Self-Driving Teslas? Thanks, but We’d Rather Have a Finished Model 3

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - AUGUST 10: A Tesla Model X is displayed inside of the new Tesla flagship facility on August 10, 2016 in San Francisco, California. Tesla is opening a 65,000 square foot store, its largest retail center to date. The facility will offer sales and service of Tesla's electric car line. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Self-driving Tesla technology will be in every brand EV as of October 2016 | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Remember the race Tesla started to an affordable electric vehicle that could travel 200 miles? That was fun, but General Motors came out the winner. Granted, everyone thought Model 3 was cooler and loved its lower sticker price. But we haven’t seen a finished product or heard anything about range ever since the half-debut. Tesla’s big announcement of October 19 was about the company’s self-driving capabilities. Thanks, but we’d rather learn what Model 3 can do without pricey options.

To be fair, the vision Elon Musk charted in Part II of his master plan continues apace. Tesla said every car it produces beginning in Fall 2016 would have full self-driving hardware, putting Tesla light-years ahead of the competition in this technology of the future. It utilizes eight surround cameras, a dozen ultrasonic sensors, and multiple details consumers are unlikely to understand. So Tesla is ready to party like it’s 2021. What does this have to do with EVs exactly?

The Tesla  announcement made in October was all about self-driving features and only indirectly about Model 3 | Tesla

Forgive us, but we never heard of “self-driving anxiety.” We know some people have taken stands against Autopilot, but that was “too soon” rather than not enough. People didn’t camp out overnight or wait in line for hours to get a car that could drive them to the store when they were feeling sleepy. They wanted a stylish electric car they could enjoy and also afford.

They didn’t get that from the “product unveiling” Musk originally hyped on October 9. Meanwhile, GM has been giving green car consumers what they want as details about the Chevy Bolt EV circulate.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt
2017 Chevrolet Bolt | Chevrolet

Bolt EV got the EPA’s stamp of approval to claim 238 miles of range on a full charge, and its price is confirmed at $37,495 before options and incentives (but after destination charges). Early tests by auto journalists sang Bolt’s praises for handling, energy consumption, acceleration, and interior comfort. Meanwhile, we know Bolt has another advantage over Model 3: It will have federal tax credits available to more early buyers.

These details — range, price, and the potential to access incentives — mean everything to consumers who want to go electric but haven’t had the product to make it real. Strangely enough, GM is the one delivering that promise. With the announcement its new hardware is going in every car, Tesla is telling Model 3 reservation holders how they can spend more money before confirming everything else.

In a new Tesla Model S, the price for full autonomy is $8,000. Musk did not announce what self-driving would cost in a Model 3, but we know it isn’t free. We don’t know a great deal more about the increasingly elusive car that appeared in March then racked up hundreds of thousands of deposits. However, activating the self-driving features that come in any car will cost Model 3 drivers a pretty penny, even if it isn’t as high as S or X drivers will pay.

Announcements about Model 3 would attract far more attention | Tesla

The beauty of Tesla’s original master plan was its simplicity. Musk wanted to sell expensive electric cars so he could make an affordable one for the mass market. Then sustainable transport could become a reality. He’d even have the solar energy system to make it emissions-free. Speaking for any number of environmental enthusiasts, this plan was extraordinary and seemed possible when Model 3 appeared.

A little over six months later, Tesla jumped to Part II of the plan. The second installment included Musk’s vision for car-sharing, autonomous driving, and more vehicle types. It will take until late 2017 to have major testing done of the autonomous features, so Model 3 will precede this roll-out (we hope). But we’re not sure about the timing or the priority list here.

The millennials most interested in electric cars can barely afford a Model 3 with the $7,500 subtracted. What will they do with self-driving options? Most likely, they won’t do anything with them. Now that Tesla is focusing on the mass market, it should listen more closely to what its new customers want. They would like to drive the Model 3 sooner rather than later. We can’t wait for an announcement on that front.

Connect with Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY