Tesla Announces the $35,000 Model 3

- 10 minutes -

Alex Davies for WIRED:

 

"The Model 3 is the car Tesla Motors has promised since the company’s founding, the car that CEO Elon Musk is convinced will push EVs into the mainstream and the technology to an inflection point. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is the car Musk believes will change the world."

 

The lines for this are Apple product launch tier - that’s not an exaggeration. Keep in mind that those who pre-ordered before the unveiling haven’t even seen the car yet, which says a lot about how compelling even just the technology in the product is - more on that later.

This may very well be the car that sparks the electric car revolution (I say this so definitively because it’ll happen eventually). However, unlike the smartphone, it still needs to be met halfway by better energy solutions - the implementation of which can’t seem to escape bureaucracy and big oil’s grasp.

In addition, my skepticism of scale still lingers. You can order the car now, but according to Tesla’s site, they won’t start shipping until late 2017. That’s probably about 18 months from now. This is Tesla’s mass market product, being high volume with an affordable price - the final and biggest component of their “master plan”. The huge time gap might be indicative of an incapable supply chain.

Neil Cybert of Above Avalon, who’s been looking at Tesla’s numbers closely, points this out:

This really highlights how the Model 3 is a step beyond anything Tesla has managed to do thus far. And the number of orders will only grow from now till they’re shipped.

Elon Musk showed off their manufacturing prowess at the launch event, confident that their facilities (including their Gigafactory, which aims to be the world’s largest lithium-ion battery producer), can make up to 500,000 units a year. That said, it’ll be interesting to see if they can make their shipment goals.

There’s also a lot that we still don’t know about.

Technology

Musk mentioned the Gigafactory aiming to not only achieve high scale, but to produce some of the world’s most advanced batteries, which I think is what Tesla as a whole wants to achieve with the Model 3.

Here’s Davies again:

 

"Tesla built an international network of 1,600 “superchargers” where owners can plug in for free and charge the battery to 80 percent in as little as 30 minutes. It fought for the right to sell cars directly to customers. It took over an enormous factory once owned by GM and Toyota."

 

All these things that Tesla did and continues to do boils down to their goal of shipping the most advanced cars in the world. It’s right out of Apple’s playbook.

But I’d like to focus on the superchargers for a second. Musk dedicated a segment of their launch event to their superchargers, and elaborated plans to place more superchargers all over the world, which I think is their way of saying, “We’ve got you covered when you get your Model 3.” (The fact that charging is free makes the Model 3 all the more economic.)

 

"It could very easily continue selling 90,000 or so sedans and SUVs a year and keep everyone happy. But that’s not how you change the world...

The Model 3 is the car to do that. Autopilot features come standard, and Musk promises five-star safety ratings in all categories."

 

Musk also mentioned the Model 3 going 0-60 mph in 6 seconds, and that’s just the base model.

It reminds me of the recently announced iPhone SE - it’s all the best things about the premium tiers packaged into something cheaper. This is what makes me think that a lot of people will be surprised when we see the SE’s sales numbers. We’re already surprised by the Model 3’s sales numbers, and that’s just from the fans Tesla already has. With all the press the Model 3 is getting, as I said, that number is only going to rise, if not multiply.

Design

While the design is controversial, particularly the car’s front design, it’s undeniably designed with labour.

"Inside, the Model 3 feels just like the Model S and X - sleek and minimalist. The whole roof is glass, which makes any sunroof look like a peephole. And Tesla’s trademark enormous center console screen - here 15 inches instead of the usual 17 - has been flipped to sit horizontally."

“Sleek and minimalist” is exactly how I’d put it, and it’s right up my alley.

I think the interior is gorgeous. The Model 3’s dashboard highlights just how busy and cluttered even the simplest dashboards are (and on a bigger scale, how stagnant and uniform transportation design has become). The curved glass back is all the more gorgeous. Bare in mind this is the supposedly mass-market Tesla.

The front is definitely off-putting at first, but it is a mark of progress. The small grille gives the car ‘face’ a distinct nose, characteristic of Porsche and Aston Martin cars, only taken to an extreme. Having looked at it many times now, it’s definitely a grower and is much better than the oval grille characteristic of the Model S (which I vehemently dislike).

Price

Starting at $35,000, it’s aggressively priced for a luxury-branded car. Even entry level luxury cars can’t compete with that price.

But I’m cautious to call it ‘luxury-branded’. Again, it’s hard not to see the comparisons with Apple: while their products are seen as premium, they’re far from luxury. (The only reason why Apple is mistaken as a luxury brand is that actual luxury electronics just aren’t economically feasible, thus Apple being the closest point of reference… and the Apple Watch Edition.)

In other words, the Model 3 is to luxury cars like Apple is to Vertu.

Another reason why that comparison works is that the Model 3, like Apple devices (at least iOS devices), is on the absolute cutting edge of technology compared to its peers. I’ve made my case already, but it’s worth reiterating just how advanced Tesla’s cars are compared to their competition. (Here’s what I had to say about Tesla Autopilot last month, just one of the features included in the Model 3.)

Conclusion

As you can tell, I am immensely excited for the Model 3, which makes it more of shame we won’t see it for a really long time. I still have my reservations, but hopefully time will be on Tesla’s side and the limitations that stand in their way won’t have as much of a stranglehold on Tesla and the rest of the EV industry as they have now.