The first production Tesla Model 3s are about to roll off the factory at the EV maker’s new Shanghai Gigafactory 3, as the first review emerges from China heralding the supply of locally-made versions of the best-selling electric sedan to the extremely lucrative Chinese auto market.
Tesla CEO and co-founder Elon Musk spoke highly of Giga 3 at the car maker’s latest Q3 earnings call, commenting that the factory would not not only allow the car maker to triple its output, it would also set the “template for future growth” for the company.
Yesterday, reports emerged that official production for the Made in China Model 3 (colloquially known as MIC M3) would commence on Monday, November 11, 2019.
While this has not been confirmed by Tesla headquarters or by Tesla chair and Australian Robyn Denholm, who is in China currently, production is certainly imminent.
What is said to be the first review of the MIC M3 has now been posted by Tencent Auto chief auto editor 常岩 via his Weibo account, where he uses the handle “Cyfoxcat“, and reports are that his assessment is that the MIC M3 is everything the Californian-made Model 3 lives up to be – and more.
“After experiencing a day of domestic Tesla Model 3, I found that this is not just a copy-and-paste version of an imported car, but also has many improvements due to Chinese team thinking,” says Cyfoxcat (translated from Chinese).
Recognisable due to the China-only Tesla logo on the rear in Chinese characters, the Tencent Auto editor took the new MIC Model 3 for a drive around Shanghai streets on Thursday (China time).
A clip from his 11 minute long Weibo video was posted on Twitter by “Ray Tesla” (note this is in Chinese only).
Tencent Auto Editor in chief 常岩is the first one in 🇨🇳 to test drive China-made #Model3. As a model 3 owner himself (delivered back in March), he has a lot to say about the good qualities of his test vehicle. It handles well, smooth, quick, and noticeably quiet. He is impressed. pic.twitter.com/JGCroMiUEc
— Ray4️⃣Tesla⚡️🚘☀️🔋 (@ray4tesla) November 7, 2019
While it is doubtful that in a country where national pride is so important that a negative review would surface on social media, the review and accompanying photos does give us some insight the Chinese-made Model 3 along with other points of reference.
So without further ado, here’s everything we know about the MIC Model 3.
Price and range
Number one fact is that only the Standard Range Plus (SRP) version will be made in China, and the US-made Standard Range is no longer available.
However, pricing for the MIC Model 3 has already gone up in price from when it was first added to the Tesla Chiana website in May.
When it was added in May, pricing for the MIC M3 was listed at starting from ¥328,000 ($68,170 at today’s rates), about 10% less than the US-made SRP Model 3 is ¥377,000 ($A78,350 at today’s rates).
But now, the MIC M3 Standard Range Plus, which as in the US and Australia is available in white as standard and four other colours, is priced at ¥355,800 ($A73,944 converted).
While prices have been fluctuating in China for US-made Tesla vehicles due to the US-China trade war, that doesn’t explain the MIC price-rise which is immune from tariffs imposed by the Chinese government on US-made imports.
Wheels and roof
The trial version of the Made in China sports the standard 18″ aeros that are available as standard in Australia. However, the MIC Model 3 will also be available with optional 19″ sports wheels for ¥14,200 ($A2,951 converted) – this is about $US500 more than they cost in the US.
Going against suggestions that the Chinese-made Model 3 would feature a solid roof, the new MIC Standard Range Plus retains the panoramic glass roof.
Build quality and noise
According to Cyfoxcat, the build quality of the trial vehicle he drove is high: “I can guarantee that the current work of the trial production stage is better than the imported version,” he says.
It’s hard to read between the lines of a translation of the video, but from what we can make out the main reason behind this is due to improved sealing and waterproofing that have reduced in-car noise making for a noticeably quieter ride.
Looking at close ups posted by Cyfoxcat, there do however appear to be some minor issues with panel gaps and alignment – issues that have plagued Tesla in the US as well, drawing criticism of the relatively new carmaker from Wall Street analysts and shorts.
It shouldn’t be forgotten however that as a trial vehicle, Tesla China’s new production team are still finding their feet. If the VIN (#LRW3E7EA5LC000553) shown in Cyfoxcat’s video is anything to go by, the Shanghai team has produced 553 vehicles.
In the bigger picture of numerous efficiencies developed by Tesla in its ramp of Model 3 production in the US that has seen it report another profitable quarter for Q3 2019 causing the likes of S&P Bond and Adam Capital to reverse their bearish views of Tesla, and the 150,000 units per year that Shanghai aims to make, this is a drop in the ocean.
Chinese-made Model 3 in Australia?
There has been no official announcement from Tesla as to whether Shanghai Gigafactory 3 will produce Model 3s for Australia or for that matter other countries in the Asia Pacific region.
While it might make logistic sense to do this for other parts of Asia, the distance between Shanghai and Sydney is actually further than from Los Angeles to Sydney, raising the question of whether it would in fact be easier and cheaper to retain imports from the US.
It would also mean swapping drivetrains from LHD to RHD – a minor cost considering the symmetrical nature of the Model 3 build, and therefore perhaps financially worth it for Asian RHD drive markets Japan, Hong Kong and Macau.
But it is thought that for now, the demand for Model 3s in China will be more than enough to keep Shanghai Giga 3 for the time being.
Of course, it has been suggested previously by senior manager for Tesla Australia Sam McLean that if the opportunity arose, Tesla would consider making vehicles here.
When and if this ever comes to pass though seems but a wish in the distance future. Tesla’s next Gigafactory, the site for which will be announced by the year’s end, will be in Europe.