Elon Musk wasn’t smiling, when he said, “Welcome to Model 3 handover.” Through a single silver door, a few moments before, he had entered the room, flanked by nearly two dozen employees including an engineer and designer who joined him on stage. Black floor, rich red curtains, and slate grey backdrop and a white Tesla logo. There were no introductions necessary.
At first, Musk’s voice had a breathy quality. He seemed nervous. Nerves were understandable on the precipice of what might be the most substantive moment in the brand’s history, the first stages of the rollout of its mass market car, the Model 3.
He faced a room of about a 50 journalists that Tesla invited to his Fremont factory for a briefing before the big evening celebration. It was a clear, bright blue afternoon in Tesla-la-land, nestled east of San Francisco adjacent to the mountains, where optimism is easy to muster. Here is where the spirit of the Tesla Model 3 was brought into gestation. He began to cycle through a presentation, speaking in low tones, but firmly about decade-old realization. In one slide, he showed an international map indicating supply chains and joked, “This an ICBM strike on Fremont.”
In Musk’s mind, he has succeeded in building the best car that $35,000 can buy, an understandable perspective for an entrepreneur that believes in the project he has overseen with kid gloves.
What he wanted the journalists to know: “We put a lot of effort into designing the car. I don’t think you can find a better looking car at this price point,” he said. (And later as we saw the car from the inside out, except for the peculiar aspects of its front end, we had to agree.) He said that there are 10,000 unique components in the cars and that its has eight cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors.
The standard car will be sold for $35,000 and has a 0 to 60 mph of of 5.6 seconds and a range of 220 miles. The long range version will be sold for $44,000, has a range of 310 miles and a 0 to 60 time of 5.1 seconds. While today there are 6,124 superchargers by the end of next year there will be 15,000 superchargers. Like the Model S and Model X before it, he also said the Model 3 will eventually be capable of full autonomy. Ultimately, people will be able to get their cars serviced without ever leaving their home.
What seemed to cause him angst: the hellish aspects of manufacturing. He referenced a chart that showed an S-Curve, and kept referring to this curve throughout his remarks. “It’s an amazing car, but we’re going through six months of manufacturing hell. It’s going to be pretty great, but it’s going to be quite a challenge to build this car,” he said. “Floods, fires, tornadoes, ships sink, if anything interrupts supply chains, that will interrupt the production.’
Yet, he sounded characteristically resolute in his promise to achieve his ambitious goals. “We have simplified the manufacturing process dramatically. In the same amount of space to build 50,000 cars, we can build 250,000 Model 3s.”
What he didn’t want to talk much about: When will customers get their Model 3s. He was vague about the number of reservations. “One question in particular is showing up in my Twitter feed a lot, quite a lot a lot,” he said. Citing the fact that the company doesn’t have a true marketing arm, he said “We do everything we can to unsell the car.”
One writer asked him how he was feeling, on such a big day for Tesla. “I’ll be more pepped up this evening. Sorry for being a little dry. Got a lot on my mind right now.”
At that moment he paused and seemed to take in the weight of the moment. “This is a great day for Tesla. It’s the thing we’ve been working towards. The whole point of Tesla was to make a great affordable electric car. It was never our goal to make expensive cars, we didn’t want to make a car that no one could buy,” he said. “If you’re trying to make a difference in the world, you’ve got to make cars people can afford.”
After answering a handful of questions, he left the stage, punching away already at the digits on his phone. His employees slipped out of the silver door behind him. Elon Musk had already moved on to the next thing. He had a big night ahead.