Elon Musk has said that the Tesla Model 3 electric car will be shown to the public in March 2016.

Tesla Motors will begin taking orders for the car then, and production will start in 2017, the Tesla CEO has said.

That means that right about now, Tesla should be hard at work on its volume, 200-mile electric car.

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And that's exactly the case, according to one executive.

Tesla is shifting focus to the upcoming Model 3, chief technology officer JB Straubel said in a recent talk at the University of Nevada in Reno (via Charged EVs).

Reno is the location of Tesla's massive battery-cell "Gigafactory" which will need to be fully operational before Model 3 production can ramp up.

2012 Tesla Model S

2012 Tesla Model S

Tesla is relying on the economy of scale offered by this huge factory to achieve the Model 3's target base price of $35,000 (before any Federal, state, or local incentives).

With the Model X launch behind it, Straubel said Tesla is concentrating fully on the Model 3.

"Most of the people inside Tesla are no longer working on the S or X, but are hard at work designing and inventing all the technologies going into the Model 3," he said.

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Straubel said the Model 3 will be almost entirely new, with virtually no components carried over from either the Model S or Model X.

It will feature a new "battery architecture, a new motor technology, a brand-new vehicle structure," Straubel said.

Model 3 sales will be crucial to achieving Tesla's goal of selling 500,000 cars per year by 2020.

2012 Tesla Model S body-in-white

2012 Tesla Model S body-in-white

But even assuming it unveils the car next spring as planned, it remains unclear whether Tesla will meet its goal of starting production in 2017.

The company hasn't met any of its self-imposed deadlines for new-car launches so far, whether for its first Roadster, the high-volume Model S sedan, or the recently launched Model X crossover utility vehicle.

In this case, there's also another variable in the form of the Gigafactory--which will need to be ready in time for the start of Model 3 production--although there have been no reports of delays in that project so far.

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Straubel said the company expects economies of scale and improvements in battery chemistry to cut cells costs for the car by 30 percent.

The Nevada Gigafactory may also eventually build cells for the Tesla Energy line of stationary energy-storage battery packs.

And the factory will also house "engineering and R&D teams" that will work on other projects, Straubel said.


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