After more than a decade of planning, it’s finally here. (Kind of.)
Tesla Motors' outspoken billionaire futurist CEO, Elon Musk, presented live to a small crowd of invited guests in Hawthorne, California, Thursday evening a working prototype of his company’s more-affordable Model 3 electric sedan. Other than its sleek look and the green label, the Model 3 purportedly goes from 0 to 60 miles an hour in under 6 seconds and has a range of 215 miles for every charge of the battery.
"At Tesla, we don't make slow cars," the billionaire told the cheering crowd. The launch was also broadcast live online to millions around the world.
Complete with Tesla's Autopilot feature, Musk said the car can seat five people comfortably, and the interiors look spacious enough from the images as seen on the live feed. The dashboard looks right out of a science fiction movie, with a large horizontally aligned touchscreen — and little else.
Even before anyone outside of Tesla’s inner circle had seen the vehicle, thousands of Tesla loyalists queued up at dealerships as much as 48 hours before the event to plop down $1,000 pre-payments for a car that won’t be ready for them until the end of 2017 for the earliest buyers. Online orders began as the event kicked off to a small crowd at the Southern California campus of Musk’s satellite transport company, SpaceX.
And before the day was officially over, Tesla had already received 115,000 orders for the car, Musk told the gathered crowd. The Model 3 is available in red, silver and black.
Originally code-named “Bluestar,” the scaled down car has always been part of Tesla’s objective, going back to the company’s original business plan in 2007. Six years later at the Detroit Auto Show, Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen compared the vehicle to the Audi A4, BMW 3-Series and the Volkswagen Jetta, though he estimated a starting price of $30,000 at the time.
Musk has said repeatedly over the years that his luxury wheels — the Roadster sports car, the Model S sedan and, most recently, the Model X utility vehicle — were built to heighten interest in electric vehicles.
By selling innovative fancy cars to the rich, Tesla has managed to stir enough interest to keep itself flush with much-needed cash. But the Model 3 is Tesla’s big test, a make-or-break vehicle for the 13-year-old Silicon Valley automaker. Tesla has been selling its other cars at a loss, and has been depleting its cash while piling on debt.
Meanwhile, the Model 3 will end up being not the first but the second sub-$40,000 electric car to have a range topping 200 miles. General Motors will begin selling its Chevrolet Bolt later this year for around $37,500 before U.S. federal and state incentives.
Both cars are eligible for the $7,500 U.S. green-car tax credit, but manufacturers are limited to the first 200,000 eligible cars they sell. Tesla has already used a good chunk of this quota. The company has sold about 126,000 cars since the first Roadster was delivered in 2008, according to its regulatory filings dating back to 2011. It’s not clear how many of these customers received the incentive.