How Much Would a "Real" Tesla Model 3 Cost?

If we map the Model S's customization options onto the Model 3? A lot.

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On Thursday, Tesla opened up reservations for the Model 3. Across the planet and, verifiably, in New York City, people lined up to spend two minutes reserving the next-gen electric vehicle.

From watching both the Model 3 unveiling by the great Elon Musk and the car’s first test drive, we learned: A) that 130,000 people and counting joined the reservation fray and B) some other big things.

Among those other big things, we learned that the $35,000 price tag will, indeed, get you a Model 3 – but that entry-level price, as with many technologies these days, will in essence get you just a “Tesla,” not a Tesla. Which in fact makes sense for Musk and for a relatively nascent car manufacturer.

Musk, during the unveiling, assured audiences that the starter-kit, $35k option will still be an incredible vehicle. And even though the most basic Model 3 will probably be mind-meltingly awesome, Musk – in addition to the first unveiling – hinted that there’s more to come:

What could he be referring to? In a February conference call to Tesla investors, Musk gave us more insight into this business move. While the Model X was, in his opinion, the “best car ever,” Musk explained that it was hubristic: “In retrospect, it would’ve been better to do fewer things at first, then roll in new features over time.”

So with a shot to correct the mistakes made with the Model X, it looks like Tesla and Musk have rolled out an entry-level Model 3 with the idea of said “new features over time” coming around the corner in the form of buy-up options.

The Cost

If we perhaps safely assume that price spikes for more advanced options on the Model 3 will mimic those of the Model S, we can postulate the fully-loaded cost of the Model 3. For the Model S, you can pick rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive and one of three batteries. You can also select “Ludicrous Speed Upgrade” and a carbon fiber spoiler, if you so desire.

Beyond those performance options, you can tack on convenience and luxury features, including: autopilot, premium interior and lighting, smart air suspension, ultra high fidelity sound, subzero weather package, and rear-facing seats. You can also choose an all-glass, panoramic roof and from several wheel choices.

A look at the fully-loaded Model S, which, before incentives and savings, costs $144,500.

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In other words, the Model S is modular. Again, you can own a “Model S,” or you can instead own a fucking Model S. Let’s look at what the damage would be if we assume – recklessly – that each of these options will all be available on the Model 3, and at the same costs.

The jump from the most basic, rear-wheel-drive Model S battery to the state-of-the-art all-wheel-drive P90D battery will run you $38,000 — more than the cost of the basic Model 3 alone. Pearl white multi-coat paint and the all-glass roof will together add another $3,000. The best wheels – 21” Grey Turbine – cost an additional $4,500. Choosing the most expensive interior upgrades (to general décor, to premium interior and lighting, to ultra high fidelity sound, and to rear-facing seats) adds another $12,000. Let us not forget to add the Ludicrous Speed Upgrade and the carbon fiber spoiler: $11,000 all told. What remains is autopilot, smart air suspension, and the subzero weather package, all of which, together, total to $6,000.

And the grand total? $74,500 on top of the $35,000: a cool $109,500. If you live in one of nine enlightened states (California, Colorado, Delaware, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Utah), you’ll get state incentives on top of the $7,500 federal tax credit. Tesla also estimates that, on average, you’d save $6,800 on gas over five years. Factoring in the federal tax cut and gas savings, you’re looking at a $95,200 investment.

A bit misleading? Maybe. It’s likely that not all of these options will be available for the Model 3 – and, even if they are, they might be cheaper – still a good possible upper boundary to recognize.

Musk, for his part, says that the average option mix will probably be just $42,000.

The base price on the Model S, for reference, is $75,000; on the Model X, it’s $80,000.

"The open road awaits," or something.

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You’ll be saving the environment. But the “cherry on top”? You’ll own a Tesla, the “envy of all cars.”

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