Automotive

Will Tesla’s Model 3 take electric cars into the mainstream?

Lara Williams

Lara Williams, Editor-at-large

Tesla’s new Model 3 has been hailed as “magic”, but will it succeed in taking electric cars mainstream?

Last Friday, the first 30 Model 3’s were given to Tesla employees at a special handover event at their research facility in San Fransisco.

However, this wasn’t an event just to unveil a new car, but one to mark a new chapter for Tesla – one that Musk hopes will see it grow from a luxury niche to mainstream automaker.

The Model 3 is their first affordable car. Its starting price of $35,000 (£26,600) is the average transaction price for a car in the US, significantly lower than the $100,000 (£78,000) a Model X can cost.

Competition in the affordable electric car sector is now much more fierce and, while Tesla has no doubt inspired many of these vehicles – which include the Nissan Leaf and Chevy Bolt – what will set the Model 3 apart?

‘Car of the Future’

The Model 3 has a range of 220 miles on its standard battery, extending to 310 if you shell out an extra $9000 for the Range+.

This makes it the car with one the cheapest ranges – challenged only by the Chevy Bolt – but it’s also packed full of innovative technology.

Peter Holley of The Washington Post summed it up when he said: “from the moment you sit inside the Model 3, you do sense that you have entered uncharted territory.

“I attribute that feeling to the intuitive nature of the Model 3’s minimalist design…[and] the way the car seamlessly incorporates technology that is already second nature in many people’s everyday lives.”

For starters, it doesn’t have a key, not even a fob. Instead, the Tesla app on your smartphone unlocks the car and lets it know when you’re ready to get moving. The app allows you to keep track of your car’s charge too.

They’ve also stripped the car of its instrument panel, with a 15” touchscreen control pad taking its place. The screen displays a virtual instrument cluster, as well as mapping, entertainment and cabin controls.

model 3 dashboard minimalist

Source: Tesla

This might seem radical but aren’t touchscreens a normal part of our daily lives now? From our smartphones and iPads, to ordering that 4am McDonald’s (just me?), tablets belong firmly in the present. In this way, it makes sense to consolidate the distractions on the dashboard into one touchscreen.

The Model 3’s design understands that our smartphones are integral to our lives. We’re far more likely to forget or lose a key fob than our phones for example.

‘Production hell’

Tesla has plenty of fans – half a million in fact, willing to put down a $1000 deposit for a car they hadn’t seen and won’t be ready for them until late 2018.

It took Tesla a week to reach 350,000 pre-orders, making it the most successful week-long product launch ever – but can they deliver the goods?

Analysts see being able to expand their production volume as the biggest challenge for the company and Musk has already joked about entering ‘production hell’. While a big name, Tesla is still a small company and so far only 50 Model 3’s have been built.

Musk is planning to ramp up production exponentially, with another 100 being made in August, growing to 20,000 a month in December should all go to plan.

model 3 production rate

Source: Tesla

To put that into perspective, big names such as Volkswagen and Toyota produce 25,000 cars a day, so it’s clear Tesla has a lot of work to do to compete at that level, especially after having numerous production issues with the more complicated Model X.

However, there’s no doubt that Tesla has captured the public’s imagination – they’ve made electric cars sexy and appealing – opening the door for the mainstream automakers to get into EV’s.

Many are hoping it’ll increase the adoption of electric vehicles, and with many countries introducing policies to ban combustion engines, this seems likely.

Whether the Model 3 goes mainstream remains to be seen, but it’s clear we’ve entered the electric vehicle revolution.

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