Perhaps the most anticipated automotive event of the year (Tesla disciples might say millenium) took place in California last night, as electric car guru Elon Musk handed over the first 30 production Tesla Model 3 sedans to customers — most, if not all, of them employees — at a glitzy, livestreamed event.
Eyesight was restored to the blind. Others rose from their wheelchairs, walking for the first time in years. Okay, that’s not true, but the depths to which some Tesla fans deify Musk and his car company cannot be understated. Certainly, after seeing the final production model, learning its specifications, and hearing Tesla’s lofty production plans, even a cynic drowning in a vast ocean of media-driven hype can’t help but feel impressed.
Hailed as the first affordable, long-range, mass-produced electric car — a crown stolen by the Chevrolet Bolt months ago — the Model 3 will retail for $35,000 before federal incentives, but not just yet. The only version available at launch is the $44,000 Long Range model, good for 310 miles of range per charge.
The 220-mile base sedan, which carries that vaunted lower sticker price, won’t be available until this fall. So, what can the roughly 500,000 reservation holders expect? If they’re on a budget, black had better be their favorite color.
That’s because any color other than Henry Ford’s shade du jour increases the price by $1,000. Silver, red, white and blue are optional. Indeed, there’s no limits to the ways in which a Tesla buyer can upgrade their Model 3 at extra cost.
The Enhanced Autopilot package costs an extra $5,000, with full autonomy capability requiring a further $3,000, even though the option (which Musk promises) isn’t yet a available. Power adjustable (heated) seats, premium audio, tinted roof glass, and other luxury appointments — many would call them “necessities” — are all bundled into another $5,000 package. Of course, you can also choose to upgrade the wheels to 19-inchers. All told, the Model 3 tops out at $59,500 with every option on board, which still places it below the lowest-rung Model S.
Inside the Model 3’s spartan yet airy cabin (which you’ll access via a Bluetooth-enabled phone; no keys, thank you very much), you’ll find a distinct lack of instrumentation. A massive 15.4-inch touchscreen display dominates the center of the barely-there dash, from which owners will control practically all functions. It’ll tell you everything you need to know. Even the vents, if you can believe it, are positioned using this interface. The Long Range variants seen at the event carried wood trim, so not every traditional luxury trapping went by the wayside in the development of this vehicle.
Performance isn’t on par with the scorching Model S, but the Model 3 isn’t a slouch. Regular variants will scoot to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds, topping out at 130 mph. The Long Range model, with its larger battery, unlocks more juice for shenanigans. The uplevel Model 3 hits 60 mph in 5.1 seconds, boasting a 140 mph top speed.
For would-be owners who waited until this moment to drop $1,000 on a reservation, don’t expect a car anytime soon. If production goes according to plan, clearing out the half-million existing orders will take until late 2018 before a newly ordered Model 3 can take its place on the Fremont, California production line.
Now, about that production. At the event, Musk claimed his employees face “at least six months now of manufacturing hell” as the factory ramps up to a hoped-for 5,000 vehicles per week by the end of this year. Any delay in reaching that goal could see deliveries pushed back to 2019.
Musk claims all elements of the vehicle were designed with easy manufacturing in mind. For his sake, not to mention that of reservation holders, let’s hope the quality issues seen on the Model S and X don’t crop up in this so-called everyman’s car.
Another potential issue lies in the price. Tesla’s share of federal tax credits — good for a $7,500 reduction in retail price — are anticipated to dry up within months if the Trump administration doesn’t renew the program. If this comes to pass, lower-volume rival EVs like the Bolt, which doesn’t come with a year-and-a-half waiting period, would suddenly gain a significant advantage.
Still, given the number of fawning EV fanatics in Musk’s orbit — people who seem more than happy to ignore any and all electric cars missing a Tesla badge — finding buyers willing to shell out more for a Model 3 might not be a problem.