The Tesla Model 3 at long last Tesla Motors

No April Fools: Musk Finally Unveils Tesla Model 3

More than 134,000 reservations are already in for the anticipated more affordable electric, with CEO Elon Musk, who, sure, might be biased, calling it “an amazing product” that will blow away drivers.

Elon Musk revealed Tesla Motors Inc.’s Model 3, the sedan that the electric-car maker is counting on to expand its customer base and reach sustainable profitability, capping a day in which fans lined up out the door of stores to reserve their vehicles sight unseen.

The $35,000 Model 3 will have a minimum 215-mile range, and Musk said he’s “fairly confident” deliveries will begin in 2017. Tesla received more than 115,000 reservations in 24 hours, Musk said on stage at the company’s Hawthorne, Calif., design studio. Orders reached at least 134,000 within the following two hours.

“We have an amazing product. I think you’ll be blown away,” Musk, 44, said Thursday. “You will not be able to buy a better car for $35,000, or even close. It’s a really good car, even with no options.”

The Model 3 is the linchpin of Tesla’s plan to reach beyond affluent buyers and make electric vehicles a significant part of the auto market. Much of the car’s platform is new, including the battery architecture and motor technology. Many of the executives who worked on the Model 3, including Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel and chief designer Franz von Holzhausen, have been part of the company’s leadership team for years.

The number of reservations exceeded some analysts’ estimates and is more than the roughly 107,000 vehicles Tesla has sold to date. At $1,000 each, the deposits would infuse the company’s coffers with at least $134 million. While the reservations are refundable, the outpouring suggests there will be plenty of demand for the company to work through once production gets under way.

Hardware for Tesla’s Autopilot features will be standard and the four-door sedan will seat five adults. Design features include one large, continuous piece of glass for the rear roof area to enhance visibility.

“I thought the car was hot, especially with the matte finish,” Adam Browning, 45, the executive director of Vote Solar in Oakland, Calif., said at the event. “The righteous future isn’t just good, it’s better. It’s faster, cooler and sexier.”

Tesla plans to double the number of its Supercharger stations and its store count by the end of 2017. Customers in new markets including Brazil, India and Musk’s native South Africa were among consumers able to place orders online Thursday.

By the time Tesla’s Short Hills, N.J., store opened to take reservations at 10 a.m., more than 200 people had queued up. Soji Ojugbele, 29, a software quality tester from Plainfield, New Jersey, had been in line since 4 a.m.

“I test drove the Model S and just fell in love,” he said in an interview. “If you’re as passionate about something as people are about the Tesla, it’s not a surprise.”

U.S. Tesla customers are eager to get their cars before the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric vehicles is phased out. While the Model 3’s base price still makes it a luxury model, it is not nearly the financial stretch for consumers as the $75,000 Model S.

“I’ve been waiting to buy an electric car for 10 years,” said Mark Dilsizian, a doctoral student at Rutgers University who also runs a software startup. “It’s safer, it’s greener, it’s better performing, it’s better designed.”

Tesla’s “master plan,” laid out by Musk in August 2006, was to enter the auto industry at higher-end prices, then drive down market as fast as possible with increasingly higher volumes. The Model 3 is the Palo Alto, Calif.-based company’s fourth car, after the Roadster, the Model S sedan and the Model X sport utility vehicle. The Model X was unveiled in February 2012, with delays pushing back the initial deliveries to customers until September 2015.

Model 3 faces an increasingly competitive landscape. General Motors Co. plans to release its all-electric Chevrolet Bolt at a similar price point later this year. The Model 3 likely will target buyers who also would consider small luxury sedans such as the Audi A4 and BMW’s 3 series.

So, Uh, What Is It Like Inside?

After Musk unveiled the Model 3 sedan, guests got to ride in — but not drive — the car for roughly five to 10 minutes. The experience was almost a decade in the making since Musk first laid out his “master plan” to get butts into the seats of electric cars.

As soon as Musk finished speaking, dozens of people made a beeline for test rides, which were staggered based on the number on your event badge. With two cars available for test rides, three passengers at a time squeezed into each of the sedans for a spin.

The Model 3 comes standard with autopilot hardware, but Musk didn’t reveal all of the autonomous features that are in the works, and guests didn’t get a chance to experience them Thursday. Rather than autonomous rides, Tesla executives were at the wheel.

The Model 3 is smaller than the Model S, but it feels spacious. Sitting in the back seat, the continual piece of glass over the rear roof area gives the car a feeling of expansive interior volume.

Straubel, the CTO, told a University of Nevada at Reno audience last fall that the Model 3 has new battery architecture, new motor technology and a brand-new vehicle structure. Much of that wasn’t visible to initial test riders. What was noticeable was the car’s ability to go 0-to-60 mph in less than 6 seconds and handle tight curves with ease. While the Model 3 has been famous in part for its 17-inch vertical touch screen, the Model 3’s is smaller, at 15 inches, and is set horizontally.

Musk looked visibly happy Thursday night. The introduction of the Model 3 is a seminal moment in the company’s history, part of a plan he first revealed in August 2006. Before showing Model 3, he stressed the importance of accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation as the impacts of climate change become increasingly severe.

“This is really important,” he said, “for the future of the world.”

By Dana Hull

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