Elon Musk announces $78,000 version of Tesla Model 3 — unaffordable for the masses

Shipping a minimum-cost Model 3 right away “would cause Tesla to lose money and die,” CEO Elon Musk said.
Shipping a minimum-cost Model 3 right away “would cause Tesla to lose money and die,” CEO Elon Musk said.
(Robert Duffer / Chicago Tribune)
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Tesla Inc.’s Model 3, once touted as the electric-car maker’s $35,000 car for the masses, can now set a buyer back almost $80,000.

Chief Executive Elon Musk unveiled specifications for a faster and more powerful version of the Model 3 in a series of tweets over the weekend. It will cost $78,000, more than double the $35,000 base-model starting price discussed in the run-up before the electric car’s deliveries started last year. And that doesn’t include the Autopilot driver-assist feature.

The increasingly expensive configurations for the Model 3 are planned steps, if somewhat counterintuitive ones, toward Musk’s vision of Tesla as a mass-production player with vehicles affordable to a broader swath of buyers. The $78,000 sticker price puts the electric sedan beyond the reach of many consumers and, by Musk’s own estimations, brings it closer to the realm of luxury cars.


“A Model 3 with a $35,000 price will be the rarest of the rare,” said Kevin Tynan, a Bloomberg Intelligence analyst. “Perhaps the second-most-collectible Tesla ever, behind the one floating around in space.”

Musk’s latest tweets build the hype around a car that has faced repeated production delays and manufacturing bottlenecks, which the company is just starting to clear. Tesla delivered 8,180 of the sedans in the first quarter, making it the bestselling electric car in the U.S., and almost half a million people have put down $1,000 deposits for Model 3s.

Original vision

When Model 3 deliveries started in July, Tesla described the vehicle’s $35,000 price as providing a standard battery with a 220-mile range before options or incentives. But its focus was on fulfilling orders for customers who wanted longer-range battery packs with faster charging, pushing the price up to about $44,000.

Tesla said in February that a dual motor version would come at midyear, and that a standard battery pack would be available in late 2018. In a letter to shareholders this month, Musk said that the company would begin offering new options such as all-wheel drive — and a base model with a standard-sized battery pack — once its factory in Fremont, Calif., reaches a production rate of 5,000 cars a week.

Only the expensive performance model was mentioned in Musk’s tweets this weekend. The company’s current business model and financial position — it’s operating at a loss and has negative operating cash flow — mean “that this is not the time for a $35,000 Model 3,” Tynan said in emailed comments.

Newest Model 3

The new dual-motor, all-wheel-drive performance version of the Model 3 will have a top speed of 155 mph, a 310-mile range and acceleration from standstill to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, Musk wrote.


The latest performance Model 3 will cost “about same as BMW M3, but 15% quicker & with better handling,” Musk tweeted. The car “will beat anything in its class on the track,” he said. It will also be available with black and white interiors. According to BMW’s website, a BMW M3 sedan has a starting manufacturer’s suggested retail price of about $66,500.

The pricey version of the Model 3 is in keeping with Musk’s earlier practices with the Model S luxury sedan and Model X sport utility vehicle: adding options and higher specifications to help generate cash that can be used to eventually build vehicles for mainstream buyers.

Shipping a minimum-cost Model 3 right away “would cause Tesla to lose money and die,” Musk said on Twitter. The company needs three to six months after achieving production of 5,000 units a week before it can ship a $35,000 Model 3 and survive, he said.

Burning cash

Tesla burned through more than $1 billion of cash in the first quarter and may need to tap capital markets for more than $10 billion by 2020 to fund its car-making operations, new products and expected expansion into China, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts said last week. Mounting liquidity pressures and challenges with Model 3 production prompted Moody’s Investors Service to cut the carmaker’s credit rating further into junk status in March, adding fuel to a selloff of the company’s bonds to all-time lows.

For every additional $1,000 that ends up being added to the price of Model 3, the size of the U.S. auto market that buys cars that are that expensive shrinks by 1% to 2%, according to Kelley Blue Book. That’s a tradeoff Tesla is willing to make.

The profit is in the higher trims, Ivan Drury, senior manager of industry analysis at, said by phone. “The idea that it’s supposed to be a car for everyone is kind of laughable,” Drury said. “Anyone who wanted a base model may have to wait years.”