Bank of America Corp. plans to roll out a pilot hybrid vehicle purchase plan for employees today that could eventually make it the nation's largest corporate sponsor of the fuel-friendly cars and sport utility vehicles.
The $3,000 rebate program initially will be limited to about 21,000 bank employees working in Los Angeles County, Boston and Charlotte, N.C., where BofA is headquartered. But eventually as many as 175,000 employees in the U.S. could be eligible, spokesman Michael Chee said.
"This is a very good thing, helpful to the bank employees and to those who want to see hybrids succeed," said Ron Cogan, San Luis Obispo-based publisher of Green Car Journal.
"And because this is such a big company," said Cogan, who consults for the auto industry on alternative-fuel and low-emission technologies, "other businesses will be watching to see if it works. So it could help spur more of these programs."
BofA said it would reimburse eligible employees $3,000 of the purchase price of one of the 14 models of gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles identified by the federal government at www.fueleconomy.gov as qualifying for tax credits. The cash will be in addition to the tax break and any dealer or factory discounts or incentives.
For Toyota Motor Corp.'s $22,000 Prius, the bestselling hybrid, the total price break would be $6,150 because of a $3,150 tax credit.
A purchaser of Ford Motor Co.'s $29,000 two-wheel-drive Escape hybrid SUV, qualifying for a $2,600 federal tax credit and the automaker's no-interest loan incentive worth about $3,600 over three years, could save as much as $9,200.
Because the Prius and Honda Motor Co.'s compact Civic hybrid sedan are selling at or near the automakers' capacity to produce them, the BofA program probably will lengthen waiting lists without increasing sales. But it could provide a boost for other hybrid models, including the slower-selling Honda Accord as well as the Ford Escape and its Mercury Mariner twin.
The rebates would help erase the so-called hybrid premium that automakers charge to cover the increased costs of the gasoline-electric drive systems.
Chee of BofA said the vehicles must be 2006 or later models and must be purchased new; reimbursements will be limited to one for each eligible employee.
Although the bank's program could become the largest in terms of workers eligible, the rebate is smaller than those offered to employees by three California firms: Google Inc. of Mountain View, whose hybrid incentive program includes $5,000 for purchases; software developer Hyperion Solutions Corp. of Santa Clara, which also offers $5,000 for purchases; and Integrated Archive Systems Inc. of Palo Alto, which has a $10,000 rebate plan.