Reports have emerged that Tesla is already moving on its plan to deliver more affordable China-made Model 3 to external markets.
While Tesla originally intended for Model 3 vehicles made at its Shanghai gigafactory solely for the “greater China” market, reports in September revealed that Tesla China is now looking to export it to other markets.
With lower-cost and cobalt-free lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries now being used in the China-made Model 3 (which is only manufactured in the Standard Range Plus variant), its presence in other markets will mean a more affordable vehicle, although the trade off will be a shorter driving range as the LFP battery is less energy dense.
Documents shared online by EV buyers in France and Germany reveal that Tesla’s European arms have already started the process of importing the Model 3 SR+ from China instead of Fremont, USA.
A Tesla Model 3 deposit invoice reportedly shared online by a French customer shows the description of the vehicle reserved as “Model 3 – China”, and with a VIN starting with LRW, and LC designating the year (L = 2020) and the country of manufacture (C = China).
This report from Green Drive is firmed up by another invoice, this time shared on Twitter by Armand Vervaeck, a Belgian Tesla owner who notes a German VIN allocation also beginning with LRW had come across his radar.
The appearance of these receipts raises a number of topics, not least what this means for an Australian release of a China-made Tesla Model 3 SR+ (particularly given the EV maker just dropped the price of its Fremont-made Model 3 – by $7,000 down to $66,900 for the SR+ – and the fact our estimates put the Australian pricing of the China-made vehicle at around $57,000).
With Tesla’s Berlin gigafactory set to commence production as soon as May 2021, why would the EV maker go to the trouble of changing logistics to import from Shanghai instead of Fremont for a mere matter of months?
It is understood that there would be no savings in import taxes, but instead it is more to do with a ramp up in production in China as it moves to three shifts a day, plus the fact that the Berlin gigafactory will first focus on Model Y production.
The need to juggle of meeting demand in Europe, where carbon emissions regulations are driving up sales of electric vehicles, with the ability to source materials and make enough batteries to meet that demand, may also be part of the picture.
As noted by Tesla boss Elon Musk on Battery Day, the use of LFP batteries in lower range vehicles will free up supply of more energy dense batteries for vehicles with bigger energy requirements.
As noted by The Driven, the China-made Model 3 is also earmarked for export to Australia, which could be warmly welcomed if it means a price drop below $60,000.
It is not clear if the China-made Model 3 will get the various upgrades including the heat pump that has been confirmed for the upgraded Model 3 that is now available in Australia.
However we note interior images of the China-made Model 3 do not show a double wireless charging pad in the centre console, which may be a clue.
Nor is it clear if the China-made Model 3 will sport a separate badge to the Fremont-model, as it does in China.
We have reached out to Tesla to confirm whether this is the case and will update the story as more information comes to hand.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.