Tesla CEO Elon Musk introduces one of the first Model 3 cars off the Fremont factory’s production line. (Reuters: Alexandria Sage)
Tesla has finally made its long-promised affordable electric car — but it could take years to get it to all the people who want to buy it.
Tesla delivered the Model 3 small car to its first 30 customers — all employees — at a company party on Friday night.
Chief executive Elon Musk said Tesla would build the cars as fast as it could but acknowledged supply issues and other complexities would make it tough to reach his goal of making 500,000 cars next year.
The 14-year-old company has never made more than 100,000 cars in a year.
“We’re going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell. It’s going to be quite a challenge to build this car,” Mr Musk said.
With its $US35,000 ($44,000) starting price — half the cost of Tesla’s previous models — and range of up to 500 kilometres, the Model 3 could bring hundreds of thousands of customers into the automaker’s fold, taking it from a niche luxury brand to the mainstream.
Musk said around 500,000 people worldwide had already put down a $US1,000 ($1,250) deposit to reserve a Model 3 but people ordering a car now are unlikely to get it until late 2018.
Cars will go first to employees and customers on the West Coast with overseas deliveries to start late next year, and right-hand drive versions to come in 2019.
‘You need to make cars people can afford’
The Model 3 has long been part of California-based Tesla’s plans.
In 2006, Mr Musk said Tesla would eventually build “affordably priced family cars” after establishing itself with high-end vehicles like the Model S, which starts at $US69,500 ($87,000).
What we know about the Model 3:
- Price: Starting price is $US35k, while a version with every available additional option costs $US59k
- Size: 4.3m long and 1.8m wide. Can seat five adults.
- Range: Base model can go about 354km on a charge. For an extra $9k, the long-range version can go 500km.
- Performance: Base model goes from 0-100kph in 5.6 seconds and has a top speed of 209kph.
- Ordering: People reserving a car now will likely get it in late 2018, with West Coast customers to get their cars first. The cars will start to ship overseas late next year.
This is the first time many Tesla workers will be able to afford a Tesla.
“It was never our goal to make expensive cars — we wanted to make a car everyone could buy,” he said.
“If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you also need to make cars people can afford.”
For the base price, customers will get a Model 3 with 322 kilometres of range — but the price can rapidly increase from there.
Black is the only standard colour, for example, with any other colour costing extra, and a fully loaded Model 3 with 500 kilometres of range and Tesla’s full semi-autonomous Autopilot system costing a hefty $US59,500 ($74,500).
That could be a stretch for some buyers, especially since there are limits on the $US7,500 ($9,400) US tax credit for electric cars.
Once an automaker sells 200,000 electric cars in the US, the credit phases out — Tesla has already sold more than 126,000 vehicles since 2008, according to estimates by WardsAuto, so not everyone who buys a Model 3 will be eligible.
Potential customers also could lose faith if Tesla does not meet its aggressive production schedule, or if the cars have quality problems that strain Tesla’s small service network.
The compact Model 3 may not entice a global market that is increasingly shifting to SUVs, including all-electric SUVs from Audi and others going on sale soon.
“There are more reasons to think that it won’t be successful than it will,” said Karl Brauer, executive publisher for Cox Automotive, which owns Autotrader and other car buying sites.
Model 3 far simpler and cheaper to make
But Mr Musk said Tesla had worked hard to make the Model 3 simpler and cheaper to make than Tesla’s previous vehicles.
It has one dashboard screen, not two, does not have the fancy door handles that caused problems on the Model S, or the gull-wing doors of the Model X SUV.
It is made primarily of steel, not aluminium, and it has no instrument panel — the speed limit and other information normally there can be found on the centre screen.
It does not even have a key fob — drivers can open and lock the car with a smartphone or a key card.
Tesla’s fans are confident. Robin Santucci was one of the first in line to order a Model 3 at the Santa Monica, California, Tesla store in March 2016.
He still does not know when he will get a car or exactly what it will look like, but he has already installed charging equipment in his garage.
“I believe in the vision Tesla has,” Mr Santucci said.