Tesla Model 3, Next Electric Car: Roundup Of What We Know Now

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2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

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There are barely 10,000 Tesla Model S electric cars on the roads, and its Model X crossover won't arrive for more than a year.

Still, at yesterday's Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] annual meeting, CEO Elon Musk's comments on the startup automaker's long-range plans for a second, less expensive line of electric cars caught many ears.

We've known for a while that Tesla wants to launch a smaller, much less expensive compact electric sedan within a few years.

Adding in some material from a lengthy Musk interview with the Bloomberg news service--and a host of other sources--here's what we know so far.

CODE NAME: The new compact sedan is often referred to as "Blue Star," following in line with "White Star," which turned into the Model S.

BODY STYLES: A compact sedan, described as a BMW 3-Series competitor, will come first, to be followed by a crossover utility vehicle on the same platform.

POSITIONING: Musk told Bloomberg 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.”

RANGE: The new model will have a range of about 200 miles, Musk told Bloomberg.

TIMING: With the Model X now going on sale at the end of 2014, Musk said the new, smaller Tesla will go into production in late 2016. If history is any guide, the design will likely be unveiled sometime in 2015.

Tesla future plan timeline shown at 2013 annual shareholder meeting

Tesla future plan timeline shown at 2013 annual shareholder meeting

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COST: The new model is planned to cost roughly half of what a Model S does, with Musk admitting that the large luxury sedan is "too expensive for most people."

Various estimates have ranged from $30,000--technically be half of the now-canceled 40-kWh, $59,900 version of the Model S--to less than $40,000.

We suspect that Tesla may be quoting post-incentive prices for the lower of those numbers. Even by 2016, it seems unlikely that the company will have built the 200,000 vehicles that trigger a wind-down of the $7,500 Federal purchase incentive.

STYLING: Musk said the Generation III car will have "a family resemblance" to the Model S.

BATTERY TECHNOLOGY: Tesla has said nothing about its battery technology for the new vehicle, but we know that its cell partner and part owner Panasonic continues to work on more energy-dense cells and cost reductions for high-volume cell fabrication.

Musk said at the annual meeting that it is working with Panasonic on new chemistry for cells optimized for use in electric-car applications. He said he was "pretty optimistic" that the necessary advances in battery technology are achievable without "any miracles happening."

Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack

Tesla Motors - Model S lithium-ion battery pack

Enlarge Photo

Tesla has not addressed the more interesting question of whether part of the cost reduction will come from using fewer, larger lithium-ion cells, as do other automakers. Both the Model S and Tesla's earlier Roadster model use several thousand small commodity cells wired together in their battery packs.

OTHER TECHNOLOGY: Musk hinted that the new line might have some elements of autonomous driving, but suggested those might not be offered right at the launch.

With Tesla and its Silicon Valley neighbor Google working together, those elements might be based on Google's research into self-driving cars.

You can rest assured that between now and the launch of the next line of Tesla cars and crossovers, there will be more coverage of every detail.

Lots more coverage.



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Comments (58)
  1. I'm salivating right now...

  2. I am all in when Tesla offers a car with 500 miles of range. For those of us who travel long distances through remote regions, anything less than that is impractical. I do believe that big range numbers will open the flood gates, and a mass movement to electric cars will begin in earnest.

  3. I've never owned a gasoline car that gets any where near 500 miles per tank. So I suppose my definition of practical would reflect that.

  4. I'll never buy a pure BEV, period.

    I'm totally sold on the concept of EREVs with biofuel range extenders.

    If Elon Musk wants to sell me a car, he'll have to build a frog.

  5. That is a PHEV, not a "range extended electric". It is a hybrid. They cost more, less efficient, and pointless for most people. The added costs means you can rent a higher milage car every time you need a road trip, and then some.

  6. Really? I prefer NOT to rent a car weekly. Renting a car for long trip b/c your car's range sucks is one of the worst logic I have ever heard.

  7. ?Yes but it takes 5 minutes to refuel a gasoline tank. Until fill times for EVs gets closer to the 10 minute range EV range will be an issue.

