THE $35,000 TESLA Model 3 is finally here. It is sleek, quick as hell, and meant for the masses. And it is the most important car the company will ever build.
The Model 3 is the car Tesla Motors has promised since the company’s founding, the car that CEO Elon Musk is convinced will push EVs into the mainstream and the technology to an inflection point. Not to put too fine a point on it, it is the car Musk believes will change the world.
“It’s very important to accelerate the transition to sustainable transport,” Musk said on stage. “This is really important for the future of the world.”
In person and on paper, the Model 3 is a stunner. It’s a handsome sedan, with four doors and five seats, and all the comfort and practicality you’d expect of an upscale mid-size sedan. The battery is good for a 0 to 60 mph time under six seconds, a range of 215 miles. It’s packed with tech, stylish, and a bargain if Tesla can deliver it at the $27,500 base price Musk promises you’ll pay after the federal tax credit.
The specs and price are key, because so far Tesla Motors has aimed squarely at the affluent. The company’s first three models—the innovative Roadster sports car, exquisite Model S sedan, and tech-slinging Model X SUV—made electric cars fun, cool, and compelling. The Model 3 is meant to do something greater: sell the masses on electric propulsion.
Tesla is hardly alone in hoping to do this and, frankly, got beaten in the race to build a $30K EV wth a triple-digit range by General Motors. In January, the Detroit stalwart introduced the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt, a battery electric hatchback with a range of 200 miles and a price of 30 grand after the $7,500 federal tax credit.
Still, Musk isn’t the slightest bit worried and, to be fair, has little reason to be. The Bolt is lovely, but Tesla has a proven ability to get people excited, and there’s no denying the company has a cachet many automakers do not. You don’t often see people lining up outside dealerships simply to place a $1,000 deposit on a car they haven’t even seen—something that happened at many Tesla stores this week. By the time Musk pulled the sheet off the color Model 3 at the sprawling Space X campus here in Hawthorne, California, 115,000 customers had put their money down.
“They’ll absolutely have a wow factor, because it’s Tesla,” says Gary Silberg, an automotive analyst with KPMG. “They’ll know how to market it, and from that perspective, there’s no doubt in my mind it’s gonna be a big success.”
Tesla doesn’t have to worry about creating a market for the 3. Nor does it have to worry about actually building it. No, the upstart automaker has to do something much harder.
If the company is to truly influence, let alone change, how humanity moves around, it must become more than a niche automaker building luxury vehicles and playing gadfly to the big players. That means producing vehicles on a massive scale and generating sustainable profits. To do that, Tesla must think and act a lot more like the very automakers Musk is so quick to ridicule as out-dated and old-fashioned.
It’s time for Tesla to grow up.