It's finally here: The Model 3, Tesla's $35,000 electric gamechanger. A single black Model 3 rolled off the production line last week with a serial number all its own, kicking off a company-defining six months. The car will belong to Elon Musk, Tesla's CEO and co-founder, who shared images of it on Twitter over the weekend.
Tesla has taken in roughly half a billion dollars in Model 3 deposits, at $1,000 apiece, and its proposed ramp-up schedule would have it rivaling well-established U.S. market peers like BMW and Mercedes by year's end. The only thing standing between Tesla and being the world's first mass-market electric carmaker is proving it can build, deliver and service enormous numbers of these vehicles - without sacrificing quality.
The production acceleration will be slow at first. Tesla plans to hand over the keys to 30 cars at a launch celebration on July 28. It then envisions building 100 cars - fewer than three a day - for the month of August, according to Twitter posts by Musk last week. September will bring another 1,500 cars, and the ramp will build to a rate of 20,000 cars a month by December, Musk said.
It's an aggressive schedule that will more than double Tesla's production rate in six months, and then quintuple it by the end of next year.
If Tesla achieves all of Musk's targets, it will build more battery-powered cars next year than all of the world's automakers combined in 2016.
Here's what we know about what might be coming next:
- The rollout begins. Key handoffs will begin in California and move east, focusing first on employees of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla and Musk's SpaceX rocket company, based in Hawthorne, Calif., then on other U.S. reservation holders who stood in line before the car's unveiling about 15 months ago. People who place new orders today won't receive their cars until the middle of next year, according to Tesla's website.
Additionally, the dual-motor, all-wheel drive and high performance versions of the Model 3 will be delayed for six to nine months to keep initial production as simple as possible.
- New Aero wheels are coming. Tesla was granted a patent on June 6 for this new aerodynamic wheel face, one of two designs the company has deployed on the test cars seen driving around the country in recent months.
- How far is Tesla going with Autopilot for the launch? Last October, Musk set some wild timelines for full self-driving capabilities in the Tesla fleet. The company upgraded the hardware suite of its full lineup of cars to eight surround cameras, 12 ultrasonic sensors, a forward radar and a massively powerful new computer. He said it was all the hardware that will be needed for driverless transport.
Musk has dropped a number of hints that those features will start rolling out around the launch of the Model 3.
Tesla has yet to release a detailed list of the Model 3's specs, features, and pricing, more of which will be revealed at the car's launch party on July 28. Here's what has been disclosed so far:
- The Model 3 goes from zero to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds, according to a spec sheet Tesla published in May.
- The car will be able to drive at least 215 miles on a single charge, with options to upgrade to a bigger battery.
- The roof is an almost continuous sheet of glass that stretches from the front of the car to the rear to give riders a sense of openness. The layered glass is designed to block UV rays and manage heat.
- All Model 3s will come equipped with hardware for Tesla's Autopilot features and high-speed Supercharging. Customers will have to pay to use them, though pricing hasn't been made public.
- The Model 3 will have two trunks with about 14 cubic feet of combined storage space, and the rear seats will fold down to accommodate longer items.
- The body is made of a mix of lightweight aluminum and cheaper steel, primarily the latter.
- Tesla's signature touch-screen control panel will be flipped on its side and shrunk from 17 inches to 15 inches.
- The traditional instrument panel under the dash is gone entirely.
- The car is designed to fit five adults comfortably, in part by pushing the front passengers forward to provide more leg room in the back seat.
- Rear-wheel drive is standard, with a future option for dual-motor all-wheel drive.
- Reservation holders who want all-wheel drive or other delayed options will be able to defer their purchase without entirely losing their place in line.
- The number of Tesla's high-speed charging stations will double by the end of the year to 10,000. Slower destination chargers will jump from 9,000 to 15,000.