  8. In China any farmer can recharge their electric bike in 10 minutes. The cost is 12 cents.

  9. Range is a separate issue from recharging time.
    In daily commuting, you want a fast recharge, so you stop for a few minutes, get in a charge and drive home or to the office. But there you need 20 miles and you can charge at work or home. On the road, you go 3 hours, stop for a coffee and go on, a 30 minute for 150 miles of charge stop isn't too bad.

  10. Except now it's just 20 minutes :)

  11. Didn't you see the battery swap option? It takes less time than filling with gas. The Electric charge you wait for at his 'stations' is free, the battery swap about the same as gas.

  12. There are more comments in this thread
  13. Most ICE-only vehicle barely get 300-400 miles of range. Assuming the minimum EV range should be 500 miles or better is silly. You're better off renting a suitable vehicle for infrequent long-distance trips.

  14. But the 'recharge' time for ICE is minutes, while even at a supercharger station (you know, those few and far between oasis for Tesla owners) the 50% recharge time is 30 minutes. That's a whole lotta time to wait when you've got somewhere to go ...

  15. Don't know about you, but after 3-4 hours of driving, I need a bathroom break, throw in some refuelling and you're already look at a 15 minute stop in your ICE vehicle. An extra 15 minutes to save the environment and not have to pay for any gas sounds like a bargain to me!

  16. My quick stops always end up being 20 minutes; my legs are killing me and I need a stretch.

    James - a pet peeve here - we are not saving the environment, we are saving ourselves. The environment will come back nicely once humans are gone. As biologist Jonas Salk said:
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    “if all insects on Earth disappeared, within 50 years all life on
    Earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the Earth,
    within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.”

  17. the technology is improving. Fast charge seems to have killed off battery swap, although battery swap is the solution for instant charge.

  18. a small towed generator would also work. If the car had a small tow bracket and you could put a 10 KW generator on a wheel kit, just for this kind of long range deal

  19. There are more comments in this thread
  20. 12 Things from the shareholder's meeting
    1. 3 year refresh and 7 year architecture
    2. GEN III will have Model S form and will try to have autopilot.
    3. Gross Margins on Gen III will be lower than for Models S and X to improve affordability.
    4. Minimum 40,000 units/year demand
    5. Going from 34 Stores and Galleries to 50.
    6. Zero rent or tiny rent for Supercharging spots.
    7. Will have 70 service centers soon
    8. Model X doors will have pinch strips and proximity sensors.
    9. End of 2016 will premier Blue Star
    10. Elon wants incentives for Tesla owners who "sell" cars to friends.
    11. Quick charging is the final announcement with LIVE DEMONSTRATION June 20.
    12. 120kw charging speed is not the end of the end of the improvements to Supercharging.

  21. So no sell out until a serious mass market product is launched. That's good because Tesla's relevance is in being an independent disruptive force.

    Doing a successful mass market car is all about cutting cost and the battery has a lot to do with that.

    Bigger cells seems like the way to go and once Tesla has established itself as a reliable partner Panasonic might be more comfortable to venture outside its comfort zone of commodity format cells that have the consumer electronics industry for back up demand.

    That could result in some interesting numbers. For example: if the cells were twice the diameter and twice the length the total number of cells required is reduced by almost 90%. That should dramatically cut pack assembly cost.

  22. Tesla is already relible enough to have attracted investment partners like Toyota & Daimler (MBZ maker).

    As a former EV1 owner x2, I am thrilled to await delivery of my Tesla S 85 kwh car by this month's end.

  23. Congrats, so jealous! :)

  24. So my question is...will there be more coverage of Tesla, John? :)

  25. @John: :)

    You can rest assured that between now and the launch of the next line of Tesla cars and crossovers, there will be more coverage of every detail.

    Lots more coverage.

    LOTS !!!!!!!!!

  26. And I assume more mention of the fact that they don't tell us how many cars they sell each month... Just a gentle ribbing ;)

  27. @Mittar: Always !!! :)

  28. I'm looking forward to it! Keep up the good work!

  29. I love the Tesla model S, but I am NOT sure if people are going to love Model X as much. IMHO, there are many issues. Cost is one of them. Model X as an crossover or SUV is a different segament. People who shop in luxury high performance SUV/crossover care more about utility, performance and towing than just efficiency.

