When Tesla announced it would be selling a $35,000 electric car, thousands of potential customers put down deposits on the Model 3. It took two years for Tesla to start selling the Model 3 at that price, and it now appears that the company may be discouraging consumers from buying the entry-level Model 3 by removing it from its online ordering system.
In a post to its corporate blog, Tesla announced equipment and pricing changes to its lineup, including the addition of Tesla's Autopilot semi-autonomous driving system as standard equipment on all models, effectively lowering the system's price. The post also said Tesla was pulling the base Model 3 Standard from the menus on its online ordering system. It's not clear how making Autopilot standard equipment will affect the price of the base Model 3, so we have asked Tesla to clarify. In the meantime, if you want to buy a $35,000 Tesla, you're going to have to visit a Tesla showroom or contact the company by phone. The Model 3 Long Range Rear-Wheel Drive has also been removed from the online menu, which Tesla says will now be optimized for the three most popular Model 3 editions.
You won't be able to buy a base Model 3 online, but you will now be able to go online and lease a Model 3, a choice previously unavailable for that car. For a three-year, 10,000-mile-per-year lease, the monthly payment will work out to $504, with a $3,000 down payment and $4,199 due at signing. Unlike conventional vehicle leases, however, consumers won't have the option for an end-of-lease purchase. Tesla intends to use out-of-lease vehicles for its planned ride-sharing venture.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk first floated the idea of ride-share Teslas back in 2016. The company even equips the Model 3 with a camera, mounted on the rear view mirror, it says, to monitor possible damage by ride sharers. Privacy concerns have prompted the sale of aftermarket covers for those cameras.
Tesla says the changes are a reaction to how well the Standard Plus Model 3 version is selling compared to the $35,000 Standard model. Tesla is selling about six times as many Standard Plus Model 3s as the Standard. As a result, the Standard now will be “software limited.” Range will be reduced by 10 percent, and onboard music streaming, heated seats, and navigation with live traffic visualization are now deleted.
Since it is just a software change, buyers of the Standard models will be able to upgrade to Standard Plus at any time, for a fee. Standard Plus owners will also be able to downgrade to Standard level if they find they don't need the Plus features, with Tesla refunding the price difference between the two models.
Bloomberg reports that analysts are concerned that recent changes to Tesla's lineup and retail sales strategy have created confusion for consumers and skepticism from investors. As of Thursday's closing, Tesla's stock price has dropped 19 percent since the beginning of the year.