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01 August 2017

Here’s why you should think twice before buying the Tesla Model 3

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The Tesla Model 3 has everything I want in a car.

There’s the spacious trunk and frunk (that’s front storage where a gas engine would normally be), and a huge 15-inch touchscreen. It’s great for the environment. And if you add on the Autopilot package, it’ll be fully autonomous. The Model 3 is the car of the future, and it’s rolling off production lines today.

But most importantly, it’s affordable, starting at $35,000. (Let’s be real, I’m a tech reporter, not a Wall Street stock trader.)

I really don’t need a car since I live in New York City and just love riding the disgusting subway — I’m only kidding, but it is convenient — or walking, but I want one to get my lazy ass out of town. Combine my long search for a car and my tech lust and you’ve got the perfect example of the person Tesla’s targeting. 

These factors are also precisely the reasons why I won’t buy a Model 3.

Caught up in the hype

Tesla’s Model 3 is a magnificent-looking car that, while not as luxurious and tricked out as the Model S or Model X, is still a Tesla through and through. Its arrival on streets could upturn the entire automotive industry and become the catalyst that makes the electric car the king of the road.

Some people are calling the Model 3 the car’s iPhone moment, but that’s being too generous. As much as I enjoy being drip-fed every little morsel of Model 3 news from Musk’s Twitter account, it’s time we all came back to reality—buying a car is not at all the same as buying an iPhone, even if Tesla makes it easy to order one online.

Requires a loan

For one, buying a car is a serious investment. I’d have to take out a loan and then make monthly payments. It could be a financial strain if I don’t calculate everything just right. Whereas an iPhone, pricey as it is for some people (and I’m aware there are also installment plans available), isn’t a giant spend in my opinion. At least not compared to a $35,000 purchase (without tax, even).

“Buyers need to be thinking about cost and how much they can take advantage of tax credits,” Akshay Anand, executive analyst at Kelley Blue Book, told me in an email. “While consumers have no doubt seen much talk of the $35,000 price tag, the reality is that the car can easily get pricier than that with options, a bigger battery, etc. Budgeting will be key, as will ensuring that a consumer can actually take advantage of the tax credits.”

I don’t do basic

The inside of the Model 3 is spartan, but will be even more so if you don't get the bells and whistles.

The inside of the Model 3 is spartan, but will be even more so if you don’t get the bells and whistles.

Nobody’s really going to buy the basic package. Autoblog makes a great point on why you’d want to spend more for things like the longer range battery, heated seats, better speakers, and Autopilot. And since I’m no basic millennial, I’d have to spring for at least some of the extras, which only means a higher price.

Can you imagine if I was trying to drive up to Vermont in the winter and the cute girl I’m bringing up is freezing in her seat because I was too cheap to spring for the heated seats? It’d be a disaster.

With the heated seats and spiffier interior and sound, and Autopilot (and seriously who’d buy a Tesla without it?), you’re looking at an additional $10,000, which totals up to $46,000. And if you want the longer range model, you’re looking at $44,000 before tricking it out with the extras. You could easily spec out a Model 3 up to $58,000, but then you’re no longer looking at an affordable mid-range car, but a luxury one.

No test drive

Who buys a car without seeing it in person and taking it for a test drive? Unless you’re rich and buying a Tesla’s just a fun way to treat yourself, I can’t imagine buying a car without first sitting in it, blasting a little Taylor Swift through the sound system, and sizing up the cup holders.

You could draw parallels to buying an iPhone you haven’t held in your hand, but a car is something you’d be sitting in and driving for hours. Totally different.

Charging consideration

Unlike a regular car where I can just gas it up at a station, I’d need to find a Supercharger to juice up a Model 3. This isn’t as difficult in NYC, and Tesla’s charging network now includes 909 stations with 6,118 chargers across the country, but it’s still another thing I’d need to plan out before going road-tripping. Being green is worth the hassle, but it’s still annoying. 

If I lived in an actual house, I’d need to buy a wall connector with charging cable that’d run me $500-$550 and then pay more money for installation. Great, another hidden cost to the so-called $35,000 electric car.

“Do you have access to a charging station regularly? Is the vehicle charging time acceptable for your schedule? Is the range in the vehicle enough to suit your needs?” Anand says. “For some people, EVs are a dream. For others, the logistics just don’t make as much sense as a gas-powered vehicle.”

We don’t buy cars, we Uber

Americans are starting to turn to ride hailing apps as their go-to mode of transportation.

Americans are starting to turn to ride hailing apps as their go-to mode of transportation.

Image: Vogel/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Living in the city brings me to another point: Do I really need a car? Not if it’s only for weekends. The car’s only gonna be mostly wasted, no matter how far I take it in my downtime. For those few weekend escapes, there’s rental car services like Zipcar. For light city driving, car2go is popping up in cities.

You’ve probably read the numerous reports about millennials not buying cars or maybe you, like me, also fall into the category so you share the same sentiment.

Honestly, who needs a car when there are tons of alternative forms of transportation that don’t require us to pay attention to the busy roads? Ask any 20-30-something-year-old how they get around and they’ll answer with: trains, ride-sharing like Lyft and Uber, biking and even electric skateboarding. 

Who needs a car when an Uber is a tap in an app away? Not owning a car also means never you’ll never have to worry about finding parking. Seriously, tell a millennial about how you spent an hour circling three blocks and they’ll probably just ignore you as they scroll through Instagram.

Millennials who are living at home with their parents (and there’s a growing number of them) are even less likely to consider buying a new car, Model 3 or not. 

Beware being an early adopter

Tesla's Fremont factory still has problems.

Tesla’s Fremont factory still has problems.

Image: Jeff Chiu/AP/REX/Shutterstock

The Model 3 also has technical production challenges that it’ll need to overcome. While the first 30 lucky owners just received their Model 3s, production won’t ramp up until September. Tesla plans to produce 20,000 Model 3s in December. If you order yours now, it might not even be delivered until next year.

“The Model 3 is Tesla’s first attempt at mass producing a vehicle,” Anand says. “Vehicle production is extremely complex, and no manufacturer is immune to production issues. There have been production issues in the past for the company, and there may well be issues that pop up with the Model 3, especially for the first Model 3s that roll off the line.”

Tim Stevens, editor-in-chief of CNET’s auto publication RoadShow, also shared similar production concerns.

“Early Model X SUVs had a number of issues with faulty seals in the doors and poor panel gaps,” Stevens says. “Those issues were quickly ironed out, and the Model 3 was designed to be a much more simple and reliable car to manufacture, but it’s still something early buyers should be aware of.”

That said, Stevens is extremely optimistic about the Model 3. “Beyond the question of reliability, which only time will answer … everything I’ve seen so far points to it being a very good car, and great value for money.”

Exiting the reality distortion field

Keeping up with Musk and Tesla and his various other endeavors (SpaceX and Hyperloop) is tiring, but never boring. The spectacle of him and his tweets is what makes it so easy to get sucked into his “reality distortion field” and make you lust after something you’ve never seen or tested.

It certainly helps that Tesla’s electric cars are actually good and futuristic enough that people really want them. It’s great to have rabid fans who blindly believe in your product. But it’s too easy to get caught up in all the hype, which is what most people are doing.

I support Tesla’s aspirations to revolutionize the car industry with clean-powered electric cars, but buying a car is just such a big purchasing decision. It’s really not as simple as going to Tesla.com, pricing a car out and placing your order. 

Buying a Model 3 (or any Tesla or car) means being responsible. And sadly, that’s the last thing my generation is, so maybe think twice before blowing all your life savings on an electric car.

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