Alternative Motor Vehicles and the AMT

By Leo Bruette, CPA, MST, Bethesda, MD

Editor: Lorin D. Luchs, CPA, J.D., LL.M.

Effective for 2006, Congress provided a credit for alternative motor vehicles in an effort to reduce U.S. reliance on fossil fuels and imported oil (Sec. 30B). This credit replaced the above-the-line deduction under Sec. 179A for clean fuel vehicles and hybrid vehicles.

The types of vehicles that qualify for the alternative motor vehicle credit are:

  • Advanced lean burn technology vehi cles: These have an internal combustion engine that incorporates direct injection and uses more air than necessary for complete combustion of the fuel and meet certain other requirements.
  • Qualified hybrid vehicles: These draw propulsion energy from onboard sources of stored energy that are both an internal combustion or heat engine using consumable fuel and a rechargeable energy storage system and meet certain other requirements.
  • Qualified alternative fuel vehicles: These are fueled solely by compressed or liquefied natural gas, liquefied petroleum gas, hydrogen, any liquid that is at least 85% methanol, or a mixture of one of these fuels and a petroleum-based fuel and meet certain other requirements.
  • Qualified fuel cell vehicles: These are propelled by power derived from one or more cells that convert chemical energy directly into electricity by combining oxygen with hydrogen fuel and meet certain other requirements.

To qualify for the alternative motor vehicle credit, the following requirements must be met:

  • The taxpayer is the owner of the vehicle (for a leased vehicle, only the lessor is entitled to the credit);
  • The taxpayer placed the vehicle in service during the tax year;
  • The original use of the vehicle began with the taxpayer;
  • The taxpayer acquired the vehicle to use or to lease to others and not for resale; and
  • The taxpayer uses the vehicle primarily in the United States.

Once a manufacturer has sold 60,000 units, there is a phaseout of the credit for certain qualified hybrid vehicles and advanced lean burn technology vehicles. In the case of a foreign manufacturer, the credit phases out when its U.S. distributor has sold 60,000 units. Depending on the specific model, the credit for 2008 models (as listed in Form 8910) ranges from $1,300 (Chevrolet Malibu Hybrid and Saturn Aura Hybrid) to $4,000 (Honda Civic GX). The IRS announces the amounts of credits for newly certified vehicles in news releases (go to and search for “hybrids”).

Watch Out for AMT

As well intentioned as the vehicle credit program is, it can contain an unpleasant surprise for the taxpayer. The instructions for Form 8910, Alternative Motor Vehicle Credit, warn: “If your vehicle was used only for personal purposes during the year, and you owe alternative minimum tax, do not complete Form 8910 because your allowable credit will be zero.”

Although the taxpayer may not be subject to the alternative minimum tax (AMT), the tentative minimum tax must be calculated to determine the allowable credit. If the credit is claimed by the taxpayer as a personal credit, it cannot exceed the excess of the regular income tax liability reduced by the sum of nonrefundable personal credits and foreign tax credits over the taxpayer’s tentative minimum tax (Sec. 30B(g)(2)).

This is different from the other personal tax credits that practitioners are used to dealing with (child tax credit, foreign tax credit, education credit, etc.). Those personal credits can be used to reduce both regular tax and AMT liability. Thus, the tax practitioner should not assume that all credits are created equal. The details may produce unexpected results.


Lorin D. Luchs, Partner, Washington National Tax Office BDO Seidman, LLP, Bethesda, MD.

Unless otherwise indicated, contributors are members of or associated with BDO Seidman, LLP.

If you would like additional information about these items, contact Mr. Luchs at (301) 634-0250 or

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