The news earlier this week that the Tesla Model 3 would skip its usual "beta" development phase came as a shock to the industry and even to Tesla fans.
With no reported sitings to date of Model 3 development versions on the roads, that seemed a startling and risky thing for Tesla to do.
Especially since the 200-plus-mile Model 3, starting at $35,000, is the car that has to catapult Tesla into far higher volume production—and make it profitable.
This morning Tesla CEO Elon Musk released a 6-second video of a Model 3 accelerating down a suburban street.
It's barely light, which may indicate that some Model 3 testing has been conducted after dark—possibly explaining the lack of spy shots.
The video of the black car, Musk tweeted, shows the "first drive of a release-candidate version of Model 3."
First drive of a release candidate version of Model 3 pic.twitter.com/zcs6j1YRa4— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 24, 2017
It's almost impossible to overstate the importance of a smooth launch for the Model 3 to the future of Tesla.
The company said last fall it had 365,000 deposits of $1,000 each to reserve places in line to purchase Models 3s from buyers around the world.
But the car must launch smoothly and ramp quickly, analysts suggest, to sustain public interest and take Tesla from the 80,000 cars it built last year to anywhere near next year's goal of 500,000 cars.
Last May, the company hired ex-Audi executive Peter Hochholdinger to manage car production. The Tesla Model 3 launch is Job One for him.
Tesla Model 3 design prototype - reveal event - March 2016
The very earliest Model 3 cars off the line won't go to the general public, but to insiders, including Tesla board members, the company's executives, and other staff employees.
Any early quality problems that crop up in the first weeks of Model 3 production can thus be kept in-house, to be fixed before significant volumes of the car are delivered to non-Tesla buyers.
The priority order for Model 3s was announced by Tesla CEO Elon Musk months ago.
Current Tesla owners will take priority, as will buyers who live near the company's assembly plant in Fremont, California, as well as those who order the highest-end, most expensive versions.