One of the big reasons cited in polls for giving the thumbs down to an electric vehicle, besides range anxiety, is worry about having to replace the expensive battery pack. In some high-end cars, it’s a $40,000 item, so no wonder they’re concerned. High initial electric vehicle prices are also a show-stopper for some. But suppose you could rent or lease the battery instead, and grab an affordable electric car in the process?

Battery rental will be an option for American buyers of the third generation Smart Fortwo Electric Drive (as seen above), which goes on sale in May. Something like 97 percent of the car’s current European customers are opting for the rental option, scoring a lower purchase price and paying the equivalent of $83 a month for the pack. If the pack dies unexpectedly, no worries, it belongs to Smart and they’ll just give you another one. There's no word yet on what the American battery lease price will be.

The electric Smart already has the advantage of a low price, $25,750, which drops to a quite affordable $18,250 after the federal rebate. According to Tracey Matura, the rental plan went so well in Europe, “We thought, why not offer the same in the U.S.?”

Smart isn’t the only one with a plan like this. According to, you have to lease the batteries if you take delivery of any one of Renault’s four electric models in Europe (such as the amazing looking Twizy, above). And as long as you pay the lease, the battery’s guaranteed to have at least 75 percent of its full capacity. If you own the battery, the guarantee only lasts as long as the warranty period. For the Nissan Leaf in the U.S., that’s 96 months or 100,000 miles, whichever comes first.

But hold on a minute, because in Europe the Leaf (available as a Visia, Acenta or a really loaded Tekna) is available with a lease option that will save you $7,700. The battery pack leases for $108 a month, so over three years you’ll pay $3,888, and be ahead of the game. My guess is that Nissan will soon make this choice available to Americans, especially if Smart is doing it.

I drove the new Smart ED in Brooklyn last year, and was favorably impressed by both the price and many improvements—though if you can’t handle a two-seater you’ll need to look elsewhere. The car can now hit 60 mph in 11.5 seconds, which is a 50 percent improvement.

So far the Smart ED is heavily in demand in Europe, and that’s constraining deliveries to the U.S. Only about 2,000 will be available for Americans in 2013 (a third of production). Next year, they’ll be making a lot more of them.


And while we're talking about electric car bargains (or, at least, good-ish deals), there's the new 2014 electric Fiat 500e (above), which will lease for $199 a month (for 36 months, with $999 down). It's the same  price as a gas version of the car. Fiat is going to lose money on this car, but that's their worry--you can get a good deal. Fiat also says it's going to provide rebates to get the purchase price to $20,500--which is pretty shocking. Alas, it's initially available only in California, starting this summer.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Electric cars too expensive? Try renting the battery pack instead of buying it
electric cars with lease options