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Why is the Tesla Model 3 so popular?

Australians arguably aren’t buying electric vehicles; they’re buying Tesla’s instead.

According to Tesla figures reported to the Electric Vehicle Council, the growing automaker sold 12,094 examples of its Tesla Model 3 small sedan in 2021 – up from only 2960 in 2020.

That makes the Model 3 the most popular EV and overall 22nd best-selling vehicle in Australia – beating the Subaru Forester medium SUV (11,810) and Isuzu MU-X ute-based SUV (10,618), while trailing behind the Toyota Camry medium sedan (13,801) and Mazda 3 small car (14,126).

It alone outsold entire brands like Lexus (9290), Skoda (9185), and Volvo (9028).

The emerging American carmaker nearly sold nine times more Model 3s than the second-best selling EV in 2021, the affordable MG ZS EV SUV (1388).

However, the Model 3s success likely won’t last.

The Tesla Model Y, a more practical crossover twin of the Model 3, is expected to launch sometime this year in Australia.

We expect it will quickly overshadow the 3s sales given the demand for higher-riding SUVs – but it’s contingent on unhampered supply from the Shanghai factory and minimal shipping delays.

Despite this, the Tesla Model 3 is still the world’s most popular electric car. So, what makes it such a success?

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Price

While the automotive sector grappled with semiconductor supply shortages and the continued global pandemic in 2021, Tesla introduced a major update for the Model 3 – and dropped its price tag.

Combined with a state-led push to offer limited EV rebates and stamp duty incentives towards the end of the year, it created the perfect formula for Model 3 demand to further thrive.

While the popular small sedan was (and still is) affected by the chip shortage – delaying delivery times and removing adjustable lumbar seats – it isn't subject to strict allocation limits for Australia.

For context, Kia Australia has only mooted 500 examples of its EV6 sporty crossover for the entire 2022 year despite already receiving nearly 2000 deposits, Hyundai Australia underpromised allocation for its Ioniq 5 retro crossover by bringing only 240 units – instead of the 400 stated initially – in the fourth quarter of 2021, and Volvo Cars Australia sold out of its 2021 allocation of around 207 examples for the XC40 Recharge Pure-Electric SUV just weeks after opening the ordering books in the third quarter of 2021.

The Model 3 starts from $59,990 before on-road costs and state incentives for the base Model 3 rear-wheel drive, $73,400 for the Long Range all-wheel drive, and $84,900 for the Performance all-wheel drive.

Compared to other EV rivals, it costs more than the MG ZS EV SUV ($44,990 drive-away), Nissan Leaf small hatch ($49,990 before on-roads), and Mini Cooper SE Electric Classic city car ($55,650).

But, it undercuts cars like the Kia EV6 Air bespoke electric crossover ($67,990), Mercedes-Benz EQA 250 small SUV ($76,800), and BMW i4 eDrive40 liftback ($99,990).

It’s most direct rival to date is the Polestar 2 crossover liftback, starting from an identical $59,900 before on-roads for its base Standard Range Single Motor variant. However, buyers will need to tick the option boxes for the $5000 Pilot pack and $6000 Plus pack to achieve equipment list parity with the base Model 3.

Tesla, along with BMW and Mini, adopts a condition-based servicing scheme.

This means there’s no annual time or set distance travelled required for maintenance like in Hyundai, MG and Porsche EVs; instead, a range of sensors in the vehicle will notify the owner via the Tesla mobile app when it’s time for a check-up.

Tesla also uses a network of Mobile Service vans and modified Model S or X’s to conduct check-ups or minor fixes nearly anywhere, though bigger tasks require a trip back to the nearest Tesla service centre.

Read our ULTIMATE guide on "How much it cost to own a Tesla Model 3?"

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Standard equipment

Unlike traditional car brands that strip cheaper trim levels of equipment, the entry-level Model 3 has essentially all features as standard.

This includes the central 15-inch infotainment system, dual Qi wireless charging pads, mobile key app connectivity, all-round LED lights, electric tailgate, a heat pump, ‘Basic Autopilot’ safety assistance suite, a built-in dash cam, and more.

Opting for the Long Range only gains a better sound system, front LED fog lights, and bigger 19-inch ‘Sport’ alloy wheels as standard (usually a $2200 option), while the flagship Performance nets 20-inch ‘Uberturbine’ wheels on a lower suspension, stronger brakes with painted red callipers, a carbon fibre spoiler lip, and more.

It’s worth noting that all Model 3s come with a 30-day ‘Premium Connectivity’ trial, which becomes an optional $9.99 per month subscription afterwards.

It unlocks more capabilities of the already built-in Telstra 4G SIM card, including streaming music and video without relying on a Wi-Fi hotspot and displaying the satellite view with live traffic lines on Google Maps.

Meanwhile, owners who want more assistance systems like ‘Navigate on Autopilot’ on highways, automatic lane changing, ‘Summon’, and more will need to pay $10,100. That price tag is expected to increase soon.

Efficiency and performance

The bespoke electric sedan offers one of the best range, efficiency and performance figures at its price point for an electric car right now, especially on the mid-spec Long Range model.

