by Ronald Montoya, Senior Consumer Advice Editor
When we last left off in the 2017 Tesla Model 3 ordering process on December 20, 2017, I thought we’d be waiting four weeks for our car to be ready. But things went faster than anticipated. Before we get to the car’s official introduction details, here’s the rest of its order and delivery backstory.
December 26, 2017: I received a belated Christmas present: Brandon, our Tesla delivery specialist, called us to say that our 2017 Tesla Model 3 was ready to be delivered. This was a surprise since we had configured and placed the order only two weeks earlier.
It also was a marked improvement from our purchase of the 2016 Tesla Model X, when configuration to delivery took nearly six months. Brandon said we could have the car as soon as New Year’s Eve, but that wasn’t enough time for us to get a check ready, so we made a delivery appointment for early January.
We asked to pick up the car at Tesla’s factory in Fremont, California, as we had done with our Model S and Model X. But that’s no longer an option. Tesla told us that it’s cranking out so many Model 3 cars that employees don’t have time to give customers the grand factory tour at pickup. You can still take a factory tour, but not when you take delivery.
January 5, 2018: I was all set to pick up our Model 3 at the nearest delivery center, which is in Marina del Rey, a couple miles away from our offices in Santa Monica. There was one last-minute wrinkle, however: California raised its vehicle registration fees for 2018, and because we’d been quoted a 2017 out-the-door price, we were a few dollars short. I scrambled to get a new check and the Edmunds accounting team came through for us.
DMV fees aside, the paperwork signing was lightning-fast. The Tesla rep showed us to a small table, where a personalized “Congratulations” sign greeted us. From there, I just needed to sign in three places and the deal was finalized. No additional sales pitches or mountains of paperwork. I wish all car purchases were this fast.
It has been about 21 months from the time Dan Edmunds first placed the deposit for the 3 to when we took delivery. And because we’re repeat Tesla buyers, we’re getting our car earlier than most people. As a reference point, Dan placed a deposit for his own Model 3 on the same day and he has yet to receive a “time to configure” email. If you have ordered a Model 3 but aren’t already part of the Tesla ownership club, you, too, will have to keep waiting.
What Did We Buy?
We bought what’s been billed as the affordable Tesla. Sort of. Before the advent of the Model 3, owning a Tesla meant spending at least $75,000 and often in the ballpark of $100,000. The Model 3 changes that: Its starting price of $35,000 brings it closer to being a car that average people can afford. But that base price comes with a few caveats.
What Options Does It Have?
If we wanted our Model 3 within the first production run (and we did), there were a couple of mandatory options. First, we’d have to buy the version with the 310-mile long-range battery: a $9,000 option. And second, we had to go with the $5,000 Premium Upgrades package. The package includes such features as 12-way power seats with heating, open-pore wood trim, LED foglights, a glass roof and a premium audio system. So from this angle, an early Model 3 costs $49,000, not $35,000. Make that $50,000 because the mandatory destination charge is $1,000.
From this point, there were few remaining options to consider. Any color other than solid black costs $1,000. We chose Midnight Silver Metallic. The optional 19-inch sport wheels and tires cost $1,500, but we passed on those. We’d opted for the larger wheels on our two previous Tesla vehicles, so the Model 3 will be our opportunity to test out the standard 18-inch Aero wheels and tires.
We did go for Enhanced Autopilot, which costs $5,000. There was one other option available: “Full Self-Driving Capability,” for $3,000. Tesla promises that at some time in the future, the Model 3 will “be capable of conducting trips with no action required” by the person in the driver seat. That time frame is a bit too vague for us, so we passed. This is a software option we can always buy later, albeit for $4,000.
All in, our Model 3 cost us $56,000 — well past the base price. And given that the average new-car transaction price is about $35,000, it’s still a car that’s out of the range of most buyers. That said, we’re early adopters, and such folks always pay more. We hope that our early experiences will help people decide what options they want and give them a preview of how the Tesla Model 3 holds up over time.
One more thing: Model 3 owners will have to pay for use of the Tesla Supercharger network. The prices vary by state, but we’ll be keeping track of our costs in our monthly updates.
Why We Bought It
The Model 3 is a significant vehicle for many reasons. It made hundreds of thousands of people so excited for an electric vehicle that they were willing to put down a $1,000 deposit for a right to get in line. No other EVs have come close to that level of interest. The Model 3 has a more attainable cost of entry for people who saw the Model S and aspired to one day have a Tesla to call their own.
And for Tesla CEO Elon Musk, the Model 3 has long been part of his master plan to “enter at the high end of the market, where customers are prepared to pay a premium, and then drive downmarket as fast as possible to higher unit volume and lower prices with each successive model.”
Building an estimated 5,000 Model 3 sedans a week by the first quarter of 2018 while producing its other vehicles will be a test of Tesla’s quality and manufacturing process. Our Model X had fewer issues than our Model S. Will the Model 3 continue this trend of improved reliability?
Follow the car’s progress on our long-term road test blog, where we’ll log our latest thoughts and impressions of this 2017 Tesla Model 3 sedan.
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purpose of evaluation.
Ronald Montoya, senior consumer advice editor @ 751 miles