The Tesla Model 3 Arrives, With Elon's Superlatives

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Aug 03, 2017

Elon Musk is given to superlatives. And in Musk’s case, they are indeed kind of mind-boggling.

Elon Musk: The Model 3 will save the world, and beat the competition, too. (Tesla photo)

As he introduced the Model 3 in California, Musk said his new sedan…

  • Will have 215 miles of range in its base version, achieve zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, and achieve 130 mph. That version will sell for $35,000, but the $44,000 upmarket model will go for 310 miles on a charge, do zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds, and hit 140 mph. Figure $5,000 more on that one if you want the premium package.
  • Will be produced in volumes of 20,000 per month by the end of 2017. The first run of cars will be delivered between November 2017 and February 2018, with the early and unpriced all-wheel-drive versions set for September to November 2018. The Fremont factory once churned out 500,000 cars per year when it was a Toyota/General Motors joint venture, and achieving that volume again is “very doable,” Musk said at the unveiling, adding there that the company had taken in 115,000 new Model 3 orders (on top of 400,000 or so it already had) within the last 24 hours.
  • Will be powered by batteries from the Reno, Nevada-based Gigafactory—the largest freestanding building by volume in the world, next to Boeing’s factory in Washington. The huge building is already operational, and when at full capacity will produce more lithium-ion car batteries than all the rest of the world’s output combined.
  • Will have access, by the end of the year, to 7,200 Supercharging locations (a fill-up in half an hour), and 15,000 destination chargers worldwide. There will also be 441 service locations in North America, Europe and Asia Pacific. All Model 3s will be Supercharger-compliant, and all will have Autopilot built in (though activating the Enhanced version will cost an additional $5,000, and full self-driving $3,000 more).
  • Will do its best to combat climate change. At the unveiling in California, Musk pointed out that the Model 3 is “very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport” and “really important to the future of the world.” He also noted that we’ve recently recorded carbon dioxide concentrations of 4.35 parts per million, the highest number recorded for 11 million years. “That’s about when primates started walking upright,” he said, “and the world was very different then.” The temperature has risen 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit since 1900, and a Nature study that arrived on almost the same day as the Model 3 predicted the warming could reach 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100.
The Model 3 is another Tesla styling coup, a sensibly miniaturized Model S. (Tesla photo)

All very interesting. None of this means the Model 3 is a slam dunk, of course. There was a laugh in the room when Musk started talking about delivery dates, because plenty of them have been missed in Tesla’s history.

The front of the car still looks weird with a grille shape but no actual grille. Of course, as an electric car it has no big internal-combustion engine to cool, but we’ve had grilles for a century now. How about a removable black decal to aid in the visual transition?

Subdued interior dominated by that giant touch screen. (Tesla photo)

The Model 3 will not enjoy an empty playing field, as the Models S and X did. The Chevy Bolt is on the market, with similar specs. The Porsche Mission-E is arriving, also in 2018, and Audi has two electric SUVs with 310-mile range coming (in 2018 and 2019). The Jaguar i-Pace SUV, with more than 220 miles of range, is also targeting 2018. Nissan and Ford are both likely to unveil compact electrics with improved range. And don’t forget VW’s electric MEB-platform Microbus, dateline 2020.

Zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, and 5.1 (with 140 mph possible) if you're willing to pay a premium. (Tesla photo)

Last year, Tesla lost $675 million. At the unveiling Musk said that the Models S and X subsidized the launch of the Model 3, but it was really Musk’s checkbook that did that. This year, considering all the ramp-up costs, the losses could be bigger.

The Porsche Mission-E has Tesla in its sights. (Porsche photo)

I’m not betting against Tesla and the Model 3, just pointing out the realities. Musk seems to be focused, which is a good thing. For those wanting to see his affordable electric car make history, let’s hope he doesn’t spend too much time working on his crazy but fascinating Hyperloop. The latest is that Musk has “verbal government approval” for a New York to Washington run of 29 minutes.  

Here's the full Model 3 launch:

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