Am invitation to the official coming out party for the Tesla Model 3 was one of the prizes awarded to Tesla Model S owners who referred ten or more new customers during the company’s second owner referral contest that ended December 31. Now those invitations have started going out, and they reveal the event will take place March 31 at the Hawthorne Design Center in Los Angeles, which is where the Model S was first introduced.
The question on everyone’s lips is, “What does it look like?” So far, there are very few if any clues coming from Tesla, although there are some very compelling design exercises circulating on the internet. None of them have any official sanction from Tesla Motors.
Tesla’s chief technical officer JB Straubel told an audience in Houston last month that the Model 3 will be about the size of an Audi A4 and will feature “next generation” technology, according to CleanTechnica. What that means, exactly, no one knows. We are not even sure how much of the car will be revealed at the event.
In Paris earlier this year, Elon Musk told people, “The first pictures of the Model 3 will be end of March [and] we are not going to show everything about the Model 3 until a lot closer to production time.” He indicated Tesla was going to keep its cards “close to the vest” with regard to details about the car. No doubt, part of the reason for that is to prevent competitors from reacting in time to match Tesla feature for feature with their own cars.
Tesla steadfastly refuses to pay for advertising, but it has worked up a media spin machine that would be the envy of any political candidate. The Model 3 reveal has been specially structured to garner maximum press exposure. Potential customers may begin reserving a Model 3 for themselves starting on March 31 at any Tesla store. The reveal will take place later in the day in California, which means a lot of people are going to be plunking down deposits on a car they have never seen and know nothing about.
Can you imagine such a thing happening at Chevrolet or Ford? Or even at BMW or Mercedes? There is the possibility that Tesla stores could be flooded with people wanting to get their deposits in. Of course, driving traffic to its stores is a smart maneuver, too. Maybe some of those early birds will decide to buy a Model S or Model X while they are there. Online reservations will begin on April 1.
Tesla has been very careful to say the Model 3 will start at $35,000 before incentives. That is probably because the federal tax credit for Tesla automobiles may be nearly used up by the time the Model 3 makes its way into production. No one wants to bad mouth Tesla, but their reputation for getting products to market on time is awful. The average delay for the Model S and the Model X was over two years.
The federal tax credit begins to diminish once a company sells 200,000 electric cars. By late 2017, which is when Tesla says it will start building the Model 3, it may have already sold nearly 200,000 of its Model S sedans and Model X SUVs, leaving little room for Model 3 buyers to take advantage of that program. There are other reasons why the $25,000 Model 3 may be an illusion. Elon Musk has already said the company will start building the most highly optioned cars first. That only makes good business sense, since those options usually mean high profits for the company.
Forbes estimates that by the time buyers get done selecting a larger battery, dual motors, panoramic sunroof, optional wheels, premium interior, and upgraded sound system, the price of the car could rise to as much as $65,000. Even if the federal tax credit is still available, that is going to be a fairly pricey “affordable” car. By the time the base models get built, it is unlikely there will be any federal tax credit left for Tesla buyers.
There are lots of unanswered questions yet. Will Model 3 owners get free access to the Tesla SuperCharger network? How much of that “next generation” technology will be included in the base price and how much will be part of various option packages? JB Straubel says, “We don’t really need more performance. We don’t really need much more range. We need to focus on cost. I think it will surprise people with the level of features [the Model 3] includes.” OK, Tesla. Surprise us!