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Tesla's $35K (Finally!) Model 3

by Ron Cogan and Bill SiuruMarch 19, 2019
The long-awaited Tesla Model 3 delivers what its fan base has expected. This electric sedan is stylish in a Model S sort of way, fast, and travels a significant distance on a charge. It’s also very late in coming. But apparently, all is forgiven.

Tesla’s Model 3 was promised from the beginning to be an advanced electric sedan at an affordable $35,000 entry price. That, as anyone who has followed Tesla with any kind of regularity, has been an elusive goal as only higher-end and much more expensive versions of the Model 3 have been offered. And now…the $35,000 Model 3 is finally a reality.

Model 3 is a stylish and high-tech sedan offering a signature Tesla look and lots of advanced technology. Tesla’s third all-electric vehicle, the Model 3 follows in the footsteps of the well-regarded Model S sedan and Model X crossover SUV. Like these vehicles, the Model 3 is fast and fun to drive. Importantly, it does what Teslas are known to do – offer all-electric driving from about 220 miles up to 310  miles before requiring a recharge, which does a lot to ease range anxiety.

Just as Tesla’s approach to being an automaker is different, so too are its cars. Compared to the Model X, which the company packed in as many ‘firsts’ as possible  – a crossover with gullwing-like ‘falcon’ doors and the industry’s largest windshield – the Model 3 is more aligned with the needs of mass production. In fact, Tesla describes the Model 3 as ‘smaller and simpler’ than its predecessors to make it more affordable than the Model S.

The $35,000 entry price tag is important since the Model 3 has been widely-promoted as a $35,000 ‘everyman’s electric vehicle’ affordable to the masses, even as the cheapest model available was initially $49,000, then $46,000, and ultimately $43,000 before Tesla finally made the leap to its recently-announced $35,000, slightly decontented base model. At that price it’s doubtful that Tesla will make money, and in fact it wasn’t long ago when Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company would lose money on the Model 3 at that price point. An array of industry experts agree with that assessment. But that’s another story.

If not an exercise in simplicity, then perhaps the Model 3  is a statement that ‘less-is-more,’ even as it delivers desired levels of performance, range, technology, and safety. For example, rather than more costly aluminum construction like the Model S and Model X, the Model 3 uses both aluminum and less-costly steel. Its interior is also a model of simplicity devoid of instrumentation and external controls, knobs, or switches, with everything – including the speedometer – incorporated into its 15-inch center-mounted touchscreen display.

Buyers have a choice of battery packs and motors that deliver varying levels of performance and range. The lowest motor output currently available is estimated to offer 220 horsepower and rear-wheel drive, with a range of 220 miles. The dual motor model features 450 horsepower with all-wheel drive and a range of 310 miles.

Like all Tesla models, the Model 3 includes the hardware needed in the future for full self-driving, although this capability is dependent upon extensive software validation and local regulatory approval. Model 3 offers forward radar, eight cameras, and 12 ultrasonic sensors that enable an array of safety and driver-assist functions including automatic emergency braking, collision avoidance, and side collision warning. Over-the-air software updates are part of the package and Tesla’s AutoPilot semi-autonomous driving system is an available option.

Tesla now offers two levels of Connectivity: Standard that is free and Premium that comes at a modest annual cost. Standard  Connectivity offers basic maps and navigation, music and media over Bluetooth, and software updates over Wi-Fi. Both receive maps and navigation functionality, traffic-based routing, trip planner, and Supercharger stall availability. All cars with Standard Connectivity will simply need to connect to a Wi-Fi network to receive software updates. Premium Connectivity adds satellite-view maps with live traffic visualization, in-car streaming music and media, and over-the-air software updates via Wi-Fi and cellular.

In an interesting twist to the $35,000 Model 3 saga, Tesla shuttered some of its stores and galleries in an effort to save money in tandem with the lower-cost Model 3 availability, with the intention of potentially closing all of them and exclusively selling online. The company then changed its mind and kept most of its Tesla stores and galleries open. Again, another story…so stay tuned.