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Tesla Model 3: Electric, More Affordable, Less Available

The $35,000 Tesla 3 unplugged at a special LA unveiling last night, but buyers face a long waiting list.

John Scott Lewinskiby John Scott Lewinski

The new “Tesla for the Masses” was unveiled last night, but those masses face a long wait to drive it.

Tesla finally moved out of the exclusive elite luxury car market and opened its doors to average consumers with the $35,000 Model 3. It’s expected to be a sensation due to that price tag, and that means there will be waiting lists for final manufactured versions. According to Tesla, they’ve already taken 115,000 orders for the new 3 – and it won’t really be available until 2017. 

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When it does arrive on our roads, the five-seater Tesla 3 sedan promises to do 0-60 mph in less than six seconds and travel 215 miles in a single charge. It won’t be self-driving, but the car will offer a suite of “auto-driving safety features.”

The car carries a starting MSRP of $35,000, but trim packages will elevate that price for choosey buyers. There’s no word from Tesla as what the high end, maxed out price point would be. For now, would-be first adopters can reserve their Tesla 3 for a $1,000 fee.

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On the business side of things, Tesla is having cash flow problems. It would seem there just aren’t quite enough wealthy, eco-worried buyers to scoop up enough of Tesla’s previous, more expensive models. Even at 115,000 pre-orders at $1,000 a pop, $115 million isn’t enough to keep a would-be major automaker on its feet. So, there are rumors Tesla might seek out gap funding from other investors to build a bridge to 2017’s 3 model prices.

This is a hugely important car for Tesla and the automotive industry as a whole. If the California automaker is going to survive over the long haul, it simply must sell more cars in more markets to a wider range of people. This more reasonably priced electric car is the company’s first and best shot at doing that. 

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If the Tesla 3 sells well and becomes a more widely accepted transportation option shoulder to shoulder with similarly priced gas or hybrid makes, the auto industry as whole will see a safe path to building and selling similar cars — proliferating  electrics as everyday rides.

But, if the public passes on the Tesla 3 as a fringe gimmick or toy, electric cars as a whole could end up back in the garage for a long time. Early sales numbers indicate that’s a much less likely fate.