2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011Enlarge Photo
There are now 100,000 Tesla Model S electric cars on the roads, and its Model X crossover finally struggled into production last fall.
Since that time, long-range plans by Tesla Motors for a third, smaller, and much less expensive range of electric cars continue draw huge interest.
Little bits and pieces of news have filtered out, but now the big allure is the promised public debut of a concept for the car this spring.
Here's what we know so far.
EDITOR'S NOTE: When we first published this article in June 2013, Tesla had built barely 10,000 Model S cars. A great deal has changed for that model in two and a half years, but we've learned remarkably little about the Model 3 since then. Still, with its debut just weeks away, we thought this was a good time to update the piece as much as possible.
CODE NAME: The new compact sedan was originally called the "Blue Star," following in line with "White Star," which turned into the Model S.
Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, CaliforniaEnlarge Photo
MODEL NAME: Tesla had intended to call its third-generation car the Model E, meaning that its three volume vehicles would be the S-E-X trio. We'll leave you to ponder that one.
However, Ford turned out to have a prior trademark on the Model E, and declined to release it. The car that Tesla intends to be its high-volume, mass-market entry is now called the Model 3.
Typographically, that is often rendered as three stacked horizontal lines, as in the Tesla logo. We don't use that on this site because the character doesn't render properly on all devices.
BODY STYLES: A compact sedan, described as a BMW 3-Series competitor, will come first.
It will be followed by a crossover utility vehicle on the same platform, which Musk referred to in a 2015 tweet as the "Model Y"--following on the Model X larger crossover, presumably.
2016 Tesla Model X with 2011 Tesla Roadster Sport, photographed by owner Bonnie NormanEnlarge Photo
POSITIONING: Musk told Bloomberg in May 2013 that the new model will be a "compelling, affordable car" that's far less costly than the Model S, but nicer than the high-volume Nissan Leaf.
"What the world really needs is a great, affordable electric car," Musk said in the interview.
"I’m not going to let anything go, no matter what people offer, until I complete that mission.”
ALSO SEE: It's Official: General Motors Now Sees Tesla As A Threat (Jul 2013)
RANGE: The new model will have a range of about 200 miles, Musk has often said.
There may well be more than one battery offering, as there is in the Model S, to give higher ranges at additional cost.
TIMING: When the Model X was expected to go on sale at the end of 2014, Musk said the new, smaller Tesla will go into production in late 2016.
That timing has now moved to the end of 2017 or early 2018, and if history is any guide, that date could slip further.
Tesla future plan timeline shown at 2013 annual shareholder meetingEnlarge Photo
Volume production in the hundreds of thousands likely won't occur until 2020 or so--assuming everything goes well.
We now know, however, that Tesla plans to unveil a design for the Model 3 next month.
Rumors suggest it will be at the Geneva Motor Show, but that would be atypical for Tesla, which rarely appears at or makes major announcements at auto shows.
We also don't know if this will be a design study, an "alpha" development vehicle, or a proposed final production model.