We spent some time comparing recent used EV sales by model with corresponding new EV sales by model in 2015 - 2018. Used cars typically sell for the first time 3-4 years after they were sold as new cars, so this time period represents the bulk of the used EV market.

How lease rates affect used EV availability

New EVs were far more likely than combustion vehicles to be leased during this time period -- except for Tesla -- and that’s now driving what is showing up on the used EV market. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, as of 2018, “U.S. drivers now lease almost 80 percent of battery electric vehicles and 55 percent of plug-in hybrids” compared to just 30% leased on conventional vehicles.

Tesla’s leasing program was different. Although Tesla does not share its lease figures directly, Forbes put lease rates at 3% of the company’s sales in 2018, with only a slight bump to 9% in 2019 due to the addition of a Model 3 lease plan. Prior to Q2 of 2019, you could not lease the Model 3. Numbers from 2019 and later aren’t included in our analysis, so the sales of 2018 Model 3s this summer are not lease returns. Meanwhile, the lease rate on the more expensive Models S and Y are closer to 15%. Of note, Model 3 and Model Y leases cannot be purchased when the lease term ends and are not available in all states.

What this means for the used EV shopper is this: you’ll have a lot more options on 3-year-old BMW PHEV and Chevy Bolt lease returns right now. Used Tesla Model 3 sales will eventually begin to flood the market because of the raw numbers sold new but they won’t appear like clockwork 36 months after initial purchase.