For Tesla, crunch time is just over the horizon. After all the innovations, the company is still rife with unrealized potential, and it comes down to three important factors: completion of its billion-dollar gigafactory production facility in Nevada, roll-out of Powerwall domestic batteries, and introduction of the Model 3 entry-level car. From the time the Model S was the new kid on the block, the promise of the sub-$40,000 affordable EV has been the foundation for Tesla’s future. In just a few weeks, we’ll be getting our first look at the car’s design. And in just over a year after that, they should be rolling off the production line. In theory.
Annual production goals for the company by 2020 are still at 500,000 cars a year. That may be less than the number of Ford F-150s sold in the U.S. last year, but it’s still no small feat. Tesla met its revised sales goals for 2015, but they were still 10% of its goal. In short, people have to fall head over heels in love with the Model 3, and not just green car people and gearheads – we’re talking retirees, young professionals, parents, neighbors, siblings, and people who don’t think about cars other than when they need to buy a new one.
With so much at stake, the company has been characteristically tight-lipped about details on the Model 3, but it’s been working on it for so long that some basic facts have leaked out. We don’t know if the car can meet its incredibly high expectations (though we hope it does), but it looks like Tesla has the tools it needs to do it. In advance of our first look (due sometime in March), here are five things we know about the Model 3.
1. The March reveal will be more of a tease than a debut
The public timeline for the Model 3 changed last week when Musk spoke about the car at a new Tesla Store in France. According to Tech Insider, Musk told the audience: “The first pictures of the Model 3 will be end of March,” adding, “I’m being a little coy here. We’re not going to show everything about the Model 3 until a lot closer to production time.” While this is by no means a game changer, there’s so much at stake with the new model, and in light of the delays that dogged the Model X launch it was expected that the company would be much more adamant about sticking to a schedule. Instead of a big launch and press events, think more a series of teaser images. That said…
2. It’s definitely coming in 2017 — for now
At the event in France, Musk told the crowd: “We will try to stay as close as possible to our end of 2017 start of production,” adding “But based on where we are right now, I feel really good about the Model 3.” Analysts fear that the Model X delays cost the company some much-needed momentum, something it can’t afford to repeat in a segment where “Tesla killers” like the Chevy Bolt are already on the way. It’s in Tesla’s best interest to keep everything on schedule. It knows better than anyone else that it can’t afford delays anymore.
3. It’ll be a Tesla for the people
For fans of green cars, the idea of an affordable Tesla is a dream come true, but remember: The Model S starts at $69,900. The Model X tops out at over $130K. So you probably shouldn’t expect dual motors, 762 horsepower, or Autopilot from the base Model 3, which is expected to start at $35,000 before state and federal EV incentives. From a development standpoint, however, this bodes well for the Model 3 launching on time. At last week’s event in France, Musk said:
I’m pretty happy with how that is turning out. We’re going to constrain the number of the new features in the Model 3, compared to the Model X in order to avoid repeating the same mistakes. So with each succsessive year we will introduce more things into the Model 3, instead of trying to compile it all into one year.
A less complex car means a shorter lead time. And even relatively gadget-free, a Tesla with a 200-mile range for the price of a well-equipped Toyota Camry sounds pretty good to us.
4. More bang for your buck than a bolt.
The aforementioned Chevy Bolt is being positioned as the chief rival to the Model 3, but its bubble-butt shape and cute styling remind us of an EV that’s already on the market: The BMW i3. Tesla is also gunning for BMW, but it has its sights set on the 3 Series, the king of the sport sedan segment. With its now-considerable experience catering to an affluent crowd, there’s little doubt that the company can build something that can compete with the Germans. And with Bimmer’s base-model 320i starting at $33,150, it’s a goal that should help keep Tesla engineers focused on both value and build quality.
5. It’ll actually be two cars
This rumor has been swirling around for some time now, but the rumor that a compact crossover based on the Model 3 is also on the way. The Model 3 was originally planned as the Model E, but Ford holds a patent for the name. So it became the Model 3, and by the end of the decade, it should be joined by its platform-mate, the Model Y. Of course, this means in a few years, you’ll be able to go into any Tesla Store and check out its S-3-X-Y lineup. We’re so glad there’s an automaker out there that’s able to have fun with its stable.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS