The Tesla Model 3 first entered “production,” if that’s what you wanted to call it back then, almost two years ago in 2017. But it’s been impossible to actually buy the long-promised $35,000 base model of the car that so many were hoping would to help them enter the electric future. Until now.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced the bottom-dollar Model 3 today. It’s been a long time coming, as Tesla was reportedly unable to even build the car for less than $38,000, let alone sell it at $35,000.
Tesla’s own website now, however, shows a $35,000 Model 3 ready for delivery in two to four weeks, before any tax rebates. Reservation holders get first dibs, of course:
Tesla’s been able to bring the price down, in part, by offering a much more basic interior. Gone are the leather, big sound system, and some navigation screen features:
And it’ll make do with a 220-mile battery range, which is pretty much spot-on with the long-range version of the Nissan Leaf, and a hair under the Chevy Bolt, which has an EPA-rated range of 238 miles.
All Tesla Model 3s, however, will still come with the tinted glass roof, auto dimming, power folding, heated side mirrors, and Bluetooth connectivity.
The good news for enthusiasts, if not a whole lot of Tesla employees, is that even the shorter-range battery makes things pretty quick, as is the Model 3's general calling card, hustling from zero to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds. And while that’s not exactly supercar territory these days, it’s still enough to keep up with a Subaru WRX in a straight line.
Plus, if you really want to eke out that last bit of juice from the standard battery, Tesla’s offering an option box called “Standard Range Plus,” which gets you an extra 20 miles of range, an extra 10 mph on the top speed, and an extra 0.3 seconds shaved off that zero to 60 mph time.
But one of the other ways that Tesla is saying it’s been able to bring down the cost of the Model 3 is through a blood sacrifice. The company said in a blog post that it will be closing “many” of its existing locations, making all purchases online.
It’ll be turning what remains into “galleries” (emphasis mine):
Shifting all sales online, combined with other ongoing cost efficiencies, will enable us to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average, allowing us to achieve the $35,000 Model 3 price point earlier than we expected. Over the next few months, we will be winding down many of our stores, with a small number of stores in high-traffic locations remaining as galleries, showcases and Tesla information centers. The important thing for customers in the United States to understand is that, with online sales, anyone in any state can quickly and easily buy a Tesla.
“We will be closing some stores, and there will be some reduction in headcount as a result. Yeah,” Musk said on a conference call announcing the new pricing and strategy. “There’s no other way to provide this car and maintain sustainability. There’s no way around it.”
“That’s not today’s topic. Next question,” Musk snapped to a reporter when asked on the call how many would be losing their jobs.
But the choice was either the dealerships or the car, Musk added.
“I wish there was some other way, but we have a binary choice of providing a $35,000 car with fewer people, or not provide a $35,000 car,” he said.
On the other hand, this new online-ordering-only system is apparently allowing Tesla to spend more on its service centers:
At the same time, we will be increasing our investment in the Tesla service system, with the goal of same-day, if not same-hour service, and with most service done by us coming to you, rather than you coming to us.
And you’ll now be able to just straight up borrow a Model 3 from Tesla, if you so feel like it, for free:
We are also making it much easier to try out and return a Tesla, so that a test drive prior to purchase isn’t needed. You can now return a car within 7 days or 1,000 miles for a full refund. Quite literally, you could buy a Tesla, drive several hundred miles for a weekend road trip with friends and then return it for free.
But the news about the base Model 3, which was Musk’s original goal for Tesla dating back to 2006, and the impending employee layoffs, cannot be untangled from the latest news about Musk himself.
Musk was removed as Chairman of Tesla after his infamous “funding secured” tweet in a deal with the Securities and Exchange Commission, in exchange for being allowed to remain as CEO of the company.
But after yet another tweet that had the potential to move the company’s share price without it getting pre-approved from a company lawyer, the SEC has filed a contempt of court claim. As of yet, the SEC isn’t asking for any specific consequences, but that’s probably taking up a lot of Elon’s headspace right now, too.