After more than a decade of proving itself, Tesla has begun initial production of its Model 3.

With the handing over of the first 30 cars to Tesla employees last Friday, the company’s “volume” model expected to usher it toward profitability is here and there’s nothing else quite like it.

The all-electric car in base 220-mile configuration or 310-mile long-range configuration – as the first units will be until next year – is fast, avant garde, and a chip off the not so old block, speaking of its Model S parentage.

Tesla says it has over 500,000 paid reservations for the Model 3, and it will be producing as many as 5,000 monthly by the fourth quarter of this year. The company reportedly needs to sell 500,000 cars annually – all models, with the 3 being by far the biggest seller – to be profitable.

And by all indications, the car is off to a good start. After an advanced test drive, Motor Trend has already declared it “the most important vehicle of the century.”

It is also the goal of Tesla, and step three of its three-step strategy – that included a detour and arguably fourth car, the Model X based on the S – to bring about a car for the “masses.”

What it is

The Model 3 is scaled down dimensionally from the Model S, sacrificing interior dimensions where they count only minimally. Namely, front seat legroom is the same, and rear seat legroom is close to the same for the five-passenger car.

Initial versions are rear-wheel drive and promise top speed of up to 140 mph, and 0-60 in around 5 seconds.

The car will come later in slightly slower versions that do 0-60 in 5.6 seconds and 130 mph top speed, and in time much faster AWD versions will arrive as well.

Customer deliveries begin in late October, says Tesla, and production of the Standard Battery begins in November. All-Wheel Drive production begins in Spring 2018. International deliveries of left-hand drive vehicles begin in the second half of 2018, and right-hand drive vehicles begin in 2019.

In its present configuration it is pretty fast, and sure footed too, as Motor Trend’s Testing Director Kim Reynolds attests:

The Model 3 is so unexpected scalpel-like, I’m sputtering for adjectives. The steering ratio is quick, the effort is light (for me), but there’s enough light tremble against your fingers to hear the cornering negotiations between Stunt Road and these 235/40R19 tires (Continental ProContact RX m+s’s). And to mention body roll is to have already said too much about it. Sure, that battery is low, way down under the floor. But unlike the aluminum Model S, the Tesla Model 3 is composed of steel, too, and this car’s glass ceiling can’t be helping the center of gravity’s height. Nearly-nil body roll? Magic, I’m telling you. Magic.


Missing for now are window stickers, which normally are required by law for cars sold in the U.S. Tesla reportedly received a temporary waiver from the U.S. EPA allowing it to delay a month before showing its efficiency numbers per the EPA certification process.

The car also comes with advanced Autopilot, and is intended in time to become fully autonomous as it is updated in years ahead.

It’s also Supercharger compatible for access to Tesla’s growing DC fast charging network, but Tesla says this will be a pay-per-use scheme.

Inside, the car has one interface, a 15-inch touchscreen that controls everything. This includes telling you the speed in lieu of an individual speedometer, HVAC controls, Wi-Fi / LTE / Bluetooth. trip info, and connecting to the Internet.

While positioned as below the Model S, a stripped set of wheels, it is not.

Tesla’s three-step plan toward the “volume” model was to get to a car that is “entry level,” but one’s definition of that may need to be qualified.


The vehicle starts at $36,200 when factoring its base $35,000 plus $1,200 delivery fee, according to Motor Trend. That price however is for a car no one can get at the moment, and may not until sometime in 2018 or 2019.

Initial models with the 310-mile range also require a Premium Trim Package, and net out to around $50,000.

A fully packed Model 3 may eventually cost around $60,000, and this is above the once-upon-a-time price advertised for the 40-kWh battery pack Model S that was never produced, which was to come in at $57,400 before a $7,500 federal credit.

You can have it in any color you want, as long as it’s black. Other colors can carry an un upcharge of $1,000.

Emphasis by some media is being placed on the fact “the average new vehicle price” is just below the $35,000 Tesla will eventually sell the 3 for, but numerous cars sell in the teens and 20s, and the “average” factors all cars up to high-end luxury models.

Standard also are unflattering aero wheels. Buyers will have to pay an extra $1,500 to get conventional looking aluminum wheels. So, a gray otherwise base Model 3 with more-attractive wheels would cost $38,500.

That is, the “average” is for all new cars, from those priced from the mid teens to hundreds of thousands, and includes many in the upper five, low six figures, and so “average new car selling price” is not to be confused with “entry level.”

Elon Musk said not long after the Mar. 31, 2016 revelation of the 3 pre-production prototypes that a lower priced EV would need to be made closer to true entry level, but plans for this are not known.

A Barclays analyst went so far as to say Tesla, which has antipathy for car dealers, is using a long-used teaser price to garner the reservations. Numerous reports have gone out for the “$35,000” Model 3 which for now is closer to $50,000 the Model S entry level was once to sell for.

“One of the oldest car dealer advertising ‘tricks’ is to advertise an irresistible price for a popular car — say a lease for under $150 per month — in order to generate showroom traffic, only for the car shopper to later realize that the price is for a base model with little appeal,” wrote Barclays analyst Brian Johnson. “The similarities to legacy car sales tactics might dim the enthusiasm of the faithful.”

That’s one analysts’ view, but the Model 3 does promise a whole lot more than one could get until now.

What it’s Not

Tesla’s Model 3 has been compared by some writers to the Chevy Bolt EV because both start at a similar mid-30s price, and the Bolt has 238 miles range, while the Model 3 starts at 220.

Every time this is written, readers write in comments and correct the writer that the two ought not to be compared, as they are dissimilar products.

The Bolt is a FWD compact crossover, or not unlike a nice electric Chevy Sonic, and the 3 is being seen as an electric alternative to a BMW 3 series, or the like.

More accurately, the Model 3 may be likened to a scaled down Model S. Musk emphasizes the S is the premium car, but the Model 3 is more like entry-luxury level and gives the most range for the dollar, along with an upper scale refined experience.

One of the First of Many

The Model 3 – along with the Bolt, and a few others including the Gen-2 Nissan Leaf – starts the electric car market on the road to at least 200 miles, if not 300-plus, and far closer parity to gas engine vehicles.

To date, automotive analyst Alan Baum is estimating that by 2020 there will be at least 20 EVs by several brands with over 200 miles range, several of which will be priced close to the Model 3.

Despite the heady projections of massive factory output, Baum conservatively says only 15,000 units will find their way to U.S. buyers’ hands by Dec. 31 with no units exported for 2017 out of maybe 20,000 produced. In 2018, he figures 120,000 U.S. sales as the factory ramps up.

This is “far below Tesla’s plan,” admits Baum.

“Of course, this could change monthly based on their production experience (mostly up one would assume, as this forecast is conservative),” said Baum who has a history of being relatively accurate on Tesla numbers.

To its credit however, Tesla did pull off an initial delivery without unplanned delays as was the case with the Model S and X.

Beyond this, Tesla is expected to release a Model Y crossover variant, not to mention a pickup and semi truck in its ambitious plans to veer the world toward sustainable transport.