Tesla doesn’t sell cars through franchised dealerships like an overwhelming majority of its rivals do. The California-based company bypassed this decades-old business model and chose to sell its electric cars directly to customers through its own stores, which is the same strategy adopted by tech giants like Apple. In early 2019, it shifted to a fully digital sales model that lets customers order a Model 3, a Model Y, or a Cybertruck like they’d buy an Echo Dot from Amazon. Here’s how it works.
Find the model and version that suits you
To start, visit the company’s official website and select the model you’re interested in. Tesla currently sells six cars: The Model S, the Model X, the Model 3, the Model Y, the Roadster, and the Cybertruck. Only three are in production, but each one is offered in several configurations. For example, the rear-wheel drive Model 3 is available in one configuration called Standard Range Plus, while buyers who need all-wheel drive can select the Long Range or Performance version.
Tesla clearly states the price of each car on its website, but it warns potential buyers that the figure it provides includes potential incentives and gas savings. Its site lists the entry-level Model 3 at $31,815, because the company deducts the $1,875 federal tax incentive many buyers are eligible to receive, though incentives will no longer be offered in 2020, as well as six years’ worth of gasoline that Tesla owners will not have to pay for. The actual price of the car is $39,990.
Clicking on each version tells you precisely how much you’ll pay for it depending on whether you’re buying it in cash or financing it. You can estimate your monthly payment, which will vary based on the amount you put down, the length of the loan, and the annual percentage rate (APR). Tesla also lets buyers get a more precise estimate of how much money they’ll save after going electric by punching in how many miles they drive annually and how much they normally pay for fuel.
By entering a zip code, buyers can find out approximately how long they’ll need to wait before taking delivery. As of December 2019, all Model 3 variants are expected to ship in four to seven weeks regardless of whether you’re in California, in Utah, in Michigan, or elsewhere in the United States. Motorists who can’t wait that long can buy a car from Tesla’s inventory.
Configure your car online
You’re ready to configure your car when you know which one you want, how much you’re going to pay for it, and how long you’ll wait before taking delivery. Configuring a Tesla is simple, because the company’s list of options is relatively short. With that said, the lineup changes on a regular basis, so what we’re listing below might not be what you see on Tesla’s site.
The entry-level Model 3 comes standard with white paint and 18-inch alloy wheels, for example. Tesla charges $1,000 for black, silver, or blue paint, $2,000 for red, and $1,500 for 19-inch alloy wheels. Moving on to the interior, the only option is a $1,000 two-tone black and white upholstery (shown above). Autopilot is included, and full self-driving capability is a $7,000 option that doesn’t make the Model 3 autonomous — not yet. The company is working on driverless technology, and buyers who tick the box will receive it when it’s ready (and legally permissible) via an over-the-air software update.
Every Tesla comes with one of the industry’s most advanced infotainment systems. Version 10.0 released in September 2019 added Netflix and Spotify integration, an array of video games you can play while parked, and a cool but contentious feature named Smart Summon. The bad news is you’ll have to pay a monthly fee to unlock the car’s best features.
Place your order
Once you’ve built your dream Model 3, Tesla asks for one-time $100 order fee before it processes the order. You’ll need to create a Tesla Account by entering personal information like your name, your phone number, and your credit card details. Tesla notes that buyers can modify their order after they send the deposit. The company assigns buyers a delivery adviser after it receives an order, and that person becomes the customer’s point of contact for the remainder of the transaction. All of the documents — including loan-related paperwork, if needed — are uploaded online, so there’s no need to visit a store.
What about a test drive?
Some Tesla stores keep a small inventory of cars for buyers who want to drive away in a new Tesla immediately. Customers can visit these locations to test drive the model of their choice before ordering it online, but the company pointed out that 82 percent of Model 3 owners purchased their vehicle without driving it first. Those who nonetheless want to try before they buy can contact their nearest store to arrange a test drive.
Tesla knows buying a car without taking it for a spin is risky, so motorists who order online and skip the test drive step can return their car within seven days or 1,000 miles, whichever comes first. Those who drive before buying can return the car by the end of the first calendar day after they take delivery. Either way, the return is final; you can’t ask for the car back if you change your mind, and you can’t swap it for a different car. If you return a Model 3 because you realize you need the bigger Model S, you’ll need to start the ordering process from scratch.
What about cars not in production yet?
Half of the Tesla range isn’t in production yet. The Model Y and the Roadster (shown above) are tentatively due out in 2020, while the vintage Lotus-inspired Cybertruck won’t make its debut until 2021 at the earliest; only Elon Musk has driven it so far, both on the streets of Los Angeles, and in the classic Nintendo 64 game Golden Eye. The company gives buyers the option of reserving one of its upcoming cars to secure an early spot in line, and avoid long waiting times.
The reservation process starts on the company’s website. Log on, and click on the name of the model you want to get your hands on. Model Y production is scheduled to start soon, so Tesla lets future owners configure their car by choosing a powertrain type (either rear- or all-wheel drive), and by ticking boxes on the list of options (like a five- or seven-seater configuration). Once you’re done, you need to send the company a $2,500 deposit to complete your order. Tesla will contact you with more information, including the car’s expected delivery date, when it’s available.
Anyone can reserve a Cybertruck by selecting one of the three variants and sending the company a refundable, $100 deposit. You’ll be asked to complete your order as production nears in late 2021. The Roadster, which is shaping up to be Tesla’s flagship model, is more expensive. The firm asks for a $50,000 deposit to reserve the regular variant, or a $250,000 deposit for the limited-edition Founders Series version that’s expected to ship sooner.
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