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You Can't Buy Tesla's $35,000 Model 3 Online Anymore

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Tesla’s long-awaited $35,000 Model 3 seemed like a great step forward for the company in terms of making electric vehicles more accessible and affordable. And now it’s not quite as accessible, all of a sudden. Tesla announced in a blog post that it is no longer offering the $35,000 base model online, like every other Model 3—and it’ll also be missing some of features that might have made buying the Model 3 so attractive in the first place.

Tesla masked the bad news in and amongst news about its Autopilot semi-autonomous system. Where customers would previously have to purchase Autopilot as a separate package, all of Tesla’s cars will now be equipped with the tech as a standard feature—and yes, that includes a price increase across the board on all of Tesla’s vehicles. Tesla notes that Autopilot will now cost less for consumers than it did when it was solely an optional feature, but they will still be paying for the technology.


So, yes, that necessitates a price increase on that Model 3.

Tesla found a way around that, though. You’ll still be able to purchase the $35,000 Model 3 Standard—but you won’t be able to do it easily. The car will no longer be available for online purchase. You’ll have to call Tesla or visit one of their dealerships to place an order.


The reasoning? Tesla claims that the Model 3 Standard Plus “sold at more than six times the rate” of the Standard. Instead of continuing to manufacture a Standard, the Standard is now going to become a “software-limited” version of the Standard Plus. The blog post states that the decision to limit the Standard is a matter of cost optimization.

Essentially, the blog post implies, it’s cheaper for Tesla to just make the hardware of one model of basic Model 3, and just decide to lock or unlock its maximum range.

Here’s what else you’ll be missing if you buy the software-limited Standard, from Tesla’s blog post:

Its range will be limited by 10%, and several features will be disabled via software (including our onboard music streaming service, navigation with live traffic visualization, and heated seats). Similar to other software-limited vehicles produced in the past, Standard customers will have the option to upgrade to a Standard Plus at any time. Similarly, anyone who has already bought Standard Plus and wants to convert to Standard is welcome to do so, and we will provide a refund for the difference in cost.


A big point of the $35,000 Model 3 seemed to be its accessibility—it was a cheaper version of Tesla’s more expensive cars, thus making it an option for anyone looking to make the switch to an electric car without sacrificing any of that Tesla pizzazz. Now, all of the features that made it so appealing—online purchase, decent range, heated seats—have been nixed on the Standard.

And it’s not that those things won’t physically be there on the car, because apparently they will. You just won’t be able to use them unless you pay up.


The decision makes sense from an economic standpoint if Tesla is selling more Standard Plus models than Standards. But that doesn’t make it any less frustrating, especially when this news is coming from a company that has previously promised one thing and then turned out to deliver another.

In and amongst the Model 3 Standard news was information on leasing. Starting today, April 12, Tesla customers will be able to lease any Model 3 variant for “an annual mileage option of 10,000, 12,000, or 15,000 miles.”


However, that too came with an interesting caveat:

Please note, customers who choose leasing over owning will not have the option to purchase their car at the end of the lease, because with full autonomy coming in the future via an over-the-air software update, we plan to use those vehicles in the Tesla ride-hailing network.


These are some more, uh, “bold” moves from Tesla, ones that won’t be spared a hard look through a critical lens. It’s frustrating to watch Tesla offer easily-accessible and more affordable versions of its cars, only to later add yet another hurdle to being able to actually acquire it.