Tesla's $35k Model 3 Destined to Be a Ghost

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
teslas 35k model 3 destined to be a ghost

If you can find a Tesla store (that’s still open), and someone working in it, maybe you can buy … a Model 3 Standard Range.

Yes, the $35k car promised three years ago during the Model 3’s launch, and hyped to infinity in the months and years since, stands to become as shadowy and elusive as the A-Team. In yet another raft of changes to its Model 3 line announced Thursday night, the automaker ensured the Standard model’s status as a rare bird.

Offered by a company that’s moved to online ordering, the Standard model will not be available for ordering online. Hey, don’t be confused — there’s a solid explanation!

But first, a brief history lesson.

In late February, Tesla opened orders for the Standard and Standard Plus (220 and 240 miles of range, respectively), claiming customers could expect deliveries to begin in two to four weeks. Then something odd happened: Customers began receiving Standard Plus models, but the Standard was nowhere to be seen. Reports emerged of Standard customers receiving delay messages from Tesla reps via text message, some of them with open-ended timelines, with many claiming they were then pressured into upgrading to a Standard Plus.

Last night, the Tesla announced that the model no one has taken delivery of, and which it did its best to dissuade anyone from buying, just wasn’t very popular.

“Since [last quarter], Standard Plus has sold at more than six times the rate of Standard, far exceeding our expectations,” the company said in a blog post.

“Given the popularity of the Standard Plus relative to the Standard, we have made the decision to simplify our production operations to better optimize cost, minimize complexity and streamline operations. As a result, Model 3 Standard will now be a software-limited version of the Standard Plus, and we are taking it off the online ordering menu, which just means that to get it, customers will need to call us or visit any one of the several hundred Tesla stores. Deliveries of Model 3 Standard will begin this weekend.”

At the same time, Tesla realized that Autopilot saves lives and is really popular, so it’s making it standard kit on the Standard Plus, pushing that model’s price from $37,500 to $39,500. Previously, buyers would have to rustle up another three grand to add the capability. It’s a bargain!

And for those Standard Range holdouts who Ubered to their local Tesla store, presumably passing a billboard reading “Tesla Model 3 Standard Range buyers aren’t cool” along the way, to give their sales rep the secret handshake, there’s more good news. Because the Standard is just a Standard Plus with a software-imposed wet blanket, they can unlock the extra range, heated seats, nav, and that standard Autopilot at any time, so long as they make up the price difference between the two models.

To those who worried Tesla might be in dire need of cash, your fears were unfounded.

And it’s not just the model that Tesla CEO Elon Musk said might sink the company if offered too early that’s disappearing from the internet, either. The cheapest Long Range model also drops from the online ordering menu.

Tesla claims that “customers will also need to call or visit a Tesla store to get Model 3 Long Range Rear-Wheel Drive.”

“We’re making these changes to ensure that our online order process is focused exclusively on the three Model 3 variants customers want most,” Tesla continued, without adding “*wink*” to its copy.

There’s a leasing program, too, but don’t expect to make an offer once the term is up.

“Beginning today, customers in the U.S. will be able to lease Model 3 for a small down payment and competitive monthly payments. Customers can choose any Model 3 variant and select an annual mileage option of 10,000, 12,000, or 15,000 miles,” the automaker stated, adding, “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.”

One wonders if anyone leasing a Standard Range will be asked to upgrade partway through the term.

(Update: No, they won’t – as the Standard Range is not available to lease. Lease offers start with the Standard Plus, with Tesla asking $3,199 due at signing and $504/month for 36 months. That works out to $21,343 over the term, and remember, you can’t keep the car.)

[Image: Tesla]

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  • Gedrven Gedrven on Apr 12, 2019

    Elon set out to change the world and ended up sucked into the same quasi-fraudulent sales and marketing tactics of the old guard. For shame. As with airline ticket "overbooking", it should be considered actionable fraud to sell something you knowingly don't have, or at least make a bona fide effort to deliver in the future. It should also be considered false advertising to state a price that is anything other than the money the buyer has to give the seller to get the product.

  • HotPotato HotPotato on Apr 13, 2019

    It's foolish for Tesla to chase a low base price. Tesla is a luxury brand and the Model 3 is a $45k car and everyone knows that. Sure, you can pay less if you ace-of-base it, or you can pay a lot more if you want to humilate Ferraris with the Pitbull-Featuring-Ludacris trim, but for most buyers...$45k. That's low enough to be a damn good value for what you get, yet high enough to price lots of people out of the running --- the magic combination for aren't-we-the-smart-money snob appeal. Snob appeal sells these cars. Insisting they're available cheap --- while doing the modern equivalent of hiding the newspaper-ad car under a tarp behind the body shop --- damages the brand image. Why keep doing it? Probably because investors are enamored with the long-term vision of affordable EVs for everyone, and the stock's value is based on that idea. But as Nissan, Chevy, Tesla, and VW have learned, building an EV that's both cheap and appealing is extremely challenging. When cars first became widespread, the average Joe drove a rickety Ford, not a supercharged Duesenberg. Today the average Joe drives a Corolla, not a Lexus LS. When EVs eventually become the default, the average Joe will be tooling around in a Nissan Leaf or VW e-Up or Geometry A or whatever, not a fast sexy Tesla. And that's fine.

    • See 2 previous
    • Manic Manic on Apr 14, 2019

      @SCE to AUX Except taxpayers' money is only part of OPM Tesla is experimenting with.

  • Cprescott I remember when Fords were affordable.
  • Cprescott As a once very LOYAL FORD buyer, I had to replace my 22 year old Ford (bought new in 1997) once it finally started to have problems at 180k miles. I would have gladly purchased something like this from Ford but they abandoned me as a car buyer. Oddly, Hyundai still builds cars in a variety of flavors so I became a customer of theirs and am very happy. Likely will consider another once this one gets up in mileage.
  • SCE to AUX A friend once struck a mounted tire that was laying flat in the middle of her lane on the PA Turnpike. She was in a low late-90s Grand Prix, and the impact destroyed the facia, core support, radiators, oil pan, transmission, subframe, and suspension. They fixed it all.
  • Dukeisduke Lol, it's not exactly a Chevrolet SS with Holden badging.
  • Dukeisduke Years ago, I was driving southbound along North Central Expressway (south of Mockingbird Lane, for locals), and watched a tire and wheel fall out of the bed of a pickup (no tailgate), bounce along, then centerpunch the front end of a Honda Accord. It wasn't pretty.