Way back in 2016 when the Tesla Model 3 was first revealed, CEO Elon Musk promised a starting price of $35,000. After nearly three years, the least expensive Model 3 is finally available to order. The base—or Standard, as Tesla calls it—Model 3 starts at $36,200 and comes with an estimated range of 220 miles.
To help get it down to the promised $35,000 starting price, Tesla simplified the features on the Standard Model 3. Inside, you’ll find manually adjusted cloth seats, “base” trim, a basic audio system, and a basic navigation system. The only exterior color available at no charge is black (all others run an extra $1,500 to $2,500), and black is apparently the only available interior color. (Is this the Model 3 or the Model T?) You do still get a tinted glass roof with the Standard, however, along with four USB ports in the center console. The single-motor Standard Tesla Model 3 is estimated to hit 60 mph in 5.6 seconds and reach a top speed of 130 mph. That’s a couple seconds off the pace of a dual-motor Tesla Model 3 Performance (pictured here), but probably quick enough for most.
Another way Tesla was able to bring the price down was by switching exclusively to online sales. Soon, the only way you’ll be able to purchase a Tesla will be through your phone or a computer. Tesla says by doing this it will be able to lower prices across its lineup by 6 percent on average. As a result of the switch, many Tesla stores will begin winding down operations over the next few months. A “small number” of stores located in high-traffic areas will be converted to galleries, showcases, or information centers, the company says. According to Tesla, going online-only will allow customers in all states to buy a Tesla “quickly and easily.” In a conference call with the press, Tesla said online sales circumvent franchise laws, which have dogged the company ever since it first rolled out its direct sales approach.
If you’re wondering how test drives are going to work, Tesla’s statement announcing the new models addressed this by noting that customers can now return a car for a full refund within seven days or 1,000 miles of purchase. “Quite literally, you could buy a Tesla, drive several hundred miles for a weekend road trip with friends and then return it for free,” Tesla said. What Tesla plans to do with all the 1,000-mile joyridden cars it takes back is unknown. In that same post, Tesla said it’s investing in its service system. Its goal is to offer same-day service, if not same-hour service, by dispatching technicians directly to the customer. Musk said on the call that Tesla is hiring significantly more technicians.
In addition to the base Model 3, Tesla also announced a Model 3 Standard Range Plus, which can travel 240 miles on a charge and offers more premium features for $38,200. That car is said to accelerate from zero to 60 mph in 5.3 seconds and achieve a top speed of 140 mph. Tesla says the Standard model and the Standard Range Plus have battery packs with fewer cells rather than being limited by a software. The Standard Range Plus gets “premium” seat material and trim, an upgraded audio system, LED fog lights, and a center console with docking for two smartphones. According to the configurator, black is again the only no-cost exterior color, though a white interior is available for $1,000. On both Standard versions, Autopilot is a $3,000 option. Additionally, the $5,000 Full Self-Driving Capability package returns after being removed from the site last year.
During the conference call, Musk again said he believes there’s demand for half a million Model 3s per year. Tesla previously said it expects to deliver between 360,000 and 400,000 total vehicles in 2019. Musk also said reservation holders will have priority for ordering the Standard model. As you may recall, more than 500,000 people plunked down the $1,000 needed to reserve a Model 3, and many of them were waiting on the promised $35,000 model. However, constant delays led to a number of cancellations. International orders will take three to six months, according to Musk, plus another month or so to ship. The CEO, who was recently reprimanded by the Securities and Exchange Commission for violating a previous settlement over misleading tweets, said future Tesla models coming in three years will cost less than $35,000. Musk would not reveal profit margins on the Standard Model 3.
A lot has changed in the EV space since the Tesla Model 3 first debuted. The entry-level Model 3 will face competition from other low-priced electric cars like the 2019 Hyundai Kona Electric, which starts at $37,495 but has a higher range of 258 miles. The Kona Electric is also eligible for the $7,500 federal tax credit. As we previously reported, tax credits will be gradually phased out for new Teslas because the company hit the 200,000-vehicle lifetime threshold last July. In addition to the Kona Electric, there are the related Kia Niro EV and Soul EV, and the big-battery Nissan Leaf Plus, which are all expected to be priced in the $35,000 range. Then of course there’s the Chevrolet Bolt, which was the first low-cost EV to be done well. With its abbreviated feature set, it will be interesting to see if the Standard Model 3 stands a chance against the competition when just three years ago it looked like a world-beater.
Collin Woodard contributed to this post.