FREMONT (United States) • Tesla began delivering on a dream to make an electric car for the masses, rolling out the first of its keenly awaited Model 3 cars, aiming to disrupt a world accustomed to automobiles powered by pollution-spewing fossil fuel.
An initial batch of the Model 3 cars that rolled out of the Tesla plant in Fremont, California late on Friday were given to customers, mostly employees of the company.
Tesla founder and chief Elon Musk proclaimed it a great day for the company, saying the goal was to make a terrific electric car "that everyone can buy". He starred in a ceremony at the plant delivering the first batch to their owners. "It's the best car for its cost, either electric or gasoline," he said.
Production of the electric car aimed at the broader market - with a starting price of US$35,000 (S$47, 490) - will ramp up quickly, he said, with 100 next month and 1,500 or more in September. Tesla aims to produce 5,000 units of the Model 3 a week this year, and 10,000 units a week next year.
Tesla already sells "S" and "X" model electric cars, but with a starting price of US$80,000, they were seen as wheels for the wealthy. The Model 3 silhouette resembles that of the Model S, but the new ride is smaller, with a simpler design.
The car battery was designed to keep it going for "at least 215 miles", or about 345km, before needing to be recharged, according to Tesla. A battery with a longer range is available for more money.
Mr Musk has mentioned in Tesla earnings calls that while early models were packed with innovative engineering, they caused vexation on the assembly line. The Model 3 was designed from the outset with mass production in mind to push down cost and crank cars out quickly.
More than half a million customers have placed deposits to get on the waiting list for the Model 3, and anyone wanting one will have to wait at least until next year. "Demand is not a challenge there," Mr Musk said, noting that most of the orders have been in the United States.
A big question for Tesla is whether the company can ramp up production to meet demand and whether rivals will cut into the electric vehicle market. Like its predecessors, the Model 3 is fully electric and on-board computers can handle some driving tasks.
Tesla referred to the arrival of the Model 3 as a "crucial step" in the company's mission to speed the transition to renewable energy. Not long after the company was founded in 2003, Mr Musk said the plan was to use money from high-end electric vehicles to create more affordable offerings to make the technology the new automotive norm.
Cars powered by green energy are consistent with a concern for the environment seen in Mr Musk's other enterprises.
Mr Musk runs solar energy firm SolarCity, and is building rechargeable batteries to power homes as well as cars. His ambitious Boring Company is part of a vision for near-supersonic rail travel through low-pressure tubes that he laid out in a Hyperloop white paper he made open to other entrepreneurs.
Combined sales of Model S and Model X vehicles in the first half of this year were estimated to tally from 47,000 to 50,000.
With the Model 3, Tesla hopes to start cranking out hundreds of thousands of cars annually.