THE CAR that will make or break Tesla is due to begin production this Friday. Elon Musk, the techpreneur behind California’s upstart electric car company, announced on Twitter that the Model 3, an “affordable” five-seat saloon to rival the likes of the Audi A4, BMW 3 series and Mercedes C class, has pass its regulatory tests and production is now two weeks ahead of schedule.
The new Model 3 looks like an everyday saloon but is considered the most significant launch yet from Tesla. Unlike current electrically-powered cars in the range, including the Model S and Model X, the Model 3 is not aimed at the super rich – it’s priced from around £30,000, less than half the price of a Model S saloon.
If the car is well received, it will help Elon Musk broaden the appeal of electric cars among general motorists, rather than wealthy early adopters. Tesla claims to have 400,000 refundable deposits for its new model, and British drivers can place a £1000 deposit to join the queue.
The new car will roll out of the Fremont factory in limited numbers initially before building to an anticipated 20,000 cars a month by December. At the end of this month, Musk says a party will be held to hand over the first 30 Model 3 cars to customers.
It is built in Fremont, California, but the batteries are made in Nevada, at the so-called Gigafactory that Tesla and Panasonic have created.
Model 3 passed all regulatory requirements for production two weeks ahead of schedule. Expecting to complete SN1 on Friday
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 3, 2017
Stung by a lukewarm reception to the Model X, which Musk admits was too complex for its own good, Tesla is keeping the Model 3 comparatively straightforward.
“A big mistake we made with the X,” said Musk, “which is primarily my responsibility — there was way too much complexity right at the beginning. That was very foolish.”
Because of this, and the Model 3’s low price, the choice of options is said to be extremely limited. Customers just get to choose between paint colours and wheels – for now, at least.
The Model 3 is powered by a rechargeable battery pack said to give a driving range of 215 miles on a single charge.
It can be charged via a normal household socket, a fast charger or Tesla’s Superchargers, which can give roughly 170 miles of driving charge in 30 minutes.
It will feature Tesla’s Autopilot hardware and software, meaning vehicles are ready to be switched to autonomous driving as and when changes to local and international laws permit self-driving cars. At the moment, UK law does not allow fully-autonomous cars on the roads but a certain amount of autonomy is permitted, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist, as long as the driver remains in control of the vehicle. With Tesla’s Autopilot, drivers must keep their hands on the wheels at all times.
Meanwhile, the big name car brands are pressing ahead with their own electric cars. Volkswagen plans to introduce 20 plug-in models by 2020, while Jaguar’s first pure-electric car, the I-Pace, will go on sale late next year, priced around £60,000.