Tesla surprises with 310-mile range Model 3

Next comes ‘production hell’ as Elon Musk’s mass market electric car rolls out.

The unexpectedly sleek and button-free dashboard of Tesla’s Model 3. CREDIT: Tesla.
The unexpectedly sleek and button-free dashboard of Tesla’s Model 3. CREDIT: Tesla.

The Tesla Model 3 may be the most anticipated car in automotive history. Certainly no car before it had a half-million people each paying $1,000 to reserve a car — more than a year before they would even be delivered.

So how are the reviews? “Driving Tesla’s Model 3 Changes Everything,” blares Bloomberg’s headline. “We took one out for a spin, and have little doubt the age of electric cars has arrived.”

Just like Steve Jobs when he was introducing his latest category buster like Apple’s iPhone, Musk had a few surprises up his sleeve for the actual rollout — including an ultra-sleek interior and a 310-mile range.

We’ve known the Model 3 was going to be a 200-mile-plus range electric vehicle at the game-changing price of $30,000 or less — including tax incentives. That was the price— same as the Chevy Bolt — and range combo that Bloomberg New energy Finance and others said was the sweet spot for mass market.

But in rolling out the first deliveries of the Model 3 on Friday, Tesla announced it would be selling two different versions.

The basic version costs $35,000, for which you get:

  • Range: 220 miles (EPA estimate)
  • Zero to 60 mph time: 5.6 seconds
  • Supercharging rate: 130 miles in 30 minutes
  • Top speed of 130 mph

The extended range version costs $44,000, which gets you:

  • Range: 310 miles
  • Zero to 60 mph time: 5.1 seconds
  • Supercharging rate: 170 miles in 30 minutes
  • Top speed of 140 mph

Both get the equivalent of more than 100 miles per gallon.

The car makes Tesla the leader in “price-per-mile of vehicle range.” In fact, nobody but Tesla sells a 300-mile range electric car, and Bloomberg’s Tom Randall calls it “a jaw-dropping new benchmark for cheap range in an electric car.”

OK, “cheap range” may not be the perfect phrase for a car sold at these prices — but Tesla is really competing with the high-end of the mass market cars. “BMW and Mercedes should be concerned,” Bloomberg warns.

Now Tesla just needs to deliver all the cars it has pre-sold, which, as Musk told employees, will require at least six months of “production hell.”

The fact is Tesla has only built 50 Model 3s so far, 20 for testing, and 30 which were delivered to customers Friday. Tesla only built some 80,000 cars last year. But Musk says he’ll build 500,000 cars in 2018.

It is this staggering ramp up that will be “production hell.” After all, you can’t sell a mass-market car if you can’t mass produce it.

Tesla’s own uncertainty about exactly how quickly it can ramp up can be seen in this chart that Musk showed at the Friday roll-out and that the company tweeted out Saturday:

You’ll note that this chart doesn’t actually have any meaningful specifics.

Tesla’s future depends on this ramp-up, depends on its employees going through six months or more of hell. But Musk, remains sanguine:

Time will tell whether Musk is able to navigate “hell” and come out with his company intact on the other side. But over time, as the price of batteries continue to plummet, electric vehicles will become mass-market cars for everyone.