The Tesla Model 3 is poised to change the automotive world forever. It’s a sporty, attractive 5-passenger sedan, with at least 215 miles of range, a 0–60 MPH time of under 6 seconds, and a starting price of just $35,000. The Model 3 had 325,000 paid reservations in the week of its unveiling (up to 373,000 now), and it doesn’t use a drop of gas. What’s not to like?
But the Model 3 didn’t just spring fully formed out of the fertile mind of a mad genius. The Model 3 will actually be the 4th automobile offered by the California automaker. And to get a sense of what it may become, we must acknowledge what came before it. We’ve partnered with Graphic News to present Tesla’s first 10 years of automotive achievements in a simple infographic. It shows the steps Tesla has taken moving toward CEO Elon Musk’s Secret Master Plan.
In case you’re unfamiliar, Musk’s master plan was (and is) to wean the world off of its addiction to oil by offering a fully electric vehicle that people would actually want to own, and could afford. To get there, first build an expensive sports car with great handling, performance, and long range to show what’s possible with EVs (the Roadster). Use the money from that car to build a more affordable family car (Model S and Model X). Use the money from those cars to build an even more affordable car. And that will be the Model 3.
The Roadster kicked things off with impressive stats: 0 to 60 MPH in under 4 seconds and a range of 244 miles per charge. At the time, this was the longest range production EV, by far. And it took home a world record in 2009 for a 311 mile trip on one charge. The company built and sold about 2,450 Roadsters between 2008 and 2012. Meanwhile, the company began work on a more affordable car: the Model S family sedan.
When Tesla started taking orders for the Model S, a 40 kWh battery version was offered for $57,400. That version of the Model S only had about 160 miles of range and was not a popular option compared to the 60 kWh and 85 kWh versions. The 40 kWh Model S was discontinued in 2013 before being manufactured, but the original order price was honored and customers received a software-limited version of the 60 kWh battery, with the option to unlock the full range of the 60 kWh battery for a fee.
In 2012, Tesla started to manufacture the Model S, delivering about 3,100 cars that year. Performance was close to the Roadster (0–60 in 4.2 seconds for the P85 Model S), it had even greater range (270 miles) and sat up to seven people with optional jump seats for kids in the rear hatch. In 2012, Tesla also unveiled what may have been its secret weapon: a high-speed charging network that enabled Tesla owners to replenish half of their cars’ range in 20–30 minutes, or go from empty to fully charged in about an hour. The Tesla Supercharger network made long-distance travel in an EV almost as convenient as in a gas car. The kicker? It would be free for life for Model S owners.
Over the next three years, Tesla ramped up production to over 50,000 cars a year, introduced larger battery packs with close to 300 miles of range, as well as a “Ludicrous Speed” mode that shaved the 0–60 time all the way down to 2.8 seconds. Tesla also introduced its Autopilot self-driving feature, which allows the car to stay in its lane and keep a safe distance from other cars, even in stop-and-go traffic. Just please try not to fall asleep. So, yeah, the Model S is quicker off the line than a supercar, but with room to fit the entire family with all their gear, and it can practically drive itself. And it’s powered by electricity.
Another part of the “Master Plan” was to offer choices. Not everyone wants to drive a sedan. So, in 2012, before they began deliveries of the Model S, Tesla unveiled the Model X: a fully electric crossover/SUV built on the Model S platform. The Model X promised similar performance to the Model S but added the utility and versatility of an SUV. It has seating for seven adults, the higher driving position of an SUV, a giant panoramic windshield that extends behind the front seat passengers’ heads for maximum visibility, and towing capability up to 5,000 pounds (a first in an electric SUV). The Model X also offers unique falcon-wing doors, designed to make it easier for rear-seat passengers to enter and exit the vehicle. Oh, who are we kidding? The falcon-wing doors are there because they look cool. As the Model X neared production in 2015, Musk also showed off a new air filtration system with dual-activated carbon filters and HEPA filtration that can keep cabin air fresh and clean, whether you’re dealing with smog, a fragrant cow pasture, or a full-on biological weapon attack. The so-called “Bioweapon Defense Mode” should prove particularly popular in areas of the world that suffer from excessive air pollution.
When Model X pricing was revealed in late 2015, the electric SUV came in at just a bit more expensive than the current Model S. While the dual-motor 70 kWh Model S was selling for $75,000, the Model X was introduced at a price of $80,000. Similar to the 40 kWh Model S, the entry-level 70 kWh Model X was cancelled before production, replaced with a slightly longer-range (higher-capacity) 75 kWh battery version for $3,000 more ($83,000). Those who had already ordered a 70 kWh version got the larger battery at no extra charge. A 90 kWh battery was also offered. While the X is a much heavier car than the Model S, the range and performance numbers are still pretty impressive. With the top-of-the-line performance package and “Ludicrous Speed,” the Model X can hit 60 MPH from zero in just 3.2 seconds. And the longest-range 90 kWh non-performance version gets a respectable 257 miles of range between charges.
Although all of Tesla’s cars to date have suffered from delays in their launch and early production (and they’re still working out kinks in the Model X), the company appears to be committed to improving quality and continues to accelerate manufacturing. They’ve already got an assembly plant in Europe and are considering expanding production to China, among other places, in order to satisfy global demand. Tesla’s current factory in Fremont, California, produced over 400,000 cars a year at its peak in its previous life as the NUMMI plant (a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors). That was before the extensive overhaul that Tesla has performed since it took over the facility.
Can the company really fulfill the existing 373,000 reservations for the Model 3 in a timely fashion? In 2015, the company delivered just over 50,000 cars. Considering they delivered only 3,100 cars in 2012, this is respectable growth. Tesla’s 2016 guidance is to deliver between 80,000 and 90,000 cars (Model S and Model X). But on the most recent earnings call, Musk has confirmed that the company’s intention is to deliver the first batches of the Model 3 in 2017 and to ramp up production to a run rate of 500,000 vehicles per year by the end of 2018. Yes, that’s close to 10,000 cars per week by the end of 2018. That would be a 10-fold increase in production capacity in just 3 years.
A recent stock offering raised about $1.5 billion of fresh capital to help ramp things up. And the company hired seasoned automotive industry manufacturing veteran Peter Hochholdinger away from Audi to help oversee the rapid ramp. Musk and CTO JB Straubel have promised us that they’ve learned their lessons in manufacturing with the Roadster, the Model S, and particularly the Model X. Musk has gone on record (in a recent earnings call) to say that the Model X probably was “the most difficult car in the world to build.” He went even further to say, “I’m not sure anyone should have made this car.” So the Model 3 is being designed along the KISS mantra (Keep It Simple, Stupid). It is being conceptualized from the ground up to be simple to manufacture, with fewer moving parts and a much simpler design than its predecessors.
Will this allow Tesla to finally hit its (admittedly aggressive) production goals and usher in a new era of environmentally friendly personal transportation? 373,000 people (including yours truly) sure hope so.
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