New Car Previews

Preview: Tesla Model 3

Before anyone of the people lined up outside Tesla locations worldwide knew anything about the Model 3, Tesla’s first affordable mass-market sedan, 115,000 people paid the $1,000 deposit required to reserve the car.  A week has passed since Tesla CEO Elon Musk proudly unveiled his company’s new electric vehicle to the world, and many more details, and even more questions continue to emerge about the Model 3.

We’ll excuse Musk’s hyperbole, until we get our hands on the final vehicle and find out what his definition of “almost anything” is.

Here’s what we know so far.

The details given by Musk at the launch event were scarce and were, for the most part, related to the entry level Model 3 which will go 0-100 km/h in under six seconds and boast a driving range of over 340 kilometres.  However, the Tesla CEO did shed some additional light on the available options for the new EV.

According to Musk the Model 3 will be real-wheel drive with the option available for all-wheel drive.  “Even RWD will have great traction on ice due to fast torque response of Tesla drivetrain” Musk added via Twitter.

Like the Model S, the Model 3 will have its motor, transmission, and drive inverter located between the vehicle’s rear axle.

The Autopilot hardware will be standard equipment on all Model 3’s, however the software that enables autonomous driving functionalities that can take control of the car’s steering, braking, lane changing, and parking, will be a paid upgrade available over the air.

One of the more interesting elements of the Model 3, as observed during the Tesla launch event, was the minimalist interior.  The absence of a dashboard with standard gauges and the departure from the vertically oriented 17-inches display to a smaller 15-inches widescreen display are the most notable changes.  Tesla representatives have confirmed that instrument gauges are not intended to be included on the production model.  However, Doug Field, VP of Engineering at Tesla, has said that the final user interface for the screen has not been finalized, so there may yet be changes to the information displays on the Model 3.

A welcome side effect to placing all the controls of the vehicle on a single display is the efficiencies to cabin air-flow this brings.  By minimizing the centre console, the vents and fans connected to it can be redesigned to provide more precise and thereby efficient ventilation.

Criticisms quickly emerged by journalists at the event, who were treated to a drive and some facetime with the much-hyped vehicle.  The main point of contention is that the rear trunk opening was a significant flaw in the design of the Model 3.

When questioned about using a trunk on the Model 3 instead of the hatchback found on the Model S, Musk said Tesla is actively working on enlarging the opening, adding, “Aperture will be big enough for almost anything.”

We’ll excuse Musk’s hyperbole, until we get our hands on the final vehicle and find out what his definition of “almost anything” is.  Even if Musk is unable to deliver on that promise, don’t forget the lack of a cumbersome combustion engine means there is plenty of additional storage under the hood.

Musk boasted that the interior will seat five adults comfortably adding that since there is no engine they were able to move the front seats forward to create more space.  That shift will likely come at the expense of the storage space under the hood.

Aside from the obvious use of electricity over gasoline to power the Model 3, Musk has revealed some additional efforts to ensure the car is as environmentally conscious as possible.  For starters the batteries contain no “rare-earth metals.”  That is, metals that are not necessarily rare on our planet, but are rather difficult to extract thus requiring a lot of energy to do so.

“The main ingredient is nickel, which is what’s used to coat cutlery” Musk said on Twitter.

The criticism that these “green” cars still use many unsustainable materials in production is fair as even electricity may be produced by the burning of fossil fuels depending on your location.  However, it is still a huge leap forward from having your vehicle spew harmful emissions every time you need to run out to get some milk.

If you are they kind of person who refuses to eat anything that casts a shadow, then Musk has thought of you too.  As with the Model X, Tesla’s new kid on the block will have an option for an “all-vegan” interior.  The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) have been working with Tesla on a new synthetic material that will be available as an option on the Model 3.

There are three roof options available for the Model 3 buyers’ with varying degrees of comfort with sunlight.  A metal roof, likely standard, fixed glass, or panoramic glass.

The Model 3 will be powered by larger battery cells than the two other vehicles in Tesla’s fleet.  This is likely an effort to keep the cost of the vehicle low.  By equipping the Model 3 with eight battery cells as opposed to the fourteen on the Model S and X, Tesla can get away with producing more cars with less batteries.

Based on speculative purchases alone, the Model 3 is a huge success.  The number of preorders for the Model 3 as of April seventh reached 325,000.  At a grand-a-pop, that’s $325-million that Tesla Motors did not have on March 31st and $14 billion in implied sales.

Expect some of that to drop off, but that's still a remarkable achievement.

The overwhelming demand is not only exceeding the expectations of Tesla, but extending the expected delivery times for prospective buyers.  According to a Fortune magazine report, Carin Energy Research Advisors estimate Tesla’s production capacity at 219,000 units by the end of 2019.  Those figures will require a lot of patience from the customers who placed deposits on the Model 3, which will, in turn, put pressure on Tesla to increase their production capacity to ensure they aren’t refunding impatient customers or scooped by competitors’ cars that beat them to market.

In response to the pressure the popularity of the Model 3 has placed on Tesla, Elon Musk tweeted “Definitely going to need to rethink production planning...”

While this was our first look at the Model 3, as it gets closer to production more details will emerge as the finishes and features are finalized.  Though he gave no timeline for when he would reveal more about the highly-anticipated vehicle, Musk said the March 31 presentation was only “Part 1” before adding, “Part 2 is super next-level, but that’s for later”