After much anticipation and speculation, the Tesla Model 3 has finally been revealed at the Tesla Design Studio in Hawthorne, Calif. At the press conference, the new entry-level model was confirmed to start at $35,000 USD and promises a range of at least 215 miles (346 km).
Tesla CEO Elon Musk called tonight “Part 1 of the Model 3 unveil,” and said the second part would come closer to production. Still, the executive had much to reveal. Though no technical details were divulged, Musk said the Model 3 will accelerate to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. He also said versions that go much faster will be available, likely equipped with the optional dual-motor all-wheel drive. In addition, the car will have an EPA-rated range of at least 215 miles (346 km) and will be rated five stars in every safety category, according to Musk’s predictions. No specs were given on battery capacity, but at 215 miles (346 km) we estimate the pack to be around 70 kWh. The car will come standard with Autopilot hardware and “comfortable” seating for five adults. Like the Model S, the Model 3 will feature a front and rear trunk. Supercharging capability will come standard, which is good news since Musk says Tesla plans to double its 3,600 Superchargers worldwide by the end of 2017. The company will also quadruple the number of destination chargers and increase the number of Tesla stores from 215 to 441.
The car presented at the reveal featured a distinct hatchback profile. However, Tesla says the Model 3 is technically a sedan. That’s supported by cut lines for a trunk. The car inherits many styling cues from the Model S up front, but foregoes a grille in favor of a blunted front bumper that simulates the shape of the Model S’ fascia. Like the Model X, the 3 features an extra-long windshield up front. The car also receives an industry-first jumbo-sized, single-piece rear panoramic window. “That Mammoth wrap-over rear glass is wild,” testing director Kim Reynolds said of the Model 3 from the reveal. “It’ll adequately protect against sun problems due to high UV resistance — don’t worry about that. But some folks may not like being so exposed — you’re really in a fishbowl.”
Associate editor Christian Seabaugh likened the car to the Porsche Panamera. “The roofline was obviously extended up for rear headroom like the Panamera, but it looks well proportioned in person. It works.” Reynolds, who stands at 6’1″, reports being squished laterally with three people seated in the rear. Behind a tall-ish driver, he had OK legroom. “Not great but competitive, I guess,” he said.
Likely in an effort to keep costs down, the expensive touch-sensitive door handles found on the Model S and Model X have been replaced with simple, but elegantly designed, levers. Also helping in the cost department is a structure mostly made of steel, with some aluminum used here and there. The Model S’ chassis is comprised mostly of aluminum, but foregoing that more expensive material will help keep the Model 3’s price down.
The Model 3’s interior is much simpler compared to that of the Model S or Model X. There’s no gauge cluster and there’s hardly anything on the center console. But in true Tesla fashion, there’s a large central touchscreen — in this case one that’s free-floating, oriented horizontally, and which measures 15 inches. The layout lets both driver and passenger easily access the screen, and the left edge is close enough to the operator to act as an instrument display, according to Reynolds.
Offering Autopilot as a standard feature is a big deal, as anyone who buys one of these cars will have the ability to take their hands off the wheel. At press time, Tesla has received 130,000 orders for the Model 3. If that many cars are delivered, that’s 130,000 semi-autonomous vehicles on the road. That many pre-orders, at $1,000 USD per reservation, also means Tesla just cleared $130 million USD in one day.
Although the Chevrolet Bolt EV hatchback, which starts at $37,500 USD before government incentives and has a range of at least 200 miles (322 km), will be the Model 3’s primary all-electric competition, the EV is intended to go up against compact premium models like the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. Having standard Supercharger access makes the Model 3 more practical than the Bolt as a long-distance transport.
The Model 3 joins the Model S sedan and recently launched Model X SUV. Musk originally wanted to name the car Model E so that Tesla’s lineup would spell out “SEX,” but legal threats from Ford forced the name change. However, since the number 3 doubles as the letter E in leet speak, the hacker language known to many tech-savvy consumers, Musk still gets his lewd Easter egg.
With the reveal of the Model 3, Tesla moves into the next phase of the plan it devised a decade ago. In 2006, Musk published his “secret master plan” outlining Tesla’s future, in which he detailed the Model S and an “even more affordable car.” “In keeping with a fast-growing technology company, all free cash flow is plowed back into R&D to drive down the costs and bring the follow-on products to market as fast as possible,” Musk wrote. “When someone buys the Tesla Roadster sports car, they are actually helping pay for development of the low-cost family car.”
Also helping to make the Model 3’s lower price point possible is Tesla’s Gigafactory in Nevada, which will eventually be able to produce battery packs on such a large scale that the per-kWh cost is reduced by more than 30 percent. The Gigafactory is set to begin production in 2017, with production of the Model 3 to follow in late 2017 at Tesla’s Fremont, Calif., plant. Future production capacity of that facility is estimated at 500,000 units per year. Musk said he’s “fairly confident” that deliveries will begin next year.