On Monday, an unknown sharp-eyed lookout spotted some interesting cargo coming off a plane at the airport in New Zealand’s capital, Auckland: a shiny new Tesla Model 3 prototype, the first of its kind in the country.
The photos allegedly first showed up on an aircraft spotting forum, but quickly made their way to the Tesla Talk NZ and Auckland EV Owners pages. But what didn’t surface online was the real reason a single prototype Model 3 made it all the way down under — though there are definitely a few likely-sounding theories online.
Here’s one of the first images, which shows the Model 3 on a shipping platform in the dark.
That picture is a bit strange. Matt Robinson, a member of the Tesla Talk NZ group, reports that “Looking at tracking plane arrived this afternoon from LA via Honolulu at 1421hrs,” carrying the car, which would mean it landed in mid-afternoon, not in the middle of the night. That’s more consistent with the next two photos.
This one shows a bit of the Air New Zealand marking on the shipping platform, confirming that this is almost undoubtedly Auckland air port. Here’s a front view:
What’s interesting is that the Model 3 in question is a left-hand drive — the version used in North America and parts of Europe. Like the U.K., both Australia and New Zealand drive on the left side of the road and use right-hand drive vehicles, so it’s unlikely that the car is meant for a large amount of testing on public roads. But there are a few things it could be doing in NZ.
As Electrek notes, it’s possible that Tesla shipped a Model 3 down to NZ to take some promotional images to market the vehicle when it eventually starts shipping overseas. The Model 3 probably won’t make it down to NZ in earnest until 2018 (the company’s first focus is stockpiling vehicles in the U.S.).
Testing the charging infrastructure
Base-level Model 3 vehicles will probably have the shortest range of the Tesla family, so it’s possible that Tesla wants to take a few road trips around the island to check if the 215-mile range on the Model 3 is a problem on any of the major highways. Right now, there’s only one Superchager in New Zealand. There’s plenty of other non-Supercharger spots, and a few more Superchargers planned, but the charging infrastructure is still reasonably sparse.
Snow and Ice Testing
This is probably one of the most realistic predictions. As one commenter noted, New Zealand is home to the Southern Hemisphere Proving Grounds, which is essentially a gigantic ski resort for cars. It’s awesome, and since it’s been spring/ summer in the U.S. for much of the Model 3 release candidate’s prototype testing, it makes sense that Tesla would ship a vehicle down South for some extra snow and ice testing. The SHPG also offers a series of charging tests, which would see how the Model 3’s charging system worked in cold weather.
New wheels for Steve Huffman’s private apocalypse bunker
It’s possible, however, that the new Model 3 is meant for personal use — Elon Musk is letting Sam Huffman, (CEO and Co-founder of Reddit) stash a Model 3 in his private apocalypse bunker in New Zealand. Huffman, like dozens of other mega-rich Silicon Valley wonks, has a huge interest in prepping for the apocalypse. Some people even purchase land in New Zealand as a last-chance refuge for surviving a nuclear holocaust or other impending doom, and while Huffman didn’t confirm he owned land down under in a New Yorker article, it’s highly possible he’s got a bunker down there. Maybe now it has a new Tesla Model 3.