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Motoring:Tesla Model 3; a massmarket electric car

Orders for Tesla’s Model 3, its first mass-market electric car aimed at taking the upstart carmaker into the mainstream, have reached 325 000, Tesla said last week.


The mark was hit just one week after the car, which will not be available until late 2017, was unveiled by Tesla Motors founder, Elon Musk in Los Angeles.

“This interest has spread completely organically,” Tesla said on its blog. “Unlike other major product launches, we haven’t advertised or paid for any endorsements.”

Consumers interested in the car must pay a deposit of US$1 000 (R15 000) and South Africa has also been added to the list of countries with an order page, although Tesla has not officially confirmed any plans to enter the SA market.

Tesla looks set to enter SA market

Tesla has viewed the Model 3, which starts at a base price of US$35 000 (R525 000), as key means to transitioning the vehicle market to zero-emissions.

But it is also Tesla’s key to transitioning from a niche luxury carmaker to a real industry player selling a large volume of cars.

“This has been a true grassroots effort driven by the passion of the Tesla team that’s worked so hard to get to this point, and our current and future customers who believe so strongly in what we are trying to achieve,” Tesla said.

“We are all taking a huge step towards a better future by accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation.”

The huge number of orders will necessitate a big ramp-up in Tesla’s manufacturing capacity. First started in 2003, Tesla built just 50 000 cars in 2015, but has set a target of 500 000 a year by 2020.

Tesla is expected to expand its production base beyond its current plant in Fremont, California as it builds more of the Model 3, which is priced at about half the level of its first two models.

Many details on the Tesla Model 3 have yet to be released, but we know that the car will offer a minimum range of 215 miles (346km) with its advanced lithium ion batteries and all-electric powertrain. Performance wise, the Model 3 will blast from 0-60mph in just 6s as standard, but this is Tesla and faster versions will be offered. “Tesla doesn’t make slow cars,” Musk said.

Tesla Model 3 design details

Appearance-wise, it is no surprise that the Tesla Model 3 looks like a downsized Model S. With electrical gear taking up so little space, downsizing the Model 3 was mostly a matter of shrinking the ends of the car and shifting the front seats forward to provide more rear-seat room.

Like other Teslas, the Model 3 offers two boots, front and rear. Unlike other Teslas, the Model 3 has no grille save a small scoop at the bottom edge of the bumper. While this is no doubt good for aerodynamics, it gives the car a rather unfinished look when seen from the front.

Model 3 minimalist interior

The Model 3’s interior is incredibly simple in its design. The cabin is dominated by a large touchscreen mounted horizontally rather than vertically as in other Teslas. Speed and gear selection are displayed in the upper corner of the screen, with a strip of climate controls at the bottom. The rest of the screen real estate is split between the map display and stereo controls.

Unlike other Tesla models, that is it for instrumentation — in fact, that is it for anything. Aside from a small squared-off steering wheel, the dash is nothing more than an unadorned strip of black and white, with a centre console bisecting the front bucket seats. It is the kind of interior we expect to see in a concept car, but we are told it is very close to the production version.

The Model 3’s rear window extends right up over the roof to the car’s B-pillars, while a large sunroof over the front seats completes the illusion of a nearly-all-glass roof. The glass roof also improves rear-seat headroom, and the front seats have been pushed forward for more legroom. The six-footers riding in the back get legroom that is acceptable and headroom surprisingly generous.

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