The vehicle that has all but been christened as the new People’s Car by the brand’s fans has been unveiled in California today: the Tesla Model 3.
Positioned as a new mid-sized and more affordable companion to the large Model S sedan and the Model X SUV, the Model 3 represents Tesla’s biggest push yet to bring its all-electric vision to more buyers.
While premium large-car pricing and production limitations kept Model S availability to a relative few, the Model 3 has been developed with a focus on a broader manufacturing plan and a BMW 3 Series-rivalling US$35,000 starting point in the US market.
Australian pricing is still to be confirmed, but we expect the Model 3 to begin at around $60,000.
The company’s new Gigafactory battery plant, confirmed to have the largest footprint of any building in the world, is also expected to ensure a significantly expanded production capacity. Read more about the Gigafactory here.
On the styling front, the Model 3 presents as a hybrid of the four-door coupe and SUV lines of its Model S and Model X. That means a tall glasshouse, high beltline and long sloping roofline, terminating at a short rear deck with an integrated spoiler and a sharp dropoff.
It’s at the front end where the Model 3 makes its biggest departure from the look of its stablemates. While the Model S wore a large elliptical black ‘grille’ and the Model X cut the look down to a mere letterbox slot, the new Model 3 has done away with the pretense of a traditional grille altogether.
In its place is a tall duckbilled design, set above a long narrow intake and two tall brake cooling ports, while new-design and almost Porsche Panamera-like headlights flank the ‘frunk’ lid.
The Model 3 is also unique in the Tesla brood with its full glass roof, extending in an uninterrupted two-piece arc from the base of the windscreen to the bottom of the rear window. If panel gaps in the images here are anything to go by, there is either a short boot lid that closes at the D-pillar, or an incredibly long liftgate that rearches back to the centre of the roof.
In the cabin, the Model 3 kicks off an all-new style for Tesla, with a new-looking steering wheel and a long two-tiered dash design.
The mid-sizer also does away with the traditional instrument cluster behind the steering wheel, consolidating all gauges and displays to a single new horizontal display in the centre of the dash that replaces the portrait-style screen used in the Model S and Model X.
Tesla says we can expect to “comfortably” fit five adults in the Model 3, but few car makers would claim anything less for any of their five-seat models. Still, Tesla founder Elon Musk appears to mean it, telling guests at the Model 3’s unveiling that “‘comfortably’ is the important part here”.
Front and rear storage compartments will feature, and while specific numbers are still to be confirmed, Musk promised “More cargo capacity than any gasoline car of the same external dimensions”.
Full details on the Model 3’s technology will be delivered over time through a drip-feed approach, but Tesla has so far confirmed that we can expect a “minimum” driving range of 345 kilometres off a single charge for the base models. Battery size options are likewise still to be confirmed.
Buyers can look forward to a 0-100km/h time below 6.0 seconds for entry models - a promise that will essentially give even the most budget-focussed buyers a genuine sports car in the premium segment.
“Much faster” versions are promised.
Like the Model S, the Model 3 will be offered in rear-wheel- and all-wheel-drive forms, with a ‘D’ for dual-motor likely to be appended to the names of AWD variants.
Production of the Model 3 will begin in 2017, focused on left-hand-drive markets initially. Right-hand-drive production will follow, and an Australian launch is not expected to occur until sometime in 2018.
Elon Musk confirmed today that the company has taken more than 115,000 reservations for the Model 3, priced in America at US$1000 ($1300) and here at $1500. That means the company has pulled in well over $115 million in placeholder deposits alone.
The Model 3’s main price and performance competitor in the US will be the recently revealed Chevrolet Bolt, which will offer comparable numbers on both counts - but with a distinctly more conventional volume-selling hatchback look.
The Bolt will not be offered in Australia, but an obvious rival to the Model 3 - at least in price - will be BMW's i3 hatch, current priced at $73,663 plus on-road costs in its full-electric form. A petrol-assisted range-extended variant is also available from $78,692.