Tesla unveils cheaper model of electric car aimed at mass market, takes orders for over 115,000 in 1st day

Tesla Motors' mass-market Model 3 electric cars are seen in this handout picture from Tesla Motors, on March 31, 2016.
Tesla Motors' mass-market Model 3 electric cars are seen in this handout picture from Tesla Motors, on March 31, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

SAN FRANCISCO (AFP) - Tesla unveiled a new, cheaper model of its electric car aimed at the mass market on Thursday (March 31), taking orders for more than 115,000 in the past 24 hours.

The company said orders were piling up, even though the new car won't be available until late next year.

The new Model 3 will have a base price of US$35,000 (S$47,000), half that of the two models it now sells - the Model S and the Model X, which start at US$70,000.

"The total number of orders for the Model 3 in the past 24 hours has now passed 115.000," said company founder Elon Musk at a presentation of the new car.

Model 3 is scheduled to hit the market late next year.

Mr Musk described it as "the final step in the master plan: a mass market, affordable car." With Model 3, Tesla aims to show it can appeal to the general public and produce cars en masse.

It should account for the lion's share of the 500,000 cars that Tesla had set as its production goal for 2020. Last year, it turned out 50,000.

Some analysts said this moment is as big for Tesla as the unveiling of the iPhone was for Apple.

Before Thursday's presentation, lines formed outside Tesla stores as people waited to place orders for the new car.

Ms Jessica Caldwell, an analyst with the automotive website Edmunds.com, put it this way: "This has to be a first for the automotive industry: lines of people waiting to place an order for a car that won't be available for over a year."

"If there's ever been any evidence that Tesla is primed to make the leap to mainstream car buyers, this is it," Ms Caldwell wrote.