HAWTHORNE, California — Tesla finally pulled the wraps off its highly anticipated Model 3 sedan in front of a large and enthusiastic crowd at its Hawthorne design studio. This was an important milestone for Tesla because the affordable Model 3 is a make-or-break product that is crucial to the company's long-term viability.
Elon Musk confirmed the electric car's oft-rumored starting price of $35,000. That figure does not factor in the $7,500 federal tax credit for which the car is technically eligible. The credit is set to expire once Tesla has sold a total of 200,000 vehicles, a milestone it may reach before the Model 3 production gets into full swing.
The Model 3's EPA-rated range will be "at least" 215 miles, and all versions of the car will come with standard Supercharger network access. The electric motor is positioned under the cargo deck between the rear wheels, a location preferred by Tesla because it maximizes traction. Here it helps the base Model 3 accelerate to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds.
"At Tesla, we don't build slow cars," said Musk, adding, "There will be versions of the Model 3 that go much faster."
Like the larger Tesla Model S, the Model 3 is a four-door sedan that seats five passengers. Unlike the Model S, the Model 3 has a fixed rear window and a trunk instead of a hatch. Cargo capacity figures were not released, but Musk said it has "more cargo capacity than any gasoline car of the same external dimensions."
Inside, the dash is very low and there are no gauges in front of the driver. Tesla has instead turned its signature massive interactive touchscreen on its side in landscape mode so the upper left corner can be used to display speed and other such information in the driver's line of sight.
Tesla's Autopilot hardware comes standard on all Model 3 sedans, and options seen on the debut cars included dual motor all-wheel drive, air suspension, 20-inch wheels with high-performance Michelin tires and an all-glass panoramic roof.
It's easy to imagine a loaded Model 3 that costs $50,000, but Musk said that "even if you buy no options at all, this will still be an amazing car."
Tesla began taking $1,000 sight-unseen deposits hours earlier in the day, and by the end of the debut festivities a total of 130,000 worldwide pre-orders had been received. Musk said he was "fairly confident" that initial deliveries will occur near the end 2017, but it's clear that the bulk of production will occur in 2018.
Edmunds says: Tesla seems to have successfully shrunk its groundbreaking electric car to a size and price that should appeal to a much wider audience. And if the long pre-dawn pre-order lines are any indication, that audience is eager.