Last month saw the single biggest one-week launch of any product, ever.
And it wasn't a phone, or a computer, or even a drug. No, it was the Tesla Model 3. Tesla took in 325,000 orders that first week; current reservations are approaching 400,000. If every single customer that reserved a car purchases one, that will be $14 Billion worth of pre-orders. Realize that even though the first cars won't ship until at least a year and a half from now, and the later orders won't likely be fulfilled until '19 or even '20.
That means 400,000 people were willing to put down a refundable $1,000 deposit for the chance to buy a car in a year and a half. And keep in mind that Tesla has only produced 100,000 cars to date, so production delays could be a very real possibility. So, what makes this car so special, so unlike anything else that people are begging Elon Musk to just shut up and take their money?
By the Numbers
The Tesla Model 3 will start at $35,000, is expected to have a range of 215 miles per charge, will seat 5 adults and go 0-60 in 6.1 seconds. It will also include that autopilot hardware that could make it truly self-driving. (More on that later) The Model S and Model X debuted at much higher price points, so have already created, this is the everyman's chance to get in on the game.
The actual interior remains in the prototype phase, and Musk promised that it will make sense after "part 2" of the reveal. One of the promised features is a steering control that "feels like a spaceship." The interior of the Model 3 is already halfway there, as all controls were routed through a single large touch screen. Look at the pictures and you'll notice no air vents, buttons, gauges, or instrument clusters. Some are speculating that a heads-up-display will join the large 15-inch touchscreen, but that's still speculation.
The first thing you notice about the exterior (assuming the car is coming your way) is the lack of a grill. While some see this as a problem to be fixed, this design was part of how the design team was able to achieve such a low drag coefficient. (Musk has allegedly targeted a .20, which would make it one of the lowest drag coefficient production cars ever made) For comparison, the 2016 Toyota Prius has a .24 drag coefficient, and an average modern production car comes in between .30 and .35. Worth noting, the newest model S and X have also removed the grill.
The back is equally striking, with a single, unbroken pane of glass that extends from over the rear seat all the way to the back of the car.
Who drives and who rides?
Musk has said publicly that he thinks you should be able to summon your car from anywhere in the country by 2018, which is right around the time the Tesla 3s should be hitting the street. Whether or not that means they'll be completely autonomous remains to be seen. However, the Tesla 3 will have all the autopilot hardware, so even if it's not completely self-driving upon delivery, a software update may add that capability.
That could explain the minimalist interior, and could certainly lead one to believe that Musk intends the fleet to be completely self-driving at some point. How can they do this for just $35k?
Instead of LIDAR, the more expensive technology that many other automakers depend on for their self-driving cars, The Tesla 3 keeps costs down by using cameras, radar, and ultrasound. They've also managed to amass an incredible about of testing and driving data by enabling the autopilot feature on their existing fleet. The tens of thousands of Tesla drivers using their autopilot feature in the field gives Tesla more self-driving data in a few days than the Google self-driving cars have amassed to date. However, Google's cars offer a higher degree of autonomy, completely removing the steering wheel and pedals. So far, Tesla's approach to self-driving depends on incremental innovation and being able to handle 90% of driving tasks, while Google's approach seeks to do everything but requires more precise road mapping. For more on the two approaches, check out this article on Cleantechnica.com.
Keeping it Charged
Foremost on any all-electric car owner's minds is how to keep it charged. Around-town and regular driving can be handled by at-home chargers, but for distance trips, the Supercharger and destination charging network come into play. A Supercharger station can get you up to 170 miles worth of charge in just 30 minutes. The network is growing quickly, and went from 69 Supercharger stations in Feb of 2013 to 175 Supercharger stations and 572 destination charging stations in Feb of 2015. However, since the supercharger network is free for Tesla owners to use for life, the company may see a demand squeeze in coming years. Check out this time-lapse animation that visualizes the growth of the world-wide network, and imagine what that looks like times 4. Because Tesla just took pre-orders for more than 4 times as many cars as they've ever made.
We're excited to see what's in store for part 2, and can't wait to see what Musk has in store for the almost half-a-million potential new members to the Tesla family. Judging by the reveal video we've embedded below, it should be exciting.