March 2021 update
Tesla started production of the Model 3 in China during 2020 and have started to ship some of the production to Europe. These cars look largely the same as Fremont built cars, but there are some important differences you should be aware of. They are also referred to as Made in China or MIC.
Initially only 2020 model year SR+ cars were shipped with the chrome trim. From early 2021 the MIC cars Tesla shipping to Europe are 2021 specification Model 3 SR+ and Long Range models. The Long range uses essentially the same 75kwh battery as the Fremont cars however the SR+ uses a different chemistry which originally had some poor performance reports.
There are a couple of ways. China production have VINs that start LRW whereas Fremont start 5YJ. The factory letter further in the VIN also changes from F for Fremont to C for China built cars.
Another way is look at the charge screen on the SR+ model as the China built cars don't have a 90% marker.
The 2021 specification cars also have a slightly different interior door card where the dash accent is continued onto the first part of the door. The MIC cars also have a heated steering wheel on the Long Range and possibly on the SR+ via a software unlock in much the same way as the rear heated seats although this has not been announced. There are also some smaller detail changes although you are only likely to spot these via a side by side comparison.
The China built SR+ cars use a lithium iron phosphate (LFP) battery and not the lithium-ion cells used in the Fremont built cars. These batteries are also supplied by a different supplier as they are made by Chinese battery maker CATL.
There are some positive messages for these LFP batteries, they can and in fact like being charged to 100% unlike their lithium-ion cousins where it is advised to keep the charge to below 90%. The range is also claimed to be up, with the MIC SR+ claiming a range of 440km while the 2020 Fremont SR+ models have a range of 409 km.
The early LFP batteries unfortunately suffered from poor cold weather performance, including when charging. Indications are that a software update in Feb 2021 resolved most, if not all, of these issues although it is still too early to tell which battery is the better choice.
The China build LR cars also seem to be coming through with the LG 75 kwh battery where as the Fremont equivalent cars are getting the 82kwh battery,
Other changes are broadly consistent with the 2021 model year changes such as new matrix headlights and heat pump.
The first thing to recognise is that Fremont has done a lot to improve the widely reported quality issues and while not perfect, it is better than it was.
The early examples of MIC cars we've seen, especially the 2021 model year, have been built well and to similar quality as the current Fremont standard. It is still not perfect with some alignment issues on panels being the usual weakness, but they're as good in general as any Model 3s Tesla have made up to now.
Tesla do however still suffer from the pre delivery Inspection weaknesses and poor preparation of the car. The first batch of cars to arrive in the UK and delivered in March 2021 suffered lots of paint scratches simply down to the valet team using very poor cleaning practice in their rush to get the cars delivered which will require a machine polish to remove.
While the LFP battery issues appear to be better we still have our doubts. MIC LR cars also lose out to their Fremont made equivalents with a 75kwh and not 82kwh battery. Buyers do not really have a choice in which factory their car is built when ordering a new car so its all a bit academic, and looking at used cars to avoid the LFP battery in your area typically means no heat pump so not necesarily worth doing. We are however disappointed that the LR car can differ so much depending on when and where they are made.