    I wonder how many X5, Q7, Range Rover buyers are going to switch over...

    I think the priority should be on the low cost model. 2017 is a late date. It will give other automakers plenty of time to develope something to catch up to Tesla.

  30. I also believe the Model X won't be nearly as popular as the Model S. But, it's pretty easy to stick a crossover body on a Model S frame and sell it.

    Developing the Gen III with a 200 mile range for $30-40K is going to be much more difficult. They probably need three years for the battery technology to catch up with the target goals of the vehicle.

  31. "But, it's pretty easy to stick a crossover body on a Model S frame and sell it."

    Well, if they are trying to put a set of falcon doors on it... :)

  32. They need to get more, um, mileage out of the Model S platform first.

    Nobody wishes the Blue Star would come out next year more than I. I don't know if I can keep my old gasser in one piece until 2016-2017.

  33. well, if he can get about 5 miles per KwH (my fluence does 4.5) and 40 KwH battery then 200 miles is achievable. but at 500 dollars per KwH the battery alone is 20K and how do you make a great car made of aluminum for 20K dollars? What is incentives are nixed by congress?

  34. @Yuval: I'm not seeing any particular support in Congress for rolling back incentives on the purchase of plug-in electric cars. Very difficult to get Congress in its current form to agree on anything at all, frankly.

    You may or may not know that the incentives are set up to sunset after each OEM has sold 200,000 plug-in cars that meet the specifications (battery packs of 4 kWh or more). So Tesla seems likely to have some headroom remaining even totaling its 2012-2016 Model S + Model X sales, unless they rise to levels not currently forecast.

  35. Hi John,

    Most of the plugins model will be lucky to hit that 200,000 sales number in the next 5 years.

    Any bet on who is the first one?

  36. the 200,000 number is academic. right now Tesla makes about 500 cars a week with overtime.
    So since I don't know anything about anything they are doing I can plug in some numbers.
    So 400 to 500 cars a week is about 1 car every 10 minutes running 2 shifts.

    So Ford was successful because of 1 car a minute on his assembly line. So if Tesla can get the production to 'ford' level 1 car a minute, with quality intact, since they are in the most advanced car manufacturing plant in America, then each car line could put out 1000 cars a day on 2 shifts.

  37. @George: Tesla itself has said it is targeting production of 21,000 cars for calendar 2013. Most analysts think 25K or 30K on the high end is a good number for 2014, and perhaps 30K or at most 40K for 2015 once Model X production kicks in.

    That puts total production on Jan 1, 2016, at less than 100K vehicles under the most optimistic scenario.

    It will be a long while before Tesla ramps up to Ford levels of production, believe me. It will only build cars where it sees demand, and the global demand for large $70K-$110K luxury sedans is one major constraint.

    Also, you characterize the Tesla Fremont plant as "the most advanced car manufacturing plant in America"--why? Or, based on what?

  38. Actually, Toyota can produce a Camry every 48 seconds. (once the production queue is filled up). Ford can produce a F-150 every 52 seconds. GM is at 58 seconds for its truck line.

  39. The All Electric Car: The Solution that doesn't work to The Problem that doesn't exist. All Electrics will remain curiosity and tertiary vehicles for the well-off subsidized by the working poor and middle class ...

  40. @Chris: Curious to understand what "The Problem that doesn't exit" is in your mind?

  41. As a working class tax payer I am happy to see my taxes subsidize EVs and other clean solutions rather than fuel for gas guzzlers and health care for those injured by those polluting gas guzzlers...

  42. "subsidized by the working poor and middle class "

    I disagree.

    GOP told me that 47% of the American don't pay any taxes. The top 1% paid the most taxes. So, EVs are really subdized by the Rich...

  43. So, a Tesla "Blue Star" sedan for $40,000 will be "nicer than the high-volume Nissan Leaf." Isn't high-end Leafs (and Honda Fit EVs and Ford Focus Electrics) already at the $40k mark? So what would make a $30k to $40k Tesla sedan "nicer"??? The "better battery tech" that gives it almost three times the range of the 80-100 miles of current $40k EVs?? (And wouldn't larger EV-makers, like Nissan, have a finger in better batteries anyway?)

