Tesla is making it possible to lease the Model 3 electric sedan for the first time while also making it harder to buy the much-hyped $35,000 base version of the vehicle.
The automaker announced late Thursday that it would begin leasing the Model 3 “for a small down payment and competitive monthly payments.”
It’s not the same as a standard auto industry lease, which typically gives leasees the option to purchase the vehicle when the lease expires.
“Please note, customers who choose leasing over owning will not have the option to purchase their car at the end of the lease, because with full autonomy coming in the future via an over-the-air software update, we plan to use those vehicles in the Tesla ride-hailing network,” Tesla said in a blog post.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long teased the possibility of a ride-hailing network of Tesla vehicles, but the company has not announced details.
Tesla Model 3 leases will be available with mileage limits of 10,000, 12,000 or 15,000.
The move could help boost sales of the Model 3 at a time when investors are worried about long-term demand for the car.
Luxury car customers choose leasing over buying more than 50 percent of the time, according to Evercore ISI.
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Meanwhile, the company is removing the $35,000 version of the Model 3 from online-only ordering. The base version became available for sale about six weeks ago after years of anticipation, with Musk billing the vehicle as an affordable electric car for the masses.
The company said customers will need to visit a Tesla store or call Tesla to order the $35,000 model, dubbed Standard, which won’t have heated seats, music streaming service and other features. Customers can pay at any time to upgrade to the next step up, called Standard Plus, and activate those features. Standard Plus now begins at $39,500, with the company’s partially self-driving Autopilot system included, instead of $37,500 plus a $3,000 upgrade for Autopilot.
The company said it’s making the moves because “we have made the decision to simplify our production operations to better optimize cost, minimize complexity and streamline operations.”
Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst said in a research note that the latest change illustrates Tesla’s “unpredictability in pricing/marketing communication.”
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.
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