This car feels like an automotive tipping point, a sign that electric vehicles (and hopefully, their infrastructure that supports them) have finally come into their own. Time will tell whether Musk & Co. can hit their deadlines and keep production lines humming. (Elon Musk revealed Friday that over half a million people have now plonked down $1,000 to reserve their own.) For now, it looks real nice.
Initially, Tesla is building just two configurations of the car, to keep things as simple on the production line. The base will be the $35,000 version, with a range of 220 miles and acceleration from 0-60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The “long range” version will go a claimed 310 miles between charges, and do the 0-60 sprint in 5.1 seconds—but it’ll set you back $44,000. Both models come with just one electric motor driving the back wheels. The twin motor, the all-wheel-drive option, will follow in a few months. (In a break from tradition, Tesla won’t talk kilowatt-hour battery sizes, saying that customers understand range in miles better.)
Half a million people reserved one. 310 mile range (for the pricier model).
It's why the inside is dominated by the giant touchscreen; in fact, there’s nothing else. No buttons or switches, no gauges in front of the driver, not even a speed readout. It's all on the screen, which is also the main control panel. Want to turn down the heat? Tap the screen. Change the radio station? Look at a map? Switch on the headlights? Same deal. Two click-y scroll wheels on either side of the steering wheel help out too. You can use them to change the volume on your radio, but also to adjust the mirrors.
This seems like one of the more controversial things about the car -- everything controlled via touchscreen. The uproar kind of reminds me of "no ports?!" -- which did have some merit, of course.
The Model 3 isn’t the first electric car on the market, not by a long shot. The Chevrolet Bolt and BMW i3 look like competitors. But there’s a reason hundreds of thousands of people shouted “Take my money!” at Tesla, and not at any other automaker. Tyler the Creator bought one. A Model S makes a cameo in Fifty Shades of Grey. Elon Musk is a media genius, and his magic makes Teslas objects of desire. Drivers want these cars—and now, drivers might be able to purchase them, too. “If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you have to make cars that people can afford," says Musk.
Now Tesla has to actually build these cars. "We’re going to go through six months of manufacturing hell" to manage expectations, Musk says. He still believes the company will pump out 500,000 vehicles next year from its Fremont factory in California.
The challenge ahead -- to scale such operations -- is immense. But the dismissals that this really isn't any different than the Bolt or the i3 -- and those guys were here first -- are ridiculous. In that way, Tesla is like Apple.