Tesla Chief Executive Officer hands over more than 30 cars to early buyers even as the company vows to produce 500,000 vehicles next year - nearly six times its 2016 production.
Tesla Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk said on Friday that the Model 3 had over half a million advance reservations as he handed over the first 30 to employee buyers, setting the stage for the biggest test yet of the company's strategy to become a profitable, mass market electric car maker.
Outside Tesla's Fermont factory in California, Musk showed off the $35,000 base vehicle with a range of 350 km on a charge that marks a departure from the company's earlier luxury electric cars.
Musk took to the stage driving a red Model 3 and said that Tesla has produced 50 of the vehicles so far, including 20 for testing purposes.
Musk acknowledged that it would be "quite a challenge" to build the car during the early days of production.
"We're going to go through at least six months of manufacturing hell," Musk said.
The over half a million reservations are up from about 373,000 disclosed in April 2016. Customers pay $1,000 refundable deposits for the car, which is eligible for tax credits.
Any new buyers would likely not receive their car until the end of 2018, Musk said.
A longer-range version of the car is priced at $44,000 and will drive 500 km on a single charge. The cars feature a streamlined dashboard devoid of buttons or knobs, with a 15-inch touchstream display to the right of the driver.
Thank you to all our employees for your hard work making Model 3 a reality pic.twitter.com/QctmioYxRw— Tesla (@TeslaMotors) July 29, 2017
Tesla faces major hurdles living up to the Model 3 hype. The 500,000 vehicles Tesla vows to produce next year are nearly six times its 2016 production.
Model 3 part of Musk's broader plan
The Model 3 is part of Musk's broader plan to build a clean energy and transportation company that offers electric semi-trailer trucks, rooftop solar energy systems and large-scale battery storage systems.
Until now, Tesla has operated as a niche producer of luxury electric vehicles, with a charismatic, showman CEO who regularly interacts with fans on his Twitter account.
Now loss-making Tesla is trying to move into a different league, building vehicles in high volume for customers able to pay only a few thousand dollars more than the average price of a conventional car or truck sold in the United States.