Tesla Model 3 preview

The Tesla Model 3 electric car is undoubtedly one of the most highly-anticipated new-car launches in recent memory.

Unveiled in prototype form last April after a drawn-out teaser campaign, the Model 3 quickly generated an unprecedented response from the public.

As of last August, around 400,000 people had put down refundable $1,000 deposits, despite most not having seen the car in person.

DON’T MISS: Tesla Model 3: 215-mile, $35,000 electric car revealed (Apr 2016)

With a promised base price of $35,000 (before federal, state, and local incentives) and an estimated range of 215 miles or more, the Model 3 follows the Chevrolet Bolt EV as the second mass-market, long-range electric car.

That base price—about half that of the least-expensive current Model S—will make the Model 3 crucial to meeting Tesla’s goal of building 500,000 cars annually by next year.

Almost a year after the unveiling of the Model 3 prototype, however, we still don’t know too many details about Tesla’s affordable electric car.

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype – reveal event – March 2016

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The version shown last year featured styling similar to that of the Model S—although because that car was labeled a design prototype, some styling elements may change.

Unlike the Model S, the Model 3 will have a rear trunk rather than a hatchback, although it will similarly have a front trunk (which Tesla owners affectionately refer to as a “frunk”).

It will be offered with standard rear-wheel drive or optional dual-motor all-wheel drive, again, like the larger Model S.

ALSO SEE: Tesla Model 3: video of first ride in prototype $35k electric car (Apr 2016)

However, the Model 3 will only offer seating for five, as the pair of rear-facing third-row seats available on the Model S will not be available.

A noteworthy feature of the prototype Model 3 interior was a central dashboard display screen in place of a traditional gauge cluster located in front of the driver.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk subsequently hinted that the larger horizontal screen did not represent the final configuration of the Model 3 dashboard, and that the production version will be set up differently.

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype – reveal event – March 2016

Enlarge Photo

Differing from other electric cars in its price range, including the Bolt EV and next-generation Nissan Leaf, the Model 3 is expected to target German luxury sports sedans like the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4.

That means the Model 3 should feature nimble handling and quick acceleration, although Tesla has not released any performance figures.

Like the Model S and Model X, expect Tesla to offer multiple versions with different battery-pack sizes, and possibly “P” performance variants with Ludicrous mode.

MORE: Tesla Model 3: speculating on versions, batteries, prices, power (Mar 2016)

The Model 3 will feature DC fast-charging capability, using Tesla’s own Supercharger standard.

Model 3 owners will have to pay a fee for use of Tesla’s public Supercharger stations, under a new policy initiated by Tesla at the beginning of this year.

Tesla plans to start Model 3 production later this year, although the automaker has not yet made any of its initial deadlines for new-car launches so far.

Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016

Tesla Model 3 design prototype – reveal event – March 2016

Enlarge Photo

The timeline for ramping up production is also quite ambitious.

On the May 4 analyst conference call following release of Tesla’s first-quarter 2016 earnings, Musk said production would start in July, and that Tesla would build at least 100,000 Model 3 sedans by the end of the year.

CHECK OUT: How many Tesla Model 3 electric cars can company build this year?

Keep in mind that Tesla only built 84,000 cars last year, and delivered 76,000, missing its lowered goal of 90,000.

Given the volume of Model 3 reservations, it seems likely that, if even a major percentage of depositors convert to buyers, the most recent to sign up may not receive their cars for up to two years.

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