  44. @Paul. I am looking forward to the Blue Star Ev with a range of 200 miles. I dislike that all the other traditional auto manufactures say well you will have to settle with a seemingly agreed upon range of 70 to 100 miles at most and then they share statistics saying that 95% of people drive less than 70 miles per day so we do not need to provide more range. Tesla has a real opportunity here to break down the 2 biggest reasons for not buying an electric car. Range anxiety and lack of recharging infrastructure to provide an ability to drive long distances. Tesla is the only manufacture of highway capable EV that can replace your gasoline automobile. Everything else is just an electric commuter car.

  45. If Tesla can hit a 28K price point with a compact 4 Door hatchback
    with 120 Miles of range, and a supercharger port it will probably do well. 120 Miles is enough for daily driving, the Leaf is selling with 82 miles of range, and if the BlueStar had 120 miles of range and a SAE L3 charge port, it could charge up for longer trips. Maybe a modular add in battery would let you rent an extra 100 miles of range for weekend trips

  46. @Pat: I'd be quite surprised to see Tesla build any car with a rated range less than 200 miles. That is (one of) their differentiator(s) now, and I suspect it will continue to be in future.

  47. I agree with Mark and John that 200 miles is the magic minimum. Once Tesla hits this range at an affordable price two important things will happen:

    1. Other EVs will start to have a 200 mile range
    2. Pure BEVs will start to replace PHEVs/EREVs

  48. "So what would make a $30k to $40k Tesla sedan "nicer"??? "

    Are you seriously asking this?

    1. More range.
    2. More features.
    3. Better service (Supercharger network)
    4. WAY BETTER PERFORMANCE. 0-60mph, 1/4 miles, cornering, top speed, brake.
    5. Battery protection and warranty
    6. Looks and Styling

  49. Why doesn`t Tesla look into a battery technology that apparently can go 1000km before recharging. I can`t remember what it`s called but it has to do with having a metal as an electrode or something like that.
    These batteries are also much less expensive and can recharge within minutes or so.

    Just my 2cents....

  50. The problem with metal air batteries is that after 1000 miles (and don't forget you have to stop every 200 miles to refill with distilled water), you have to replace the whole battery!

  51. There is talk of Tesla using a metal air battery as a non-combustion range extender. I think it would be really cool for long trips and you would only need to plug it in and drive it around when you needed it. A 1,000 mile range extender would silence a lot of naysayers and convert some who are on the fence.

  52. All I would ask for is that they push it up a year...

  53. @ Robert: Patience, Grasshopper. :)

  54. I love that FOX reposted this!

  55. I can't wait to buy my car directly from it's maker and by pass the annoying and insulting process of buying car from a dealer who knows way less about the car than I do. Then sends you endless emails about bringing your car in for service when you know it's not needed. And then wastes you time anytime you do deal with them. Why do I always get the feeling that I'm not dealing with College grads at the dealership? What am I paying for Mr. Dealership?
    Tesla is more than just one car model. It's creating a new way to enjoy cars.
    Go Tesla. Change this bitch!
    Goodbye Gasoline forever. Hello my own money in my pocket!

  56. That will be about the time my Leaf lease runs out. If they can get the price (pre incentive) down to 30K with a 200 mile range (prefer a 300 mile range), then I think we may have a deal.Color me salivating.

  57. I am all in with Tesla.... Waiting on the more affordable model though... I would absolutely love a model S or Model X. Until I win the lottery I must save and wait for a more affordable model. I wish the other car manufacturers would get off "big oil's" payroll and get serious about all electric cars. Mr. Musk is a true visionary in our time and bloody brilliant!

  58. Here's what I think Tesla's future lineup will look like.

    Model S (AWD coming soon)
    Model X (CUV based off Model S)
    Model E (affordable 3-series beater)
    Gen IV (5-seat crossover based off Model E)
    Next-Gen Supercar (think Rimac Concept One)
    Tesla Truck (think Via Motors XTRUX)

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