Tesla recently revealed their newest and potentially most significant car, the Model 3. As opposed to Tesla's $70,000 Model S flagship, the Model 3 starts at $35,000 before incentives, which makes it accessible to a wider market of car buyers. The Model 3 is Tesla's first "mainstream" car, and the success (or failure) of it could determine the future of Tesla as a company, and potentially the future of the electric car.
So far, that future looks quite bright.
Behind the Tesla experience
The Tesla Model 3 seeks to provide the same Tesla experience the Model S provides, albeit at a lower price point. The Model 3 offers excellent safety ratings, Autopilot hardware, supercharging, a 0-60 time of under six seconds, and most importantly, 215 miles of range.
The interior is minimalistic, with a large center touchscreen that's used to control almost all vehicle functions and a steering wheel. There is no gauge cluster, or climate control knobs, or any other tactile feature. This approach will help the company save costs, and help make it easier to swap the steering wheel from the left side to the right side for foreign markets like the United Kingdom or Australia.
Model 3 has few real competitors
The Tesla Model 3 has few electric competitors in its price range, namely the Nissan Leaf, BMW i3 and Chevrolet Bolt. Of these three, only the forthcoming Chevy Bolt comes close to matching the Tesla in range.
That being said, Tesla is following the same sales formula that worked so well with the Model S. The electric car company isn't exactly trying to compete with other electrics like the Chevy Bolt; instead, the Model 3's real competitors are vehicles in the entry-level luxury class like the BMW 3 series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-class. Tesla is selling an entry-level luxury car that offers a unique experience of being fully electric.
That's exactly what Tesla sells though, an experience. It's that experience that encouraged people to buy the Model S, and if they didn't have the means, dream of buying one. The Model S, and all of its unique and attention grabbing features such as the Autopilot driver assistance package and the eye-watering acceleration of Ludicrous Mode, captured the imagination of a public that in many ways has grown tired of cars and driving.
People started to see Tesla as a unique company that provides the antidote to the everyday boring driving experience. When the Model 3 came out with the much lower price tag and an experience that seems to match that of the Model S, interested customers took out their checkbooks and started writing.
In fact, over the past few weeks, almost 400,000 people have put a $1,000 deposit down to reserve their Model 3, according to a conversation Tesla VP of Business Development Diarmuid O'Connell stated at a recent E-mobility conference. To put that into perspective, the Toyota sold 428,000 Camrys last year.
Model 3 standard feature: A wait
So does this mean that the Model 3 will end up being one of the most popular cars sold? Probably not, at least anytime soon.
According to O'Connell, it's building and delivering those cars to customers. The Model 3 has yet to enter production, and the timeline for doing so is bookended by "the end of 2017." This means that customers likely won't receive their new car for a long time, maybe even up to three years from now. Over that time, Tesla will have to make sure production can meet demand, and 400,000 vehicles is a tall order.
One thing is for sure: We're interested in seeing how the Model 3 pans out.