Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3 won’t ship until late 2017, yet it still makes other EVs nervous

Tesla fans waited patiently for the reveal, and now they have to wait for the car, due in late 2017. Probably.

Tesla’s $35,000 Model 3 won’t be out until late 2017, and yet its reveal Thursday night at the company’s Hawthorne, California design studio put all other electric vehicles on notice. “We have an amazing product to show you tonight. I think you’re going to be blown away,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk promised. Unless something even more amazing comes out in the next year, the Model 3 will be the EV to beat.

Full specs were not immediately available, but here’s what we do know:

The base model will cost $35,000 before any federal or state incentives. As with other Tesla models, you’ll be able to choose pricier upgrades.

The EV range will be at least 215 miles, Musk said—a little more than the expected EV range for the Chevrolet Bolt. The 200-mile mark is widely considered to be the point at which people lose EV range anxiety. Musk hinted at better ranges: “These are minimum numbers; we hope to exceed them.” The cars will have access to Tesla’s supercharging network.

Why this matters: The Model S emerges at a crucial time for electric vehicles. EV drivers have suffered long enough with cars that last 100 miles or less. The Model 3's 215-mile range and reasonably affordable price could make EVs appealing to more people. It remains to be seen, however, whether those people will wait for the Model 3 or buy the Chevrolet Bolt, which will be first out of the gate later this year..

A Tesla through and through

True to its roots, the Model 3 will go from 0 to 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. “At Tesla we don’t make slow cars,” Musk reminded us.

As with the Model S, the Model 3 will also be very safe, Musk assured us: “not just five-star on average, but five-star in every category.”

tesla model 3 press event safety cage shot Tesla

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the Model 3 would have five-star safety ratings across the board.

It will seat five adults comfortably—and the fifth seat will be welcoming, Musk said, not punishing, as it can often be in compact cars. (Dimensions were not available, but the photos indicate a shorter nose and tail than the Model S.) Musk described how the Model 3’s designers compressed the instrument panel and moved the front seats forward to give the rear passenger area more legroom. The rear roof’s continuous pane of glass also adds to the roomy feeling, Musk said.

With the same front and rear trunk layout as the larger Model S, the Model 3 will have more cargo capacity than any car in its class. Musk even addressed a customer query, confirming that the car could hold a seven-foot surfboard inside.

tesla model 3 press event interior shot Tesla

This shot of the interior of the Tesla Model S shows a large tablet above the dashboard.

The Model 3's ship date could slip, though. It’s advertised as late 2017, but Musk himself, in his presentation, qualified it like this: “I do feel fairly confident they will be next year.”

Tesla has two big projects in progress to support the anticipated higher volume of the Model 3. One is its huge Gigafactory in Reno, Nevada. Musk said the Gigafactory, which is already in operation, will have the largest footprint of any building on Earth, and it’ll have the capacity to produce more lithuim-ion batteries than all the other Li-ion battery factories in the world combined—50GWh (gigawatt hours) per year, Musk said.

tesla model 3 press event gigafactory Tesla

Tesla will become the largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries in the world once its Gigafactory kicks into full swing.

Tesla will also need to increase its production volume significantly. Musk set an ambitious goal of 500,000 units per year from its Fremont, California plant. “We think we can do it,” Musk hedged.

Of course, the Model 3 is gorgeous. Its sleek design cues closely follow those of the Model S and Model X.

tesla model 3 press event side shot Tesla

Tesla didn’t reveal the exact dimensions of the Model 3, but it’s expected to be noticeably smaller than the Model S or Model X.

Tesla’s Model 3 once again proves that Elon Musk knows something other automotive CEOs don’t. While other car companies’ EVs and hybrids languish in the face of low oil prices, people lined up early at Tesla stores to preorder the Model 3 in person Thursday morning. Thousands more put in their names and $1,000 deposits online. Preorders exceeded 115,000 in 24 hours.

Time is the Model 3’s enemy, though. Some of these eager depositors may bolt for the Chevrolet Bolt, which is due to ship by the end of 2016. It’ll have about the same price and EV range as the Model 3, if not the same level of cachet. We’ll keep following the Model 3 and its competitors and will keep you posted.

tesla model 3 press event 3qtr shot Tesla

The Model 3 has the same sleek design cues as its Model X and Model S cousins.

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