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Could A Tesla Line Employee Afford How Much Tesla?


A few weeks ago a ton of you were interested to find out what an average Ford worker could afford, based on the company’s offer to the UAW, which still has not been resolved. Many commenters made it clear that they didn’t like the fact that a Ford factory worker would potentially be able to earn a livable salary and buy a base model Mustang at the same time. So we’re going to take a look at another American automaker, but a famously non-union shop this time.

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According to government employment data, Tesla employed around 130,000 people worldwide as of January 2023. Indeed says that Tesla’s production and manufacturing employees range in salary from $39,691 for a new hire factory worker to $131,840 for a tenured line supervisor.

We based our Ford calculation off of a four-year employee, and will do our best estimation of that here for a Tesla employee as well. Let’s say they haven’t been promoted yet, but have received three percent per year cost of living adjustments, and a one-time performance-based ten-percent raise in their third year. We’re also basing this off of an average employee at the company’s Fremont, Calif. plant, so they’re probably making a bit more than the average worker in the Texas facility. It’s just more expensive to live in the Bay Area.

For the purposes of this conversation, we’ll say they got hired in at $46,000, and today earn a salary of $56,950. Not bad. Not as good as the theoretical Ford worker, but nearly as good as the average American salary earner.

Can The Tesla Worker Afford To Buy A Tesla?

Many of the Glassdoor reviews I’ve read from former Tesla employees mention something about loving the ‘company’s clear goals’ and believing in the electric car maker and its products. It would stand to reason, then, that many of them would want to purchase a Tesla of their own. Given their salary, is that even realistic?

To know what you can afford to buy on today’s new car market, you’ll have to calculate take-home pay. A worker making $56,950 is going to want to chuck some of that money into a retirement account, and most financial advisors recommend 10 percent of pre-tax income as a goal, but that’s a lot. According to employees, Tesla matches five percent of 401K contributions, which is good, because the government can’t take it from you if it’s in a 401K. This worker is going to contribute five percent to get full matching, but can’t afford to do the full ten percent.

According to a Forbes income calculator, a single-filing worker earning $56,950 and putting $2,848 in a 401K is taxed $4,733 at the federal level, and $1,732 goes to the government of California. That puts take-home pay at $50,486 annually, or $4,207 per month.

As we discussed last time, average everyday Americans should probably not be spending more than ten percent of their take-home pay for their car. With average new car payments over $700 per month these days, its going to be a little tough for this theoretical worker to afford much of anything. Based on their take-home pay, they can afford to spend an Elon-approved $420 (blaze it) per month on a car payment.

What About Tesla Employee Pricing?

Tesla doesn’t have a dealership network, and doesn’t have to worry about things like dealer invoice or A Plan Pricing. When I went looking for Tesla’s employee discount system, I was surprised to learn, however, that Tesla does not discount its automobiles for employees even one single cent. I texted an anonymous Tesla-employee friend of mine to confirm this was the case, and they replied “We don’t ...” get a discount.

Well, at least this makes our math a lot easier.

To figure out how much car this theoretical person can afford, we’ll have to make a few more assumptions about them. They’re a single-income person living alone, and they have excellent credit, let’s say something over 800 (average FICO score is 714). We did the same for the Ford worker.

If they can afford a monthly payment of $420, we can work backwards to figure out how much car they can actually buy. By using NerdWallet’s price calculator, we can input a monthly of $420 and a proposed (though not recommended) loan term of 84 months. Given a high credit rating, this person can probably get a decent APR today of around five to six percent, meaning they can afford to finance $29,646.73, and by the time you’re done paying on the car, you’ll have paid $5,633.27 in interest.

We’ll have to account for the 8.25 percent sales tax rate for Fremont, California, plus around $600 for new car registration fees. Tax, title, and license can be financed, so we’ll add that to the total amount paid. Remove all of that from your financed vehicle, and you’ve got a total financed cost of $25,000-ish.

What Can You Buy For $25,000?

Considering that the least expensive Tesla on the market today is the rear-wheel drive Model 3 with a purchase price of $38,990, it’ll be tough to buy much of anything. The Model 3 is still currently eligible for a $7,500 federal tax credit, but because this person will only owe $4,733 that credit will basically just wipe out any taxes they owe, and not necessarily result in a larger return. It helps, no doubt, but only so much.

Let’s say this person has a trade-in valued at about $10,000, which they probably still owe a little on, so we can reduce the outright price to $30,000 even. They’ll need to come up with another five to six thousand dollars cash to put in as a down payment in order to get a $420 monthly. It’s not impossible, but it’s a stretch. The median American savings account has $5,300 in it, so they could tap their entire savings to get a down payment that high, but won’t have a rainy day fund after the fact. Not advisable, but possible.

One benefit I have seen from Tesla is that it sometimes offers its employees free charging, particularly while they’re at work, so it’s possible some of the savings of not paying for charging will help offset the price of the vehicle as well. Tesla also offers—or at least has done so in the past—its employees the opportunity to purchase Tesla stock at an incentivized discount, so it’s possible this four-year employee has a few shares to sell in order to help cover the cost of their car.

What About Leasing?

It’s going to be a bit of a stretch for an average Tesla employee to buy even the barest of bare bones Teslas. Leasing, however, might be a little easier. Tesla is currently running a lease deal on Model 3s and Model Ys. For well-qualified lessees, like our theoretical human here, you can get a 36-month lease for just $329 per month on a base Model 3 or 399 per month for a base Model Y, $4,500 due at signing with 10,000 miles per year allowed.

On the Model 3 they can even get a $2,000 optional color if they want, and their monthly would still be just $364. They can’t afford, however, to lease an all-wheel drive Model 3 or Y, it’s rear-drive only.

So Tesla Employees Can Afford A Tesla?

Sort of. If they have extremely good credit, can get a decent interest rate, and have a good trade-in and some extra cash to put down on the car, they can drive away in a brand new Model 3 or Model Y base model with rear wheel drive. Don’t even bother thinking about a Model S or Model X. If they’re okay with leasing, they can get those two same 3 or Y RWD models for a little less and with a little less money down.

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