Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3 won’t be out until late 2017, and yet its reveal Thursday night at the company’s Hawthorne, California design studio put all other electric vehicles on notice. “We have an amazing product to show you tonight. I think you’re going to be blown away,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised. Unless something even more amazing comes out in the next year, the Model 3 will be the EV to beat.
Full specs were not immediately available, but here’s what we do know:
The base model will cost $35,000 before any federal or state incentives. As with other Tesla models, you’ll be able to choose pricier upgrades.
The EV range will be at least 215 miles, Musk said—a little more than the expected EV range for the Chevrolet Bolt. The 200-mile mark is widely considered to be the point at which people lose EV range anxiety. Musk still seemed hungry for more: “These are minimum numbers; we hope to exceed them.” The cars will have access to Tesla’s supercharging network.
Why this matters: The Model 3 emerges at a crucial time for electric vehicles. EV drivers have suffered long enough with cars that last 100 miles or less. The Model 3’s 215-mile range and reasonably affordable price could make EVs appealing to more people. It remains to be seen, however, whether those people will wait for the Model 3 or buy the Chevrolet Bolt, which will be first out of the gate later this year.
A Tesla through and through
Musk emphasized that the Model 3 was every inch a Tesla despite being smaller in size. (Dimensions were not available, but the photos indicate a shorter nose and tail than the Model S.) For instance, it will go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. “At Tesla we don’t make slow cars,” Musk emphasized. The Model 3 will also be very safe, Musk assured us: “not just five-star on average, but five-star in every category.”
The Model 3 will seat five adults comfortably—and the fifth seat will be welcoming, Musk said, not punishing, as it can often be in compact cars. Musk described how the Model 3’s designers compressed the instrument panel and moved the front seats forward to give the rear passenger area more legroom. The rear roof’s continuous pane of glass also adds to the roomy feeling, Musk said.
With the same front and rear trunk layout as the larger Model S, the Model 3 will have more cargo capacity than any car in its class. Musk even addressed a customer query, confirming that the car could hold a seven-foot surfboard inside.
The Model 3’s ship date could slip, though. It’s advertised as late 2017, but Musk himself, in his presentation, qualified it like this: “I do feel fairly confident they will be next year.”
Tesla has two big projects in progress to support the anticipated higher volume of the Model 3. One is its huge Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada. Musk said the Gigafactory, which is already in operation, will have the largest footprint of any building on Earth, and it’ll have the capacity to produce more lithuim-ion batteries than all the other Li-ion battery factories in the world combined—50GWh (gigawatt hours) per year, Musk said.
Tesla will also need to increase its production volume significantly. Musk set an ambitious goal of 500,000 units per year from its Fremont, California plant. “We think we can do it,” Musk hedged.
Of course, the Model 3 is gorgeous. Its sleek design cues closely follow those of the Model S and Model X.
Tesla’s Model 3 once again proves that Elon Musk knows something other automotive CEOs don’t. While other car companies’ EVs and hybrids languish in the face of low oil prices, people lined up early at Tesla stores to preorder the Model 3 in person Thursday morning. Thousands more put in their names and $1,000 deposits online. Preorders exceeded 115,000 in 24 hours.
Time is the Model 3’s enemy, though. Some of these eager depositors may bolt for the Chevrolet Bolt, which is due to ship by the end of 2016. It’ll have about the same price and EV range as the Model 3, if not the same level of cachet. We’ll keep following the Model 3 and its competitors and will keep you posted.
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Melissa Riofrio spent her formative journalistic years reviewing some of the biggest iron at PCWorld--desktops, laptops, storage, printers--and she continued to focus on hardware testing during stints at Computer Currents and CNET. Currently, in addition to leading PCWorld’s content direction, she covers productivity laptops and Chromebooks.