Late Saturday night Pacific time, Tesla CEO Elon Musk made good on his promise to share images of the first production line Tesla Model 3, the stripped-down electric car that’s not only Tesla’s most affordable nameplate, but easily the most anticipated new car in recent history. And it’s Elon Musk’s own.
The Model 3 was first revealed back on March 31, 2016 and eventually Tesla received — although hard numbers haven’t been announced — an estimated 325,000 reservations for the car, in the form of $1,000 down-payments. The Model 3 starts at $35,000 but goes up as drivers add options. It has a range of 215 miles, seats five, and in North America, can be charged at 889 Supercharger stations from 6,000 individual supercharging pumps. The battery will be as large at 75 kWh.
“Production unit 1 of Model 3 is now built and going through final checkout. Pics soon,” Musk teased on his Twitter on Saturday night. He wasn’t lying:
The first several Model 3 vehicles, Musk has said, will go to employees, before going to people with built-up credits through Tesla’s referral program, before going down the list of people who reserved a Tesla Model 3.
When a commenter asked who will get the car pictured above, Musk said it would be him, via a gift from Ira Ehrenpreis, a social and environmentally focused venture capitalist.
“Ira Ehrenpreis had rights to first car as he was first to place a full deposit, but gave those rights to me as my 46th birthday present. Thanks Ira!,” Musk commented on Twitter.
Musk also shared this explanation about who gets the first new Tesla model: “It’s who is first to pay full price for the car. Hard rule. I have first Roadster and X, but not first S.” (One has to wonder if Peter Rawlinson of Lucid Motors, lead engineer on the Model S, claims the first Model S.)
Given Tesla’s history of delays — namely with its features-laden Model X SUV — many thought the California car company wouldn’t have been producing the Model 3 so quickly. So back in May 2016, Musk gave Tesla an “impossible deadline” of July 1 of this year to start producing the car, a target which it missed so narrowly, history will probably say it didn’t.
The Model 3 can be seen as a stripped-down version of the Model S, a luxury sedan with a base price of $68,000. A leaked Tesla showroom comparison chart details how different the cars are, from acceleration to battery range to digital displays levels of customization.
“We’ve gone through great pains with Model 3 to design of it for manufacturing and to not have all sorts of bells and whistles and special features,” Musk said during the company’s first quarter 2017 earnings call in May.
But one thing the Model 3 claims is a relatively low price, which made it immensely popular, so much so that Musk often told investment analysts that the company instructed Tesla dealerships to “anti-sell” the Model 3 and try to steer customers to the Model S instead.
What’s next? 5,000 Model 3 vehicles will roll off the line per week at some point in 2017, and to 10,000 vehicles per week at some point in 2018.
“There’s plenty of things with uncertainty, but I don’t know of anything that would prevent us from starting production in July and exceeding 5,000 units a week by the end of the year,” Musk told investment analysts in May.
Tesla’s letter to shareholders after the first quarter of 2017 laid out exactly how it plans to meet the demand for this affordable, cool-looking electric car:
We recently powered on our newest Schuler press line, and have started the commissioning process. This will allow sufficient time to install and tune die sets ahead of volume production. Paint shop preparation has been completed and installations of our dedicated Model 3 body welding and general assembly lines are progressing well. Equipment installation is also underway for volume manufacturing of cells, modules, battery packs and drive units at Gigafactory 1. We are working closely with all Model 3 suppliers to ensure their readiness ahead of start of production.
And to handle the repairs needed for those tens of thousands of Model 3’s — not that Tesla says they will need to repaired much, more Tesla-owned repair shops:
To significantly improve the customer experience with out-of-warranty body repairs, we intend to open the first Tesla-owned body repair shops later this year and expand the existing network of third-party Tesla certified body shops.
Our new facilities are generally larger than they were in the past. For example, new service locations commonly have many more service bays, and we have tested the implementation of large delivery hubs in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Beijing. Delivery hubs create an exciting reception for new customers and support much higher delivery levels, so we plan to expand this customer experience to more cities.
We are also taking advantage of our vehicle technology and design to improve service efficiency. Using remote diagnostics, our service technicians are increasingly able to identify repair needs in advance of meeting with customers and even before customers notice issues. This has helped reduce repair times by 35% this year. Our goal is to reduce repair times even further.
If you’re just now getting on the Tesla Model 3 train, know that the company says if you reserve today, you won’t get your car until 2018 or later.
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