Tesla often does things contrary to how cars have traditionally been sold, and their Model Y rollout scheme was no exception. While carmakers often dangle the lowest-price models and then try to ramp up the price with options, Musk and company essentially do the opposite.
The company started as a purveyor of high-end, high-margin EVs costing six figures and then eventually moved downmarket to the Model 3, which starts at $35,000 for the most option-stripped Standard model. But before you could get a Tesla Model 3 on the (relative) cheap, the company produced the (much) more expensive Long Range, AWD and Performance models first. Money made on the higher-margin cars supposedly would help pay to build the less-profitable but more mass-market Standard variants. At least, that’s the reasoning CEO Elon Musk has given for the unorthodox strategy. And when the company was hit with over 400,000 pre-orders for the Model 3, it seemed all was going according to plan, until it wasn’t.
Whether it’s a viable strategy in the long run remains to be seen, but for many perspective EV buyers hoping to put a shiny Tesla in the driveway, there’s a question as to what comes – and doesn’t come – in the most basic Model 3 versus the more spendy variants.
So Forbes spent some time on the Tesla configurator checking and unchecking option boxes to see how little it might cost to reel in a Model 3, and what exactly is included at that price. The answer came pretty quickly, but with a bit of confusion.
Clicking on the Model 3 “custom order” button on the front page of the Tesla site drops you right onto the Model 3 build and version options page, landing on the basic Standard configuration, which has a price of… $26,950. With an asterisk.
That enticing figure is a misnomer, if not entirely disingenuous, as it’s calculated to include the current Federal tax rebate ($3,750) and an estimate on gas savings ($4,300). How Tesla came up with the latter number is a bit of mystery, as some of the cars will certainly be lightly driven (saving less on gas) while others will see hundreds of miles of daily duty ferrying families, rideshare riders and commuters to and fro (saving more).
Rest assured, when it comes time to pay for the car, it’s going to cost at least $35,000 in cash (more if you finance it), and as the site says when it comes time to “check out” with your purchase, taxes and fees will also apply. But these aren’t detailed either since it’s likely to vary state to state, so that bad news will likely arrive closer to the delivery date.
You’ll need to clear $2,500 worth of space on your credit card to put down a deposit and then wait six to eight weeks for your car to arrive. Also, depending on the state you live in, there may be additional rebates or tax credits, saving you some additional funds. So, the true final price is a bit complicated, but the hard number on the Tesla site is $35,000 for the most basic Model 3, so that number is the baseline.
At the bottom left corner of the site is where the truth is laid out in terms of pricing, in a small clickbox showing the price before and after “savings.” The $35,000 figure is there, and clicking the “Cash/Loan” box will also give you approximate monthly payments ($485/month) if you go that route. It’s a bit of game on price by Tesla, sadly, and unneeded. Tesla certainly wants customers to understand that they won’t need to buy gas and will save on that traditionally major ongoing automotive expense, but there are much better ways to do that than with a misleading price point and an asterisk.
Clicking the big blue NEXT bottom in the bottom right corner takes you through color, interior and Autopilot options. The site always defaults to the most basic included options, and just four quick clicks later it’s time to check out with your bare-bones basic black $35,000 Model 3.
Here’s what you get:
Basically, it’s all black. Black paint, black interior, black wheels. Henry Ford would approve. And if you’re into simplicity, this is the car for you as it includes manual seat adjustment, manual steering wheel adjustment, cloth seats, and a basic audio system (but with Bluetooth). Tesla lists the performance specs as providing 220 miles of range (EPA estimate) and a respectable 0-60 time of 5.6 seconds. Top speed is 120 miles an hour. So, it’s no slouch.
Tech-wise, even the stripper model still has the goods, including the big central touch screen with “standard” maps and navigation, A/C, the full tinted glass roof, side mirrors that dim, fold and are heated, custom driver profiles for multiple drivers, and four USB plugs in the center cubby for juicing up phones.
Here’s what you don’t get, compared to the next option level up, which tacks on $2,500 and is called the “Standard Range Plus”:
LED fog lamps, dual smartphone docks, a more “immersive” audio system, and 12-way electric and heated front seats with more premium materials and trim. The Plus variant also bumps performance up a bit, with 240 miles of range (+20), a 130mph top speed (+10) and 0-60 in 5.3 seconds instead of 5.6.
Not included in either version of the Standard car is any sort of self-driving Autopilot tech, which adds either $3,000 or $8,000 to the price depending on if you want the basic setup or the full-blown autonymous-capable kit. Also not included is a charger, and you don’t get free Supercharging with either Standard variant. Home chargers ring in at about $500 plus installation, which is similar to installing a 220-volt appliance. A checkbox at the end of the build procedure tells Tesla you’re interested in pricing a home charging setup.
Is the Plus a worthy upgrade from the most basic version of the Model 3? That’s a fairly good basket of perks for $2,500, or about 7% over the base price, especially when it includes a range increase of almost 10%. More is always better in that category.
Whether the basic black Model 3 is worth it depends on the buyer. At this point, $35,000 is still a good chunk of change for a car for most people, but if that buyer is set on going full electric, it’s arguably the best deal out there in terms of performance, safety, and innovation. Whether the look of the car (especially the simplistic interior) is a draw or negative is up for debate. But seeing how the company was buried under pre-orders when it was announced, it seems Tesla’s gamble there is paying off.
And how much is a Model 3 if you want every possible option in the top-tier car, known as the Performance model? $71,000, without any asterisks.