believe this is eventually coming to the Tesla models, but maybe only with the pricey $10,000 Full Self Driving option). The Model Y and Model X don’t offer opening moonroofs and don’t have shades for their glass roofs.

One big element was also the lease price. A Model X Long Range Plus with the standard white paint, 5 Seat Configuration, has a price of $79,990. A 3 year lease with 10,000 miles per year, same as what we did on our e-tron, would be nearly $1,250 a month with no down payment (which, I wouldn’t recommend a down payment on any lease). Now, our e-tron Prestige had a sticker price of over $83,000 and the heavily discounted lease came out to less than half the monthly payment of the Model X.


Tesla Model X

In fact, our e-tron lease came just under where the lease on a Model Y would be. A Model Y Long Range, again with the standard white paint and 5 seat configuration would be just over $630 a month. And again, still missing much of the luxury and convenience features that we were able to retain in the e-tron. Yes we lose the 100+ miles of extra range and supercharger network, but as yet we don’t see the compelling need for either of those elements.


Tesla Model Y

The rest of the automotive industry is quickly launching their own electric vehicles like the Audi e-tron. Within the next 2-3 years we’ll see the Volvo XC40 Recharge, Polestar 2, Ford Mach-E, VW ID.4, NissanAriya, additional entrants from Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, BMW and Genesis as well as startups like Rivian (which just completed a real-world gauntlet in the Rebelle Rally), Lucid, Byton and numerous others. We think our lease on the e-tron will give us a great dip into the electric driving world, that allows us to retain a luxury car experience and help us bide our time while seeing what else comes out next. And who knows, maybe Tesla will turn a corner on their products as well.


XC40 Recharge


Polestar 2


Ford Mustang Mach-E


VW ID.4
 

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Great insights, especially regarding the cars coming down the line over the next year or so. Do the lease prices you mention include tax or require any kind of down payment? I still can’t believe how expensive the e-Tron was in the UK, with prices including VAT close to £80k with a decently spec’d car.
 

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Great insights, especially regarding the cars coming down the line over the next year or so. Do the lease prices you mention include tax or require any kind of down payment? I still can’t believe how expensive the e-Tron was in the UK, with prices including VAT close to £80k with a decently spec’d car.
The lease prices don't include taxes/fees. Just framed with minimal down on the Tesla (available directly on their website since they have fixed pricing). On our e-tron, the monthly isn't taxed either in our specific state, but we do have annual taxes that would bring up the effective payment, but this should be pretty close to apples to apples.

The e-tron has a pretty high sticker price in the U.S. as well, but Audi is still able to leverage the $7,500 federal tax credit and they also support it with gigantic (at least for the 2019's) incentives and marketing allowances.
 

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Going Electric Ch. 3 - Charge Me Up!

With the arrival of our fully electric Audi e-tron, I decided to look into what our charging options would be. The e-tron comes with a portable charging system as all EVs and PHEVs (plug in hybrid electric vehicles) tend to do. This one is pretty robust and comes with interchangeable dongles that can allow for a standard 120V household outlet or for an uplevel 240V outlet. It comes with a 15 foot cable, so it should reasonably be able to reach the car from an electrical outlet in your garage.


Audi’s portable charger can be fitted with level 1 (bottom) or level 2 (top) outlet dongles

Now, on a standard 120V, charging times can be LONG. Audi notes that a complete charge, from a fully depleted battery, could take upwards of 129 hours. That’s over 5 days! Now, most driving won’t leave you completely at or near 0, but if you were to drive it down low and then need to drive any significant mileage the next day, level 1 charging just isn’t going to cut it.

With a level 2 outlet and appropriate charging system set up, that same full charge could be done in just over 10 hours. I think access to daily level 2 charging at home absolutely opens up the possibilities for people to make the EV plunge, even with a vehicle with “just” over 200 miles of electric range, at least for 80 to 90% of daily driving needs. Level 2 allows you to top off every night if needed and you could start the day with full range capabilities.

Our set up:
We elected to get a dedicated charger for our garage. This would allow us to leave the portable charging system in the car for any emergency needs or if we were to go to a friend’s house and need a top off, etc.


Audi’s Portable Charger is just about the only thing that fits in the e-tron frunk

There are so many level 2 charging systems available on the market today. Many have numerous features, smartphone apps for connectivity and charge scheduling and even ties to public charging ecosystems. So be sure to see what features might be of interest or matter to you.

Some are hardwired systems that need to be tied directly into your electrical wiring, typically recommending a professional installation. Others are plug in based, where again, you may need an electrician to come install the appropriate outlet, but once you have that you would be able to plug in your charging unit, and even potentially take it with you should you move from that house. We opted for a plug in based system.

While lots of features and connectivity sound great, I didn’t see a ton of value in them. Most cars allow you to set charging parameters from within the car. And while most of the country tends to have differing electrical rates for peak/off-peak hours that would incentive charging during night time hours, Virginia actually doesn’t offer that at this time. We do still elect to move charging times to between 11 PM and 7 AM.

Prioritizing reliability and durability of the charger, my research kept me coming back to Clipper Creek. Clipper Creek is one of the original charging system companies in the country and all their reviews seemed very positive. We chose the HCS-50P, Plug-In 40 AMP unit. They all come with a 25 ft cable, which is the max allowed by electrical code. The only thing to note is that the length of cord from the charger box to your level 2 outlet is relatively short, so you’ll need to be cognizant of where your outlet is, or where you’re going to install your outlet.

Back to the outlet installation. Now, the Audi’s charge port is located closer to the front of the vehicle, alongside the front driver side quarter panel (for the 2019 model – the 2021 can have one on each side on the upper trim vehicles). So ideally we’d place the charger and outlet near the front of the garage. There’s no rhyme or reason to where electric cars and PHEVs place their respective charge ports. Some mount them on the front of the car, some on the driver side, some on the passenger side, some towards the rear of the vehicle. Teslas tend to be closer to the rear of the vehicle.

2019MY e-tron charge port is driver side only

Had we decided to install the outlet during the construction of our house a few years ago, we could have placed the outlet literally anywhere and they would have run the appropriate wiring behind the walls to do so. However, with our garage walls already finished off, we made the decision (mostly on cost) to have the outlet installed just along the electrical panel itself, which was located towards our garage door, or near where the rear of the vehicles are when you pull in. Bringing the necessary cabling to install the outlet in the front of the garage would have required either ripping into the walls or having a large conduit to be installed from the panel to the front of the garage. Luckily, the 25 foot cable would allow us to reach the charge port on the e-tron easily as long as we park on that same side of the garage.
The electricians we hired installed a new 50 AMP breaker to our electrical panel and ran the wiring to the NEMA 14-50 outlet just below the panel itself. They also took care of the necessary permitting with our county for the installation itself. With the outlet in place, we were able to easily mount our charging unit and get it plugged in within a matter of minutes.


NEMA 14-50 Outlet

Easy Plug In!

Clipper Creek Station Mounted and Plugged In!

Also, 30% of the cost (up to $1,000) of the charging system and installation of the outlet itself can be claimed for a federal tax credit, for any systems done before the end of 2020.

Charging up each night couldn’t be any easier and we can start each morning off with a full charge, eliminating any sort of range anxiety for 99% of our daily needs.

Amazon Link for the Clipper Creek Charger we bought
 
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