Like the company's three previous electric cars, the Tesla Model 3 launched into production with a splashy media event during which owners received the keys to their new cars and the company's fans applauded.
Like the Model S and Model X, production is starting at very low rates, with the rate of increase—to 5,000 cars a week by December 31, CEO Elon Musk says—closely watched by analysts, owners, and advocates.
The Model 3 is the culmination of Tesla's August 2006 "Secret Master Plan," which has played out more or less as Musk envisioned it.
Accordingly, some commentators and owners have taken to suggesting that the Tesla Model 3 is essentially "Car 2.0," the most important car Tesla has made and perhaps the most important car to date of the 21st century.
We think that notion is a mite overblown.
Instead, we'd suggest that the Tesla Model S of 2012 remains the company's most important vehicle, for the earth-shattering impact it had on the entire automotive industry.
2012 Tesla Model S Signature
It was the first electric car from a new, hip, tech-forward Silicon Valley auto startup that was simultaneously sleek, sexy, and alluring and also entirely emission-free ... and really fast to boot.
Despite shaky quality in its early years, the Model S deeply startled and frightened the German luxury brands, all of which now have multiple vehicles planned to compete with the Model S and its Model X crossover utility vehicle sibling.
With well over 100,000 Model Ses now delivered globally, that car and its equally important Supercharger network of DC fast-charging stations entirely eradicated the nerdy "golf cart" image of electric cars in a way the Nissan Leaf simply never could.
The idea that the Tesla Model 3 may be slightly less than the second coming of [fill in deity or deities of your choice] is eloquently presented by electric-car owner and ChargeWay creator Matt Teske.
In a post on his LinkedIn account, he comments on a rhapsodic opinion piece in The Guardian entitled, "The car is dead, long live the car, thanks to Tesla."
He sums it up quite simply:
Chargeway electric-car charging symbols for Chevrolet Volt, BMW i3, Nissan Leaf, Tesla Model S
The iPhone comparison [in the article] is wrong. The DAY consumers bought an iPhone their experience with communication changed forever.
Model 3 is not that kind of change for cars, but it's a step. It offers the same utility as other cars: Point A to B, with different energy propulsion.
Not until we can buy Level 5 autonomy will the "iPhone car" moment occur.
We couldn't have put it better ourselves.
Consider the comparisons: the Tesla Model S was the first long-range electric car in mass production. Period.
The Chevy Bolt EV, on the other hand, beat the Model 3 by six months as the first 200-mile-plus electric car under $40,000, and base Model 3s at the quoted $35,000 price aren't even in production yet.
2018 Tesla Model 3
There's no question that the Tesla Supercharger network is an enormous, unmatched asset and a brilliantly forward-looking creation that significantly helped Tesla get to where it is today.
But the Model 3's charging rates aren't necessarily as fast as those of the Model S and Model X, and many of its owners will have to pay for DC fast charging above a certain amount of free usage each year.
The Tesla Model 3 continues to have the potential for significant achievement if Tesla can in fact build and deliver in the ambitious volumes it plans.
With 455,000 deposits received, according to a recent update from the company, it should be able to sell the first year's production handily.
But we still think the Model S will remain the more important and innovative vehicle in the eyes of history.
That's our 2 cents; your mileage may vary.