Tesla just made it harder to buy its cheapest $35,000 electric car

File photo of Tesla Model 3
Tesla Inc. announced changes to its vehicle lineup and pricing, including making it tougher to buy the bottom-of-the-range $35,000 car, in an effort to drive demand after disappointing first-quarter deliveries.

All Tesla vehicles now come with the Autopilot driver-assistance feature as standard, the company said in a blog post late Thursday. The Model 3 with the so-called Standard Plus battery range used to cost $37,500, plus $3,000 for Autopilot. It now costs $39,500 with Autopilot included.

And a standard Model 3 costing $35,000 just became harder for customers to actually order. Deliveries of that version of the vehicle, which was the big promise of the Model 3 when it was first unveiled in March 2016, are just beginning this weekend. Now Tesla’s taking that model off the online menu.

Tesla’s constantly shifting approach to its lineup and retail strategy has rattled investors and stoked confusion. Ten days after signaling an almost complete withdrawal from physical stores, the company backtracked and said more locations would stay open than planned. If a customer wants to buy the low-end Model 3, they will now have to call the company or visit a store.

“This latest announcement is further evidence that 2019 will be a bumpy year for Tesla,” said analyst Gene Munster of Loup Ventures. “They’ll eventually get the formula right.”

Customers in the US will now be able to lease the Model 3, but will not have the option to own the car at the end of the lease because Tesla plans to use the cars in a forthcoming "Tesla ride-hailing network," Tesla said in its blog post. Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk first talked about his vision of a Tesla fleet for sharing when he unveiled his Master Plan Part Deux in July 2016.

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