Working for a bank usually doesn't entitle you to free cash. But Bank of America is giving its employees $3,000 - albeit before taxes - when they purchase an environmentally friendly hybrid vehicle.
That's on top of a tax credit of up to $3,150 that hybrid buyers get from the Internal Revenue Service.
About 4,000 Bank of America employees in Maryland are eligible for the rebate, along with 181,000 employees nationwide.
The bank hopes the program will be well-received here, one of the fastest-growing commuter areas in the country.
"A lot of people spend time in their cars and are concerned about air quality," said Laura L. Gamble, Maryland president of Bank of America, who has employees who make the daily commute from York, Pa., to Baltimore and from greater Baltimore to Washington. "This gets to the heart of it."
Hybrids are still but a sliver of overall car sales in the U.S., but growing. J.D. Power and Associates Automotive Forecasting expects hybrid sales to account for 2.1 percent of the 16.5 million cars and sport utility vehicles sold this year, or about 346,000.
By 2009, J.D. Power analysts predict that hybrid sales will nearly double to about 4 percent of all passenger car sales, or 673,000 hybrids sold.
Gamble just happens to be in the market for a new car and recently test-drove a hybrid Toyota.
Gamble said she was struck by how quiet the hybrid's engine sounded, and when she applied the breaks to stop, the engine idled down and the battery kicked in, conserving fuel and reducing emissions. With the incentive from her employer, she said she will most likely buy one.
To qualify for the rebate, employees must purchase one of the 44 hybrid models eligible for the federal Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit from the IRS.
The size of the tax credit depends on the model and how many cars the manufacturer has sold. Once a manufacturer sells more than 60,000 hybrids, the tax credit is reduced over the course of a year until it is completely phased out.
The Bank of America program is a one-time offer and open to U.S. employees who work at least 20 hours per week. The vehicle must be new; leased and used cars are not eligible.
If Gamble were to purchase a new Toyota Prius, the most popular hybrid, she would receive the $3,000 pre-tax Bank of America rebate and a federal tax credit worth $1,575 - making a nice dent in the manufacturer's suggested retail price of $22,795, according to Kelley Blue Book.
If she were to opt for a hybrid SUV such as the two-wheel- drive Ford Escape, she would qualify for a $2,600 tax break from the IRS in addition to the rebate from her employer toward the manufacturer's retail price of $26,320.
Bank of America introduced the program last June in three pilot cities: Boston, Charlotte, N.C., and Los Angeles. Hybrid purchases by employees have quadrupled since then, said Bank of America spokesman Ernesto Anguilla.
"There was enough demand for the program to justify rolling it out nationally," he said.
However, he declined to say how many hybrids were purchased under the deal.
Bank of America Chief Executive Officer Kenneth D. Lewis was scheduled to announce the rollout last night in New York City during his opening remarks at the Urban Innovation Symposium, the first in a series co-sponsored by the bank discussing the economics of "green" building.
The rebate is part of the bank's overall environmental campaign, which includes reducing energy and paper consumption and building what it calls the "most environmentally sound skyscraper" at One Bryant Park in New York City.
Another "green" building is under construction in the bank's hometown of Charlotte, N.C.
While the company has similar initiatives in Maryland, Gamble said the hybrid program will likely be the most visible.
"This is an outgrowth of our concern for the community," she said.