At a special launch event in California, Tesla has finally revealed one of the most anticipated cars of the year, the Model 3. Long known as THE electric car company, Tesla is making a major play for the mass market with an electric car the masses can actually afford. To be priced a tad north of the US$33,500 average US light vehicle price and with a 215-mile (346-km) range, will the Model 3 be the tipping point for the mass acceptance of electric cars?
After a brief introduction by Tesla design chief Franz von Holzhausen, Elon Musk took the stage and jumped right in with a look at why Tesla does what it does and why it believes electric driving is the future (to combat increased CO2 levels, higher temperatures, toxic gas emissions, etc etc).
Of course, Tesla can only really have a meaningful impact on those issues if it moves away from its role as electric car boutique and starts selling a lot of cars. And that brings us to the star of the evening.
After years of speculation, rendered images and sound bites, the Model 3 is finally here, or ... kind of here. It won't actually go into production for at least a year and half, but at least we now have an idea of what to expect when it does arrive. The Model 3 exceeds expectations of a 200-mile range with promises of an EPA-rated 215 miles (346 km), a very robust range as far as mainstream EVs go and slightly more than the "over 200 miles (322 km)" of the $37,500 Chevy Bolt.
Obviously the entry level model was never going to be as zippy as the more expensive, more powerful Model S, but Tesla does promise a sub-six-second 0-60 mph (96.5 km/h).
"At Tesla, we don't make slow cars," Musk said on stage. "Of course there will be versions of the Model 3 that go much faster."
Musk also said that the estimates given tonight are minimum numbers that Tesla hopes to exceed.
Tesla claims that the five-seat Model 3 is the roomiest car of its size. The front seats have been pushed forward to increase rear legroom, while the rear half of the roof is built out of glass. We're not sure how badly that will affect visibility, but it keeps headroom comfortable while maintaining a sporty profile. Musk says the car can fit a seven-foot-surfboard inside.
Other tidbits from tonight's event include the promise of five-star safety in every category, standard autopilot hardware with standard safety features, standard Supercharging to help extend driving versatility and quell range anxiety, and front and rear trunks.
While the Model 3 plays in the Chevy Bolt's ballpark in terms of price and range, it has something that the Bolt doesn't: Tesla's electric car pedigree and sex appeal. The Bolt is a chunky hatchback no prettier than the Toyota Prius or Nissan Leaf, but the Model 3 follows the Model S as a sleek, coupe-like sedan. Its high, stretched roof flashes hints of "hatchback," but the gently-spoilered trunk is just defined enough to give it that four-door coupe presence.
Up front, the short nose (remember those press-forward front seats) is sculpted neatly above a blank-canvas front fascia and between a set of sharp, distinctive headlamps. The car's fenders are much more sharply defined than the Model S.
It's not quite as seamless as the Model S, but its looks are appealing enough to attract buyers for more than just its eco and fuel-saving attributes.
Tesla reaffirmed the Model 3's base price of $35,000 tonight and reservations opened up today ($1,000, refundable), first at Tesla dealers, and later online. Tesla's social media channels were abuzz throughout the day with photos and videos of long lines and happy customers, and throughout the week with stories of folks lining up and camping out. Musk said at the reveal event that reservations have already surpassed 115,000, which exceeds the total number of Teslas on the road as of last month (107,000).
Tesla plans to begin Model 3 production in late 2017 and says that deliveries will be staggered, starting in the US West and moving eastward before jumping overseas to foreign markets like Europe and the Asia-Pacific.
So, take a good, hard look at the Model 3 and its spec sheet and let us know: Will this car make you go (or stay) electric, or will you still stick to a gas, diesel or hybrid powertrain? And will the Model 3 contribute to Tesla's rise or prove more of a disruption?
If tonight's reveal leaves you with lingering questions, they'll be answered in due time. "Tomorrow is Part 1 of the Model 3 unveil," Musk tweeted on Wednesday. "Part 2, which takes things to another level, will be closer to production."