Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s recent announcement about the driverless hardware being built into its new cars just gave the Model 3 a big advantage over the Chevy Bolt.
The Chevy Bolt is the first consumer-friendly, electric car with a competitive range that is slated to arrive in dealerships by the end of this year. It has a range of 238 miles, a sweet price tag of $37,500 before federal tax exemptions, and a perfectly acceptable top speed of 91 mph.
The Bolt also comes with semi-autonomous features, like lane-keep assist and front-pedestrian braking.
But if you’re looking to buy an electric car, you may want to wait for the Model 3.
The tech matters
What really gives the Model 3 an edge is the driverless tech being built into it.
Musk announced Wednesday that vehicles currently in production, which includes the Model 3, are being built with hardware that will enable them to be fully driverless, pending more software validation and regulatory approval. A Tesla vehicle will drive itself from Los Angles to New York by the end of 2017 as a demonstration of that technology, Musk said.
In the meantime, the new hardware has boosted Tesla’s Autopilot capabilities, renaming the system Enhanced Autopilot, to match speed to traffic conditions, automatically change lanes without driver input, merge on and off highways, and park itself.
Enhanced Autopilot will tack on $5,000 to the Model 3 base price. To activate the Fully Self-Driving capability, it will be $8,000 at the time of purchase.
That means you can have a fully driverless Model 3 for $43,000. Of course, only time will tell when Tesla rolls out the fully autonomous update. But in the meantime, you can get a host of autonomous features for $40,000. It’s still unclear whether the Model 3 will be eligible for federal tax exemptions because it’s slated to arrive in 2018, so we’ll stick to the $40,000 to $43,000 price range.
That means, upfront, you’re paying at least $2,500 more than the Chevy Bolt for a much smarter car. If you factor in the Bolt’s federal tax exemptions, that price difference does grow.
However, let’s say you get the full $7,500 federal tax exemption for the Chevy Bolt. That means you would be paying $13,000 more for a fully driverless Model 3. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t a huge difference for a car that could do all your driving for you. It’s certainly not a big enough difference for me to commit to an electric car with far fewer autonomous features.
Negligible range difference
Tesla’s Model 3 has baseline specs that are pretty similar to the Chevy Bolt.
Musk said in March that the Model 3 will have about 215-mile range. Yes, that is slightly lower than the Bolt, but if you really think about it the range difference is negligible.
If you mainly use your car to commute, you’re maybe getting an extra day or two before needing to re-charge with the Chevy Bolt. If you want to go on any long trips, there’s really no difference at all in regards to where you would need to stop.
It would be one thing if it were the difference between 300 miles and 215 miles, but that extra 23-mile bump by the Bolt won’t have any meaningful impact on your everyday driving life.
It’s also worth mentioning that when Musk unveiled the car in March, he said Tesla aims to exceed the initial range of 215 miles. Considering Tesla is known to roll out cars with several battery options, it’s likely the Model 3 will inch closer to the Chevy Bolt’s range.
For reference, there’s still no word on the expected top speed of the Model 3. Musk has said the car will accelerate to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds, which is on par with the Bolt’s 0-60 mph acceleration time of less than 7 seconds.
It comes down to timing
A very real caveat to this argument is that the Chevy Bolt will be made available in a few months while Model 3 deliveries won’t really commence until 2018.
Many will also point to the fact that Tesla does have issues when it comes to production.
Business Insider’s Matt DeBord has gotten into the weeds about this, pointing out that Tesla’s Fremont plant has the capacity to assemble 500,000 vehicles annually, but is only producing a fraction of that. Tesla’s 2016 goal is to ramp up production to about 100,000.
The Fremont factory will have to handle the Model 3 on top of production for the Model S and Model X.
In a September interview with Y Combinator’s Sam Altman, Musk acknowledged the factory’s production line had to be faster, but that he’s “confident” Tesla can get a twentyfold increase of that speed.
Musk has set an ambitious target of delivering 500,000 cars annually by 2018 and one million cars by 2020.
So it does go without saying that if you’re looking for an electric car right now, the Chevy Bolt is a solid option. But it would probably make more sense to lease the Bolt in the interim while waiting for Model 3 deliveries to commence.
That especially holds true if you consider how crowded the electric car space will become in the next several years.
Audi and Hyundai are both planning on rolling out an all-electric SUV by 2018. Volkswagen is planning to roll out five electric vehicles by 2020. And Volvo aims to offer at least two all-electric vehicles by 2019, one of which is expected to be a crossover or SUV.
Mercedes is also planning to release an electric SUV by 2019. That doesn’t even touch on all electric car start-ups entering the space.
So sufficed to say, electric cars are about to get a whole lot better in the coming years. If I’m looking to buy, I’d go with the tech-savvy Model 3 that could turn driverless before going all in on the Chevy Bolt, which is really the first of many future long-range electric cars to come.
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