The last new car you can buy in America for $10,000? Depends on "you"

How many of you would love to buy a brand new car for only $10,000?

Officially, no U.S. automaker has a vehicle that stickers for less than $10,000 today; the cheapest is the Nissan Versa sedan that starts at $11,990. You may see the rare dealer advertise a brand-new car at $9,995 or so, but those are loss-leaders that hide a bundle of hidden fees.

Not this model. This car does come with all the things you would expect from a basic commuter. Four working doors. Wheels that spin. A motor. Brakes too! It even has functional seats, a radio, a steering wheel, and a horn. And, oh yes, it is legal in all 50 states —even Canada.


In fact, it's not a bad car at all, if frugality is your thing. This cheap electric car will give you the equivalent of over 100 miles per gallon, and the manufacturer is currently providing a five-year, 60,000-mile powertrain warranty to boot. (And yes, because it's electric, you would get the sweet, sweet HOV lane pass in many states.)

So if your only concern is to get from point A to point B, and those two points are no more than say, 50 or 60 miles apart, this may be the car for you.

What is it?

Mitsubishi i-MiEV
Mitsubishi i-MiEV

The Mitsubishi i-MiEV: the car with a name that makes you think of a sticky caps lock button. It looks a bit like a rolling bug-like mutation from a Japanese science fiction movie. But in terms of daily driving, it performs just like any other basic electric vehicle with a strictly limited range of 62 miles.

I'm assuming that most of you need a car that can drive a bit further out. Then again, most folks already have a second car that can do that. So let's say for argument's sake that you want to consider a nice cheap new car like this one that can do the job. Can you really get all this for $10,000?

Well, unfortunately. like most teaser prices, this one comes with a toilet-paper roll of small print. To help you figure out whether you qualify, Yahoo Autos has created this nice little cheat sheet for you.

Did your state win the War Of Northern Aggression?

If your state emerged victorious in the Civil War, then sorry, this car will cost anywhere from $16,000 to $23,000 once all the other hidden costs are added up. Call it a Damn Yankee tax if you must.

Does your state have frequent mudslides/drought, occasional rioting, or the Oakland Raiders?

You may come close to the $10,000 price. California is offering a $2,500 tax credit for buying this mobile insectozoid along with a $7,500 federal tax credit. It will probably cost somewhere in the $12,000 to $13,000 range if you can jump through all the other hoops. Oh, and before you get too excited...

Will you have at least $46,300 in taxable income this year? 

If you're single, or married and filing separately, you can get the full $7,500 federal tax credit. Married couples will need to make at least $56,000. This federal tax credit can't be carried forward unless you can say yes to the next question.

Will you use it only for your own business?

The federal tax credit can carry forward to future years if you use this car exclusively for your own business. Any business need with a driving range of less than 62 miles will do. Own a golf course? Open the hatch and give the keys to your caddie. Oh, and there's one more loophole to jump through.

Do you live in a state where donkeys may not be kept in bathtubs?

Those wacky Georgians. Besides banning creative holding pens for livestock, Georgia is the only state to provide a healthy $5,000 state tax credit for electric vehicles. This brings the total, minus what other taxpayers subsidize, all the way down to $8,950 (Average transaction $21,450 minus $12,500 in tax credit).

However if you add back state taxes of $1,535, we're still over the $10,000 mark at $10,435, so the average citizen of this donkey-loving state is not quite there yet. There is one other small loophole within the loophole of the loophole's loophole.

Are you a member of the military?

Active or retired, members of our armed forces can almost always get a $500 discount off of whatever vehicle they're shopping for at the moment. This brings the total down to $9,935. Congratulations! You are ... out of luck.


There are dealer fees to consider. Documentation fees. Preparation fees. Title and tag fees. Fees named after the dealer's pet dog. Nobody ever escapes from a new-car dealership these days without paying the fee. Which gets me to the absolute last loophole you must jump through.

Are you a car dealer?

Car dealers don't have to pay state sales taxes for what they eventually sell. They can simply add the vehicle to their own inventory, drive it around with a dealer tag, and deduct it off their state and federal taxes.

So it comes down to this: The very dealers who are lobbying to get Tesla banned from selling vehicles in Georgia are also the only citizens in the entire country who can buy a brand-new electric vehicle for less than $10,000.

America's last $10,000 car will only be available for approximately 0.0003% of the population (about 930 people), thanks to the convoluted process by which we try to promote clean driving. Which begs the question. How many Mitsubishi i-MiEVs have sold in the first 10 months of 2014?

Total: 166. Most of us, it seems, would rather pay a little more — and the dealers are only too happy to oblige.