Two years ago this month, when Elon Musk revealed the unfinished Tesla Model 3 to the world, I plunked down my thousand bucks for a spot on the list. Now, the (more) affordable Tesla has become a real car, one that just won Seniorhelpline Car of the Year. The factory is cranking out more than 2,000 per week. And my number has come up.
Sort of. Here's what happens when Tesla emails you that "Your Model 3 Is Ready to Order."
First of all, your Model 3 is not ready—not unless you want the tricked-out "First Production" version that features 310 miles of range and all the premium upgrades, which jacks up the cost to $49,000. This much we knew. If you want a dual-motor all-wheel-drive 3, you've got to wait a little longer. I want the base model with 220 miles of range, the one that costs 35 grand before the options, which means I'll be waiting until late 2018.
But just for fun, let's say I do want a First Production Model 3. The first page of options includes colors and wheels. As Tesla enthusiasts already know, the basic black color is the only one included in the base price; all the others tack on $1,000. Curiously, Tesla lets you swap between "cash" and "loan" views. Click "loan" and you'll see how a choice affects your monthly payment (that red multi-coat paint adds $15/month). Currently there are two wheel options, the included 18-inch Aero Wheels and the 19-inch Sport Wheels, which add $1,500.
Page two displays the battery and drivetrain options, Again, there are no options right now. Only the long-range battery is available, not the standard battery, and only rear-wheel drive can be had at the moment. Same goes for the premium upgrades that add $5,000 to the cost, the only choice at present.
Next comes Autopilot. It costs $5,000 to add the Enhanced Autopilot semi-autonomous features to the Model 3. You could choose the upgrade later, but it'll run you $6,000 then. Tesla also charges $3,000 for "full self-driving capability," a feature it doesn't even have yet. "In the future, Model 3 will be capable of conducting trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat," the text reads. There's a penalty here, too, for opting in at a later date.
Just for kicks, I say yes to both. My car now costs $58,000, not counting the potential $7,500 federal tax credit for EVs. It takes a $2,500 non-refundable deposit to make the order, and Tesla estimates my nearly 60-grand ride will cost me $5,000 down plus more than $800 per month in payments for 72 months.
Too steep for my blood. I go back to the beginning and click the gray box to tell them to hold my place in line. In addition to telling Tesla why you're holding out, you can now select an ideal time to take delivery anytime between now and March of next year.
Frankly, it's about time. The weirdness of buying a car this way meant that I and hundreds of thousands of other people plunked down a deposit in 2016 with nothing more than a vague estimate of when the car might actually roll off the line or when my number might come up.
A lot changes in two years of waiting. Your finances change. You get married. You move. You want to move but haven't yet. Personally, I'm just relishing the chance to kick the can down the road a while, giving me a little more breathing room to set up my life in a way that a shiny new electric car actually makes sense. After so long waiting for a promise, it's weirdly empowering to remember it's my choice.