2012 Tesla Model S Signature
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?
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
"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.