Tesla Motors
The Tesla Model 3 as seen from the rear

Model 3 Gives Musk an iPhone Moment and a Big Test

April 4, 2016
Close to 300,000 orders have been placed already for the Model 3 (exceeding the government’s maximum sales figure for tax credits), filling Tesla’s coffers with cash and its factories with an enormous task.

Tesla Motors Inc. doesn’t really do traditional press releases. Instead, when CEO Elon Musk has something to say, he often relies on Twitter for a few 140-character revelations.

Following the unveiling last week of his new Model 3 electric car — which attracted almost 300,000 deposits from customers around the world — Musk tweeted 68 times, talking about features ranging from the car’s instrument panel to its hubcap design and plans for high-speed supercharger networks in Europe and Asia. 

We already knew a lot about the $35,000 Model 3, but here’s what we learned from Musk this weekend: 

Get Ready for a Spaceship: The prototype Model 3 that Musk revealed Thursday had a surprisingly sparse driverside dashboard. In fact, there was no dashboard at all, just a slightly oblong steering wheel and a 15-inch horizontal touchscreen that controls just about everything. 

“Why did you choose that hideous steering wheel design?” someone asked Musk on Twitter. Musk responded: “That’s not the real steering system.” In a separate exchange, he suggested the final Model 3 may feel more like something from SpaceX, one of his other companies: “Wait until you see the real steering controls and system for the 3. It feels like a spaceship.”

The unveiling was just the first of two separate events showing off the Model 3’s features before it heads to production late next year. Musk hasn’t said where or when the event would take place. In response to another question about the lack of a dashboard, he said, ”It will make sense after part 2.” 

Is Part 2 a Self-Driving Car?: Musk repeatedly referred to the second unveiling event. These exchanges prompted speculation on Twitter about whether the Model 3 may even be a fully self-driving car. Note the fact that Musk never says “steering wheel,” instead referring to “a steering system” and “steering controls.”

In January, Musk said that in about two years, a person should be able to summon his or her Tesla from across the country. That’s roughly in line with the expected timing of the Model 3 rollout. Even if full vehicle autonomy isn’t yet road-ready, it’s likely that Tesla will at least bring the Model 3 a few steps closer. Tesla’s current autopilot mode can already follow speed limit signs, change lanes, avoid collisions, and parallel park, mostly by itself. 

Sleek aerodynamics: In response to a question about the Model 3’s aerodynamic performance, Musk said the company was hoping for 0.21 drag coefficient. That’s exceedingly sleek. Perhaps the only car in production with less drag is the Volkswagen XL1, a pod-like car designed for fuel-economy bragging rights. With a coefficient of 0.19, the XL1 costs more than $150,000 and is available only in Europe. 

The Front End Might Change: Love it or hate it, the stiff-lipped front end of the Model 3 is one of its most recognizable features. The car doesn’t have a grill, because unlike a gasoline-powered car, it doesn’t need one. “Some tweaking underway,” Musk wrote in response to a critic of the front-end design. Musk welcomed suggestions but also pointed out that design work is tricky. “Edge and contour refinement are ongoing,” he said, but even one-tenth of a millimeter matters. 

Musk was asked to “Please make sure these wheels make it to production.” He responded that “they will. We spent a lot of time on those.” Musk also said the matte black paint job used for one of the prototypes was “surprisingly popular” and “it probably makes sense to bring it to production.” 


Tesla Wants Lots of Cars in 2018: By Saturday night, there were 276,000 Model 3 reservations, each with a $1,000 deposit, according to Musk. That’s more than double what the company was expecting, he said. Musk agreed with a comment suggesting that at this rate the reservations might exceed 500,000 orders before the second part of the unveiling. 

People questioned how quickly Tesla would be able to fill all those orders and whether U.S. customers would be able to take advantage of the $7,500 federal tax credit for electric-car buyers before it expired. The credit will probably begin to phase out for Tesla around October 2018. The company’s plan ”should enable large numbers” of new customers — not just current owners of Teslas — to receive the credit, Musk wrote. He also said production should ramp up in time for East Coast customers to qualify for the credit, even though deliveries will start near Tesla’s factories in California so the company can quickly respond to any problems with the first cars off the line.

It Fits a Bike Inside: Musk fielded several questions about the car’s size, which has been described as unusually spacious for its compact footprint. It “will easily fit two child seats, three if you buy slim ones,” Musk wrote. He said it could fit a bike inside, “no problem.” The rear seats fold down, “and it will be great for road trips and camping,” he wrote.

‘Much Faster’: The Model 3 will come with standard rear-wheel drive, with an option for dual-motor all-wheel drive. The rear-wheel drive cars will be able to go zero to 60 in less than 4 seconds. Musk said the all-wheel drive version will be able to go “a lot faster” than the prototypes on display last week (which were already quite fast). Upgrading to all-wheel drive, which includes separate motors in the front and back of the car, will cost less than $5,000, Musk said. 

Coming to India: By the end of next year, Tesla plans to double both the number of high-speed supercharger stations worldwide, to 7,200, and service locations, to 441. Superchargers are coming to Mexico, Italy, and Ireland this year, and service centers will open in Spain. While a European factory needs to be built to meet long-term demand, Musk said, it won’t delay the Model 3 rollout there. As for Asia, Musk wrote on Twitter that “Tesla will be in India before 3 production starts.”

Gifts for everyone: Musk said gifts were on order for everyone who put down $1,000 deposit on a Model 3, with something extra for those who waited in lines that stretched by the hundreds at showrooms around the world. Someone asked if the gift would be a “scale Model 3,” probably referring to a version of the very detailed $210 diecast model car the company sells of its other models. Musk responded: “And a few other things.”

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Licensed content from Bloomberg, copyright 2016.

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