By Allen Penticoff
The Tesla Model 3 is the electric car Elon Musk had in mind when he founded Tesla Motors 12 years ago. His aim has always been to replace the legions of gasoline consuming vehicles with no or little pollution EVs.
Musk started small with the Tesla Roadster – a two-seat sports car that proved that an electric car need not be a glorified golf cart. Then he developed the revolutionary Tesla Model S sedan that proved an electric only car could be practical, luxurious, beautiful and have astounding performance – but at a price. This was followed up by the equally revolutionary Model X SUV version. But all these together, despite much acclaim and great sales numbers, has yet to make Tesla Motors a profit. These cars were the stepping-stones of building a company and the technology needed to truly mass-produce an electric car that middle-income families could afford. The Model 3 is a car intended to displace the conventional gasoline-powered car in the average person’s garage with a competitive price of $35,000.
Production of the Model 3 is not expected to begin any earlier than late 2017, yet well over 100,000 customers have placed their $1,000 deposits to be first in line to own a Model 3. Since few others, nor I, have driven a prototype Model 3, I am relying on the reports of other lucky auto writers for this review. But what we do know about it shows why so many customers have put their money down.
The Tesla Model 3 has the basic styling of a shortened Model S – that is that of a sleek four-door sedan with a hatchback and front and rear trunks. The nose of the Model 3 is chopped off, much like the Model X creating the look of a conventional car grill. In theory, an electric car could have a very pointed front end, but that sleekness gives away a lot of practicality. The Model 3 seats five, but the back seat is reported to be a bit tight, in part due to the “throne-like” size of the front seats. However, there is plenty of headroom and the cabin feels spacious in part due to the expansive rear light glass that sweeps up over the rear seat. No knobs, buttons or dials are to be found. Everything is displayed or controlled on a single giant 15-inch horizontally mounted touch screen. Speed is displayed in the upper left-hand corner.
While the battery size has not yet been revealed, the expected ordinary range is 215 miles. Acceleration is to be a spritely 0-60 mph in only 6 seconds. If that’s not fast enough for you, there will eventually be a faster performance version. A two-motor AWD version will also be offered. Tesla supercharging is standard that will allow cross-country travel on free electricity.
The Tesla Model 3 will be a stand out in the electric vehicle (EV) crowd for the next few years. Its sleek styling and standard features such as autopilot and auto-braking make the other current EVs based on their gasoline-powered sisters look outdated. Its nearest competitor (that has yet to be produced either) is the 200-mile range Chevrolet Bolt, that will have similar pricing. Presently available are the Chevy Spark EV, VW e-Golf, Ford Focus Electric, Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul EV, Fiat 500 E, Smart Fortwo E and the Mitsubishi iMiEV. Several of these offer EV driving for a much lower cost than the Model 3, but they have a much shorter range and fewer amenities.
Critics say that the Model 3 is the car that will either make or break Tesla Motors. They will need to secure financing to ramp up to a production of at least 75,000 Model 3s per year to begin making a profit. And if that profit does not appear, they will swirl the drain into insolvency due to the debt incurred in making the attempt to break into a game controlled by mega corporations.
I have not placed a deposit for a Model 3 yet. I wish them much luck and success, as I like Tesla’s products and gutsiness. But I like to buy things I can put my hands on. And, I think the Chevy Bolt will be good, if not as exciting, competition. When I do get a chance to drive a Model 3, I’ll provide you with a first-hand review.