Tesla cuts price of Model 3 to $35,000, moves sales online

LONDON (BBC News): Tesla has announced it will start selling a version of its Model 3 in the US at a price of $35,000, finally delivering on a promise it made more than two years ago.

To help lower the price the firm plans to close showrooms and is switching to an online-only sales model.

The electric car company announced the Model 3 car in 2016 as an alternative to its luxury offerings.

However, as recently as September, the average selling price exceeded $50,000.

Closing physical stores will allow the firm to cut costs by about 5%, savings it is using to reduce prices across its line-up of vehicles, chief executive Elon Musk said. He declined to say how many stores would close, or how many people will lose their jobs as a result of the move, but said making the change was necessary as Tesla works toward its bigger goal of making electric cars mainstream. Tesla currently has 378 stores and service locations worldwide.

What is the Model 3?

The Model 3 electric car has a range of 220 miles, a top speed of 130 mph and 0-60mph acceleration of 5.6 seconds. More than 400,000 customers signed up for the car when it was first announced, but production issues, higher prices and other delays caused troubles following its launch.

Over the last year, the firm has shrunk the Model 3 battery, tweaked its manufacturing process, and reduced costs in other ways to hit the lower price, while still protecting profit margins.

Fewer showrooms: How will that work?

Mr Musk said he was not worried that a shift to online-only sales would put off customers. The firm already has a much smaller physical presence in the US than most other car companies.

In a blog post, Tesla said a test drive was not needed because you can return a car within seven days, or after driving 1,000 miles, and get a full refund. “Quite literally, you could buy a Tesla, drive several hundred miles for a weekend road trip with friends and then return it for free,” the blog said.

The company is confident that will not happen often.

Tesla’s website said cars ordered now would be ready for delivery in two to four weeks’ time. However, customers with orders already in queue will get priority, which could delay some deliveries until June, Mr Musk said.

The lower-priced model is expected to be available for order in Europe and China in three to six months’ time.

Why is the Model 3 important?

Tesla has already announced thousands of job cuts since June, as it tries to balance its books after years of losses. Strong sales of the Model 3 are critical to that effort.

The firm managed to scrape a profit in the final two quarters of 2018, but Mr Musk said it expected to post a loss for the first three months of this year.

“It has been insanely difficult,” Mr Musk said, referring to delivering on the $35,000 price promise.

Delivering a car for $35,000 – about the average cost of a new vehicle in the US – is a “potential game changer” for Tesla’s growth, said Daniel Ives, a managing director at Wedbush Securities.

“While there are still questions that need to be answered around logistics and delivery… we believe this strategic shift was the right move at the right time for Tesla,” he wrote in a note.

How self-driving is it?

Coinciding with the price drop, Tesla is also bringing back its “full self-driving” feature after it removed it in October, following criticism it was overstating the autonomy of its cars.

Tesla is now offering two software packages; regular autopilot, at a cost of $3,000 (£2,270) which will allow for automatic steering on highways or full self-driving ($5,000) which takes over more functions, such as changing lanes, navigating junctions and taking exits.

According to chief executive, Elon Musk, the self-driving software will get an upgrade later this year which will allow it to navigate in more complex city environments.