Can't afford that Ferrari? Lease it

A forest green Ferrari 275 parked next to Mr Steven Posner, chief executive of Putnam Leasing, at its showroom in Greenwich, Connecticut.
A forest green Ferrari 275 parked next to Mr Steven Posner, chief executive of Putnam Leasing, at its showroom in Greenwich, Connecticut.PHOTO: NYTIMES

NEW YORK • As a boy, Mr Bill Ceno dreamed of owning a Porsche. His parents bought him model cars. He obsessed over the 1960s cartoon Speed Racer. And in his spare time, he drew pictures of sports cars.

By age 24, he had bought the real thing: a 1978 Porsche 930 Turbo. It was 1985 and he drove the car every day.

When he was named employee of the month at the engineering firm where he worked, he parked it next to the chief executive's spot.

"He only had a Lexus and I had a Porsche 930 Turbo," he said. "That was awesome."

But as his interest in collectible supercars outpaced his capacity to pay for them, he found a way to have his dream cars: He leased them, even though they cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, and sometimes millions.

Leasing a collectible or high-performance car is a wholly different experience from leasing a Honda or a Lexus. It is a highly customised process, with negotiable terms. And it is increasingly common in a rarefied world where want trumps need.

Unlike typical cars, which decrease in value as soon as they are driven off the lot, supercars often increase in value.

The downside is they can increase so much, they become too valuable to drive.

The first luxury sports car Mr Ceno leased was a yellow 2004 Porsche Carrera GT. It cost US$360,000 in 2008. He said he had leased it because he could not afford to buy it.

Shortly after, he found a 2004 Ferrari Enzo that he coveted, but the car, which had been owned by actor Nicolas Cage, cost about US$1 million. Mr Ceno said he had put US$100,000 down and put the rest on the lease.

"The payments were probably close to US$10,000 a month," he said. "It was painful."

Today, the Porsche has doubled in value. And that Ferrari Enzo can fetch upwards of US$3 million (S$4 million).

Putnam Leasing in Greenwich, Connecticut, specialises in leasing exotic cars such as the ones Mr Ceno collects.

"You're not going to come to me to lease a Ford," said Mr Steven Posner, Putnam's chief executive.

He said a client of his had bought a sleek, convertible 1958 BMW 507 for US$2.75 million at a Gooding & Co auction.

"You definitely can't lease that through BMW Financial," Mr Posner said. "And if you go to the bank, no one is giving you a loan like that on a 1958 car."

He said a typical lease from his company for a car like that would be five years, with US$1 million down and monthly payments of about US$20,000.

Other than a monthly payment equal to the total cost of many new cars, one big difference between customised leases and manufacturers' leases is what happens to the car at the end of the lease.

Most car companies offer closedend leases. At the end of the term, typically 36 months, the lessee brings the car back and can pay the residual to own it or lease a newer model.

The lessee can also decide to switch car manufacturers and pay what is called a disposition fee - typically several hundred dollars for essentially going to another brand.

Putnam and other exotic-car leasing companies offer open-ended leases. This allows the lessee to end a lease early or extend it a few years.

But it also means that the lessee is ultimately responsible for buying the car at the end of the lease, whether the car is worth more or less than the residual amount.

People lease exotic and collectible cars for various reasons. Some do it for the cachet, while others do it simply to get to and from work.

And there are tax benefits. Business owners who lease a car for work can make the payments with pretax dollars and write it off as an expense to the business.

In states with a high sales tax, such as California, leasing allows people to defer the tax. If they were to buy or finance the car, they would have to pay the sales tax all at once, instead of monthly.

Mr Ceno, who is an engineer and owns a Web design company, said he did not buy his cars to sell them. He uses the lease as leverage.

And in most cases, he saves the money to buy the car before the lease expires.

In the case of his Ferrari Enzo, he said, he paid about US$200,000 in lease payments.

"Some people say, 'You could have saved 200,000 dollars by buying it outright,'" he said. "But I didn't have the cash. The lease allowed me to have the car."

Today, he has a collection of exotic cars worth millions of dollars - far more than the hundreds of thousands they initially cost.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 28, 2017, with the headline 'Can't afford that Ferrari? Lease it'. Print Edition | Subscribe