Last year saw the automaker shift Australian-bound Model 3s being made from the Fremont, California factory to the Shanghai, China ‘Gigafactory’. This brought along with it the introduction of the lithium-ion phosphate (LFP) battery on the base Model 3.

The liquid-cooled 60.5kWh (57.5kWh usable) LFP pack brings significant advantages, including the ability to always charge to 100 per cent without excessive degradation effects – meaning more everyday range – and doesn’t use cobalt which has been attributed to environmentally-harmful mining and child exploitation in developing countries.

The LFP chemistry remains relatively rare in EVs today, with the exception of Chinese manufacturers like BYD and Great Wall Motors (GWM)/Ora since most battery packs are produced in China from companies like the Contemporary Amperex Technology (CATL) – which supplies the LFP battery for the entry-level Tesla Model 3.

Tesla claims the base Model 3 rear-wheel drive has 491km of driving range on the stricter WLTP testing cycle, 114Wh/km efficiency consumption, and 0-100km/h time in 6.1 seconds from its single motor producing 211kW of power and 375Nm of torque.

For reference, only the Hyundai Ioniq Electric can match its low efficiency figure, with the EVs sold today achieving around 200Wh/km on average instead.

Additionally, the Long Range offers dual 340kW/493Nm electric motors, all-wheel drive and a larger 82kWh (76kWh usable) battery pack – albeit using the common nickel-manganese cobalt (NMC) chemistry.

This mid-range variant offers one of the best price-for-range ratios for an EV, with 602km of range (WLTP), 124Wh/km energy efficiency, and 0-100km/h sprint in 4.4 seconds.

Atop the ladder is the Performance, which houses the same battery pack and all-wheel drive capabilities as the Long Range, but ups the ante of the twin electric motors to 420kW/660Nm and accelerates from 0 to 100km/h in just 3.3 seconds.

It does, however, reduce its range to 547km (WLTP) and increase its energy consumption to 134Wh/km thanks to its hi-po power outputs and thinner tyres.

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Tesla charging network

Charging is often a pain point for many prospective electric car buyers, but the Model 3 benefits from being one of the most widely compatible EVs to plug-in at public AC/DC charging stations.

In Australia, there are currently 49 DC Tesla Superchargers around the east, south and west coast comprising mostly 120kW (V2) and some emerging 250kW (V3) stations, according to Plugshare.

The Model 3 is capable of the latter, up to 250kW on 400-volts. For context, the Hyundai Ioniq 5, Kia EV6 and Genesis GV60 trio can only charge up to 225kW on the more advanced 800-volt architecture.

Tesla's are also one of the few EVs currently able to pre-condition the battery temperature, so it can obtain the fastest possible charge rates when it arrives at the Supercharger. Drivers need to set a Tesla Supercharger as the destination on the vehicle’s built-in Google Maps.

Moreover, Tesla is a pioneer of ‘plug-and-charge’ technology, so all Tesla vehicles can juice up on a Supercharger without needing to activate the charger on a smartphone app or tap an RFID membership card.

An underrated selling point, though, are Destination Chargers with 296 AC Tesla wall boxes (dubbed Tesla Wall Connectors) scattered around the country at cafes, motels, shopping centres and more, according to Plugshare.

It can top-up Model 3s at a rate of up to 11kW using its onboard AC to DC inverter.

It’s worth noting that while most Tesla wall boxes are able to charge any EV using a Type 2 connector, some locations have specific signs prohibiting non-Tesla electric cars from charging.

Overall, with Model 3s also able to charge at any other public AC or DC charger using a Type 2/CCS2 Combo port from networks like Chargefox, Evie, Jolt and more, it makes the electric sedan one of the most accessible and compatible EVs for charging on-the-go.

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Interior and tech

It’s no secret that first superficial impressions are important for any car buyer.

The Model 3s futuristic, minimal, lounge-like interior laden with animal-free leather, matte black textures, wood and suede materials is unique and untraditional compared to a typical passenger car.

It’s practical, too. As it rides on a dedicated electric car platform, it has a total of 649-litres of cargo space across the boot and frunk, with the former featuring a deep well in lieu of a spare wheel.

While having climate controls, steering wheel adjustments, and even the speedometer placed on the large central 15-inch horizontal touchscreen is contentious for some, it seems to have won the hearts of many car buyers as well. That’s a sentiment affirmed by Matt Watson’s mother.

With an over-the-air upgradable infotainment system capable of built-in Google Maps, streaming YouTube videos, playing games and making fart sounds, it also has an expansive glass roof that absorbs 99 per cent of UV radiation according to the company, almost invisible air vents behind the dashboard, and a slim credit card-like key.

There’s also Camp Mode, Dog Mode, Car Wash Mode, Romance Mode, Keep Climate On, a light show, and nifty dashcam and Sentry Mode functions unheard of in any other car before it.

The Tesla mobile app is also a key selling point of the Model 3, allowing owners to use their smartphone as the car key, pre-condition the interior before entering the car, manage charging, open the tailgate and frunk, check the live view of the car’s surroundings, book a service check-up, and more.

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