2012 Tesla Model S Signature Series: Is It Worth The Premium?

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

2012 Tesla Model S Signature

Enlarge Photo

The first 1,000 or so 2012 Tesla Model S electric sport sedans to be delivered to U.S. customers will be fully-loaded, limited-edition "Signature" cars.

But as delivery dates slip due to early production snags, some owners of Signature cars--called "Sigs" within the Tesla clan--grumble that they're not getting much value for the extra money they had to shell out.

Is the "Sig tax"--the premium price and the hefty $40,000 deposit--worth its benefits? 

Let's look at the numbers.

The Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] list price for a Signature Model S is $87,900.

A comparably-equipped standard Model S--with an 85-kWh battery and all available options except the moon roof--lists for $84,350. That's a $3,550 difference.

For the Performance version of the car, the comparable numbers are $97,900  and $92,850--or a $5,050 difference.

Interest adds up, too

The effective "Sig tax" can be higher if an owner wouldn't otherwise have ordered a particular option. Downgrades aren't allowed; Signature owners pay for all the options and the premium paint job whether they want them or not.

Then there's the interest on the $40,000 deposit. In effect, Tesla has received interest-free loans totaling more than $40 million from its Signature owners.

Early depositors put down their money more than three years ago. At current corporate bond rates  (about 6 percent), that amounts to about $8,000 in foregone interest.

So, roughly speaking, the typical Signature owner has paid a "Sig tax" of $3,500 to $13,000. 

What does he or she get for the money?

  • The option of a special red paint job unavailable on the standard car
  • The option of a special white interior, also unavailable on the standard car
  • Two small external "Signature" badges
  • Free 3-G connectivity for one year

In addition, Signature Performance models get some added minor interior and exterior accents that the standard Performance car lacks.

Ironically, the Signature Model S lacks some interior and paint options available on the standard car.

If you happen to prefer green paint to red, or a silver interior rather than white, the first two Signature "benefits" become penalties.

Is that all there is?

At first glance, these Signature benefits may not impress. 

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

2012 Tesla Model S, brief test drive, New York City, July 2012

Enlarge Photo

"I don't think I'm getting anywhere near the value for the money," griped one owner in a lengthy thread on the Tesla Motor Club forum.

"I too think the Sig is a disappointment in terms of value," chimed in another. "But I can't bring myself to switch (to a standard car)."

For most Sig owners, however, the "Big Bennie" is not the car itself. It's the timing.

Sig owners automatically go to the front of the queue to own what is, by all accounts, an extraordinary, ground-breaking car. 

But recent production delays and the rapid anticipated ramp-up in production of standard cars as soon as the Signature cars are built has blunted this hoped-for time advantage. 

"I was willing to pay the premium (begrudgingly) to jump the line by three months," says one Sig owner whose car has been delayed by four to six weeks. "But for one month, it's an absurd premium to pay."

"Delivery during the summer would actually have had some value," echoed another.

Earliest cars delivered

The very earliest adopters at the head of the Sig line already have the pleasure of driving their cars three to six months ahead of the rabble, starting in June with venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson, who's on the Tesla board.

(At this writing, Tesla will only say that "more than 250" Model S cars have been delivered.)

Last-minute Signature buyers also reaped a huge bonus in delivery time. If you signed up for one of the last few remaining Sigs in August, you're probably looking at a December delivery.

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Comments (15)
  1. Meh, I just want a Model S here in Australia. Now. :`(

  2. Enjoyed the article. It is always interesting when a company can get us to put up a little more money and yet make use feel good about it.

    My old boss drove Lexuses. When he went in to Lexus service he would say "I am pretty sure they are #$%^#ing me over, but they treat me so nice when I am there that I love going there. Chalk one up for the Lexus service experience.

  3. The "Sig tax" issue has been around since last December when Tesla first announced the Options & Pricing for Model S. At the time, the consensus among the Sig reservation holders was that the "Sig tax" was worth it to get the early delivery. Now with the production delays, the time difference between the last Sig deliveries, and the first production deliveries will not be "Sig"-nificant. As a low P reservation holder who has already waited two years, and who doesn't care about the Sig red paint or white interior, a few more months to wait is well worth foregoing the "Sig tax". And, hopefully Tesla will have worked through the emergent technical issues that have cropped up with a few of the car's features by the time I take delivery.

