Just over a month ago, Tesla said it would start selling the long-awaited $35,000 version of its Model 3 sedan, its lowest-priced offering.
Now, just as deliveries are to begin, the company is abruptly ending online sales of the $35,000 model and making other changes that effectively raise the car’s price for many customers.
In a blog post late Thursday, Tesla said it would take no online orders for the $35,000 version of the Model 3. Customers who want cars at that price must now contact the company by phone or buy them at one of its stores.
Model 3s ordered online will now include Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system and a longer battery range, changes that increase the price to $39,500. Tesla said in the blog post that it was making the changes to “simplify vehicle choices and to make Autopilot more affordable.”
On Feb. 28, the company’s chief executive, Elon Musk, said the $35,000 model was finally becoming available. He also said that Tesla would close most of its stores and showrooms to cut costs in hopes of producing the low-priced model at a profit, while increasing its emphasis on online sales. Less than two weeks later, the company retreated, saying it would keep many stores and showrooms open.
In its announcement on Thursday, Tesla also said it would begin leasing the Model 3, but would not offer customers the option to buy the cars after their leases expired, a departure from the typical industry practice.
The moves coincide with a slump in Tesla’s sales, especially in the United States. In the first quarter, the company delivered about 63,000 cars, a 31 percent drop from the fourth quarter.