When Tesla said on Thursday night that the most basic, $35,000 version of its Model 3 would no longer be offered online, my colleagues and I were confused.
Isn’t a Silicon Valley company supposed to be all about the internet? Why do I need to use a phone or, worse, go to one of Tesla’s showrooms and interact with a sales representative in real life to order a high-tech car?
I wanted to try the process for myself to see if Tesla’s new policy made things unnecessarily complicated.
Though I stopped short of placing an order, it turned out to be quite easy to walk through the purchase process for a Model 3, both online and over the phone.
Despite some conflicting information, my phone conversations with people at three Tesla stores in the New York area about buying a Model 3 were efficient and matter-of-fact. Online, it took me less than two minutes to select a car and reach the credit card information page.
But you can’t necessarily get the version you’re after, even from a store. And I did learn a few things any potential Tesla buyer should know.
What am I actually paying?
Now that Tesla isn’t selling the bare-bones Model 3 online, the least expensive car you can buy on its website goes for $39,500.
But Tesla lists the car’s price as $28,950. That figure is later described as “after savings,” and the company even displays the per-month cost of a lease in those terms.
As it turns out, Tesla is using some creative math to get to that number. Savings include a $3,750 tax credit currently available to Tesla buyers, but they also include money that you would otherwise spend on gas if you bought a standard car.
Using a tool on the Tesla site, you can adjust that figure by changing the number of miles per month you might drive or the cost of gasoline.
The company explains what it’s doing, but this still struck me as a questionable sales tactic, especially since the price “after savings” is the first price you see on the website.
What does ‘standard’ get me?
For buyers looking for the $35,000 base model of the Model 3, the only way to get one without trekking to a store is to make a phone call.
When it announced the sales change, Tesla said the “standard” Model 3 was actually a software-limited version of the more expensive car you can buy online. That means the range of the car on a full charge is restricted, for example, not by battery physics but by software that aims to keep it that way.
A Tesla sales representative on Long Island explained this, too, and said a buyer could pay the difference for a more capable version at a later date and the car would be updated over the airwaves.
What if I don’t like it?
For me, the biggest point of confusion had to do with test drives. Tesla says on its website that you can drive a car for a week, or less than 1,000 miles, and still return it. A sales representative in Westchester County repeated this.
He also said that if I did a test drive before buying I’d have only one day to return the car, so I reasoned it was probably better to buy first, drive later.
What I was told, however, conflicted with the policy as Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, recently stated it on Twitter: that returns were possible within one week regardless of a test drive.
Word may not have reached all the stores.
When can I get it?
Another point on which the stores seem out of step with the company’s party line is in estimating the time it would take to get a car. According to the website, a car should be available in two weeks, but the Westchester store said it might take up to four, especially if I really wanted a less-expensive version of the Model 3. The store in Manhattan said I couldn’t get a $35,000 Model 3 there at all. The cheapest version it had available would cost $45,500.