Mark Harris behind the scenes at the Tesla Model 3 launch

Behind the scenes of the new Tesla Model 3 launch: the £30,000 electric BMW 3-series rival

Crucial to Tesla's success: is 3 the lucky number?

IN A glitzy ceremony at Tesla’s Silicon Valley factory on Friday night, Elon Musk handed over keys to the first 30 Model 3 electric cars to roll off the production line.

Hundreds of Tesla workers and fans whooped as Musk announced the arrival of what he called the world’s first “great, affordable electric car that’s better than a gasoline car.”

The first cars went to excited Tesla employees, who will be reporting back to Musk on the car’s performance. Around the world, Musk claims over half a million people have paid a $1000 deposit (£1000 in the UK) towards a Model 3. Deliveries to the public will start later this year, but the company admitted to Driving that there may be a delay on cars arriving in Britain – pushing back from the original planned arrival, late next year, into 2019.

Browse NEW or USED cars for sale

Driving a Model 3 on to the stage accompanied by thumping dance music, Musk promised to work day and night to deliver the cars as quickly as possible. It’s a make or break launch for Tesla, which was recently worth more than Ford on the US stock market, despite never having turned a profit. But the Model 3 is an integral plan of Musk’s long-term to eliminate fossil fuels and save the world (or possibly escape to Mars in one of his SpaceX rockets).

“This is the day we’ve been working towards since the beginning of the company,” said Musk. “If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you have to make cars that people can afford.” Tesla’s current line-up, the Model S saloon and Model X SUV, can easily sell for over £100,000.

We’re going to go through six months of manufacturing hell, admits Musk

Making a mass market car at a mass market price means selling mass market volumes. Musk said it was “quite likely” that his factory in Fremont, California would be producing 5,000 Model 3s a week by December, and twice that by the end of next year. For comparison, Tesla produced less than less 84,000 vehicles during the whole of 2016.

“We’re going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell,” admitted Musk. “It’s going to be quite a challenge.”

Another challenge is that traditional car makers are now dabbling in electric vehicles. BMW’s i3 has a high-tech carbon fibre body, and the Nissan Leaf is substantially cheaper than the standard Model 3. Neither have sold particularly well.

The five-seat Model 3 starts from $35,000 in America, and is likely to cost £35,000 in the UK, when prices are announced. That buys a base model with 220 miles of range, a top speed of 130mph and a zero to sixty time of 5.6 seconds. However, for the next few months Tesla will be producing only a $44,000 version with 310 miles of range and zippier acceleration.

Musk said Tesla has designed the Model 3 “to ideally not require servicing”, with an electric motor that should run a million miles between services. An $8000 upgrade, possibly available within two years, will enable a self-driving mode that Musk says will let the car operate without human intervention – and even allow owners to make money running their Model 3 as a self-driving taxi.

All Teslas get a four year vehicle warranty, and eight years of cover for the battery and motors.

Musk will be hoping that Tesla’s brand – as well quirky features such as panoramic windows and a large touchscreen replacing a traditional dashboard and controls – will persuade car buyers to join the back of the 500,000-strong line to buy a Model 3. Drivers in the UK may face a long wait, said a Tesla spokesperson, as a right-hand drive version of the Model 3 has not yet been finalised.

However, the timing could be right for the mass-market Tesla. The car has launched in the same week the UK government announced that new diesel and petrol cars would be banned from sale, from 2040. Interest in electric cars is likely to accelerate just as quickly as a Tesla can zip away from the traffic lights…

Can a Tesla Model X deal with children, car seats… and grandma?