  4. So without the delays there would have been more time between last Sig deliveries, and the first production deliveries? How does that work? Seems to me that the slower production ramps up the longer the time between when signature series reservation holders get their cars and when the pack gets their cars, making the "sig premium" more significant.

  5. Guess these premium models are aimed at people who want to be the first to participate in something new and exciting and like to see that rewarded by getting something that's slightly different from what the pack's getting.

    People who think with their heart rather than their calculator. This is not a Camry you know...

  6. Ego tax...looks like it worked out for Tesla.

  7. Strange article. Several (not so true) facts:
    - All Sigs didn't deposit $40K 3 years ago. (Sig. reservations didn't sell out until Dec. 2011). At least 1/3 of Sigs made their deposit 1 year ago or less.
    - All Sigs can use the Tesla SuperChargers on road trips and get free electric fuel for life. They also get free 3G internet for the first year. Wouldn't you call those perks?
    - Gen. Production Model S cars will begin shipping in Nov-12. The author stated Summer 2013.
    I'll stop here.

  8. @David: Source for the statement that general-production Model S cars will start shipping next month? Tesla has been extremely close-mouthed on production numbers since its SEC filing, and that's a statement I hadn't seen previously.

    Is it based on current production numbers as of this week (which the company won't discuss) or projections of production rates from awhile back? Details welcomed and, in fact, requested.

  9. Hey, man, did you even read the article?

    It doesn't say all Sigs deposited $40K three years ago. It says some did.

    It doesn't say that general production cars will start shipping in summer 2013. It said that if you had placed an order for one in Aug 2012, you'd be roughly number 12,000 on the waiting list, and probably get your car in summer 2013. I'll be delighted if regular production cars start shipping in November--I'm number P717--but I wouldn't count on it.

    And you're wrong that Sigs sold out in Dec 2011. According to a Tesla rep I talked to, it was August 2012.

    Yes, Signature cars get free Supercharging for life. But so do standard cars. How is that a Sig benefit?

  10. Reserving a Sig is simply paying to be in the front of the queue.

    Many people ignore that the first P was reserved way back in 2009 and the last US Sig end of July 2012. Had that last Sig customer reserved a regular production model in July, (s)he would have gotten reservation number 11,000 and could have expected his/her car sometime next Spring.

    "But as delivery dates slip due to early production snags, some owners of Signature cars--called "Sigs" within the Tesla clan--grumble that they're not getting much value for the extra money they had to shell out."

    That is therefore nonsense, the 6 month gap remains since a delay in Sigs also means a delay for general production cars.

  11. so "regular S's" will not be delivered until Summer 2013 at the earliest? hmmm, that would seem to be a major delay. i know some wno are "normal" S's and they were expecting delivery this year...

    oh well. better late than never as long as its not too late. One thing to consider; I have a LEAF and its STILL the only car I would buy (or can afford to buy) so Tesla does not have to worry about competition.

  12. please, read article one more time... "It said that if you had placed an order for one in Aug 2012, you'd be roughly number 12,000 on the waiting list, and probably get your car in summer 2013" (cited from David Noland, i am too lazy to think in english :-) )

  13. It's going to be a long time before we see the anyone get the least expensive 40kwh version. I'd like to buy the 85kwh version but I think I'll wait until next summer and hope that the wait has eased by then. If it hasn't, hello BMW i3.

  14. I started laughing at the part about getting 6% interest. The current risk-free interest rate is under 2%.

    If you are willing to look at risky investments (like bonds, whose prices can vary wildly), the "sig tax" can be calculated to be nearly infinite. For example, "sig" holders could have bought AOL stock with their deposits and gotten the car for free, with the deposit back.

    Let's keep the math closer to real, OK?

  15. This article is almost entirely sourced from a thread on Tesla Motors Club, yet I see no link to that particular thread nor to Tesla Motors Club in general. Please remedy that.



    Also, I don't think the author even bothered to ask members if they minded being quoted. If he had, he might have learned that "Arnold Panz, of Miami, Fla" is just a user-ID (a reference to a movie character) and not the forum member's actual name.

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