Tesla's Model 3 May Be Cheaper, but It's Still Mostly for the Rich


Tesla's sexy new Model 3 seems poised to bring dollar-conscious millennials the feel-good luxury car they've always wanted. Unfortunately, even at $35,000, the car might be outside the grasp of average Americans. 

Interest in Tesla's latest car is raging. On Thursday, Tesla announced the car had garnered the company's largest number of pre-orders yet: 325,000. 

But is the car really as accessible as it seems?

Nick Ut/AP

The tax credits may not be that great: One reason people find the Tesla 3 so attractive is financial incentives — various tax credits could bring its price even lower. 

But it's not as good as it seems — not everyone is going to get those tax credits. Car buyers in all states have the opportunity to cash in on $7,500 in tax rebates. But that tax credit can phase out after a manufacturer sells 200,000 cars that qualified for the rebate in a calendar year, according to the Internal Revenue Service

Tesla has two other vehicles that could qualify for that $7,500 income tax write-off. In 2015, the company sold over 25,000 Model S vehicles and introduced the Model X. Though not a huge number, sales of its higher-end cars could eat into the number of rebates afforded to Model 3 buyers.  

Richard Vogel/AP

The total cost is still pricey: At $35,000 total cost with $1,000 down, Tesla buyers can anticipate a roughly $631 monthly loan payment. That figure is based on an average car loan percentage rate of 4.35%, but doesn't account for taxes. 

Buyers also have to pay for license plate fees and insurance, which can range based on your driving history — or lack thereof. Car insurance can cost more than $100 per month.

Even if you can afford those monthly costs, you might not have enough cash on hand to pay for repairs to your Model 3. It's uncertain how much it will cost to maintain the Model 3, but looking at existing Tesla maintenance might give us a hint. 

In 2014, Green Car Reports reported that after two years of ownership, maintenance fees were relatively low: $1,858. If your Tesla gets into an accident, however, costs can get heavy — especially depending on how much of it is made with aluminum versus steel. 

So $35,000 may sound affordable, but don't forget to consider the extra costs.

Justin Pritchard/AP

The mere act of pre-ordering is a privilege: When the Model 3 became available for pre-orders, Tesla gave first dibs to existing Tesla owners — people who have already spent $70,000-plus on a Model S or X. 

Let's say you're able to secure a Model 3. The next barrier to owning is being able to put down $1,000 on a car you won't see for more than a year, if Tesla makes its production deadlines on time. Considering that Tesla delivered roughly 50,000 cars last year, it has a lot of work to do in order to get those Model 3s delivered in less than three years.

The next barrier to owning is being able to put down $1,000 on a car you won't see for more than a year, if Tesla makes its production deadlines on time.

Judging by Mashable's recent profile of seven people who put down $1,000 for a chance to own the Model 3, these car buyers are not middle-income. 

The lineup includes a young iOS app designer, an IT engineer, a CEO, a race-car driver and a 24-year-old marketing manager who's betting his dreams on the future of electric vehicles. Though it's a tiny sample of the 325,000 would-be Model 3 owners, it paints a picture of privilege. 

So who gets a Model 3? If you haven't ordered one yet, probably not you.