Tesla Model 3 Will Start at $35,000, But Prepare to Wait

tesla model s
Model S | Source: Tesla

Let the Model 3 waiting game begin. While Tesla executives were pelted with questions at the company’s February earnings call, CEO Elon Musk gave consumers what they want: details on the Fremont-based automaker’s first affordable electric vehicle. Addressing the endless speculation, Musk confirmed the Model 3 will show its face in March, debut with an MSRP of $35,000 in 2017, and be available for reservations at a mere $1,000. Beyond that, things are a little complicated.

We’ll start with the reveal. While we once hoped we’d see the Model 3 concept in March, we may have to settle for a glimpse from some enticing angle. According to Musk (full earnings call transcript), he and his team are still deciding “whether we should show all the cards or keep a few cards close to the vest.” So in the worst-case scenario, we’ll be seeing the car in bits and pieces throughout the spring. The opening look comes on March 31, so they certainly pushed that deadline to the limit.

On the subject of pricing, there was great news in that $35,000 would remain as the base MSRP. Musk went one step further and revealed via Twitter that reservations of $1,000 would be accepted beginning March 31 and would be the same whether customers want heavy-option models or stripped-down editions closer to the base price. In this regard, the Model 3 already offers an improvement over the rollout of Model X, whose Signature Series models required a stiff ($40,000) deposit.

Likewise, there will be no high-end version of the more affordable sedan. The limit will be how high the options can take you. However, the higher you go, the sooner you will see a Model 3 in your driveway.

Justin Sullivan Getty Image
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

According to Musk, Model 3 reservations with the most options will be the first to be delivered, starting in late 2017. If you opt for one of the humbler editions of the bunch, expect to get behind the wheel in 2018. As Musk mentioned during the earnings call, the policy of sending out the big tickets first is by no means exclusive to Tesla (or the auto industry) and helps pay down the financial commitment of product development.

On the other hand, sending out the first Model 3s with the highest sticker prices ensures there will be fewer $7,500 tax credits available for low-end buyers. Some estimates suggest only 60,000 federal tax credits (out of a total 200,000) will be available to Tesla buyers by the time Model 3 debuts. Assuming one third go for those getting into a Model 3, only 20,000 would apply. We can see them all going to well-appointed models rolling out first. (If you want to know why lawmakers want a price cap on cars getting EV incentives, there you have it.)

So there is good news and bad news for green car consumers hoping to drive their own Tesla in the coming years. Maybe Congress will make a move and extend the federal tax credit so the next wave of EV buyers can use it. Otherwise, the Model 3 customers in need of it most will be paying retail.

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