The ‘Cheap’ Tesla, and How It Became an Urban Myth

The ‘Cheap’ Tesla, and How It Became an Urban Myth
Image: iStock

Where is the cheap Tesla?

Tesla has been promising an affordable mass-market EV for years. First it was a vague $US30,000 ($41,646) concept, then the mythical $US35,000 ($48,587) Model 3, and most recently the $US25,000 ($34,705) model without a steering wheel or pedals. With the exception of the entry level Model 3’s incredibly brief run, Tesla doesn’t exactly seem eager to follow through on any of these budget-minded promises. Why not?

Back in 2009, the only Tesla car to be found on actual roads was the aptly-named (and, at the time, recently introduced) Roadster. A prototype of the Model S had been revealed, but the final version wouldn’t reach customers for another three years. The Models X, 3, and Y were but a glimmer in the eye of a certain emerald enthusiast. Tesla was a tiny, niche automaker.

The ‘Cheap’ Tesla, and How It Became an Urban MythThe Model S prototype was revealed in 2009. Remember that fake grille they used to have? (Photo: El monty, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Yet, even in those early days, Elon Musk wanted to sell a cheap car. In fact, he announced plans for a cheap car: A starting price of $US30,000 ($41,646), and a starting year of 2016. Maybe even 2015, if the tides were right and Mercury never entered retrograde.

In 2012, Musk and Tesla were still talking about that $US30,000 ($41,646) car. It was supposed to launch just three years later, alongside the production version of the Model X. 2013 rolled by, and talk of the $US30k EV didn’t stop.

The ‘Cheap’ Tesla, and How It Became an Urban MythPhoto: Tesla

By 2014, that entry-level sedan had gained a name: The Model 3. With the announcement, its price point was bumped up to the famed $US35,000 ($48,587) MSRP that grabbed so many headlines. Maybe Tesla was just accounting for inflation since that initial 2009 announcement, or maybe the cost of batteries hadn’t come down as far as Musk expected.

Surely, though, after all those years of talking about a budget model, the new car would actually exist at that price point. After the company took in hundreds of thousands of preorders, each with a $US1,000 ($1,388) price tag, there’s no way it could turn around and barely offer the car everyone ordered. Right?

The ‘Cheap’ Tesla, and How It Became an Urban MythScreenshot: Steve DaSilva/Google

Oh.

Tesla’s record with promising budget models is a lot stronger than its record for actually delivering them. So when the company announces a $US25,000 ($34,705) budget model only to say it isn’t actually going to be built, it’s hard to be disappointed. Rather, it feels more like a reassurance of something we knew all along — Tesla has no interest in selling a cheap car.

If you’re interested in buying an EV in Australia, here’s what incentives apply to you. Additionally, here’s what is available.

This article has been updated since it was originally published.