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Car & Driver: Tesla Hikes Prices on Autopilot, Adds Two-Year Leases and Discounts


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Tesla Model SWithin the car market, the democratization of technology is often taken for granted. Although the prices of cars might be rising, the premiums for some of the most advanced safety tech reliably and incrementally shrink in the years following a technology’s introduction—to the point at which it might get packaged as an even better deal, or rolled into standard-equipment lists. That’s apparently not the case at Tesla. The California automaker just hiked the order price of one of its most desirable safety-tech features, the controversial Autopilot system, from $2500 to $3000.


It’s all the more surprising because Autopilot uses a set of hardware that’s already on board and installed: Every Model X, as well as every Model S built since September 2014, was built with the hardware needed for Autopilot. The suite of features is merely enabled by software. And by the way, the cost of enabling it after taking delivery also has gone up by $500 to $3500.


Tesla’s Autopilot suite includes a traffic-aware cruise-control system and an Autosteer feature that will allow the driver to take his or her hands off the steering wheel—officially for short stints, but for far longer than in any other model from a major automaker fitted with a similar system. It harnesses inputs from cameras, radar, and ultrasonic sensors, and navigation data to help steer, and it will change lanes if you flick the turn signal lever.


Tesla AutopilotThe system hasn’t been without controversy, though. A Florida man driving a Model S in Autopilot mode died in May as the result of a crash in which a tractor-trailer truck made a turn into the Tesla’s path. Tesla has maintained that Autopilot is intended to serve as a fatigue-reducing technology, not as a replacement for driver inputs. Just prior to the release of a preliminary NTSB report on the Tesla crash last month, camera-hardware developer and manufacturer Mobileye announced that it will be exiting from a partnership to supply the California-based automaker, due to what the supplier described as a relationship in which it wasn’t in control over how its technology was being deployed.


The Autopilot price change is a move “to best reflect the value” of the product, according to Tesla spokesperson Alexis Georgeson, and that it doesn’t correspond to any addition to the Autopilot suite of sensors and hardware. “As always, our over-the-air software updates continue to make our cars safer, smarter, and more capable at no cost to customers,” she said. (Unless one of those updates is to enable Autopilot or unlock battery capacity, both of which require fees.)


The price increase that won’t affect lease payments by much, though—including the new shorter, two-year lease offers Tesla announced this month. Two-year leases often simply don’t make financial sense, but with Tesla’s atypically strong resale value among electric cars, the new terms don’t pencil to be much different than the numbers for three-year leases. In this case, a two-year lease could be a good move both for shoppers in a rapidly evolving market and for Tesla as it pushes for a stronger sales finish ahead of the more affordable Model 3 (pictured below).


2018 Tesla Model 3


According to Tesla’s Georgeson, the automaker has set no expiration date for the two-year loan offers. These still are expensive leases, however, and nothing close to the subsidized figures you might find on some other luxury sedans. With an announcement of the two-year leases earlier this month, Tesla pointed to monthly lease payments as low as $593—although a check with Tesla’s lease calculator indicated that’s based on putting $7195 down. For the base Model S P60, optioned only with Autopilot, the bottom-line sticker price is now $70,200; aiming for the least money down as possible, that figures to a two-year lease with monthly payments of $751 (and $3554 down) or a three-year lease with payments of $755 (and $3550 down). Go for the Model X P60D crossover instead and the new two-year lease terms amount to $894 per month with $3411 down.


Tesla has said that it doesn’t have discounts or incentives, yet there’s at least one: A referral program gives shoppers $1000 off—and you don’t have to search long and hard to find what’s essentially a coupon code. That program has been extended until at least October 15.


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