What to expect from Tesla’s Model 3 delivery event

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Elon Musk has been talking and tweeting about the Model 3 for years, but on Friday night the talking ends and the first 100 Tesla Model 3 all-electric cars roll off the assembly line and into customers’ (who are also employees) hands.

Oh, and the talking doesn’t stop. Musk will mark the occasion with a speech that you can watch via live stream. He may answer many lingering questions about the all-electric, 4-door sedan like: Why only one dashboard screen? And how does this car differ from the Tesla Model S? Is the Model 3 a sequel?

Of course, if you’ve been paying attention to Musk’s Twitter feed, you already have answers to your most pressing Model 3 questions. Possibly no tweet sums up the new electric car and its place in the Tesla world better than this one.

It’s unusual for an automotive company CEO to put such a fine point on his product lineup, but ever since Musk started talking publicly about the Model 3 (somewhere around 2014), he’s taken pains to position it and its capabilities in the Tesla ecosystem. Musk wants to level set expectations, a task that now grows more urgent as actual customers are about to take possession of the car.

As the deadline for production ramp up neared, Musk reminded Tesla fans that, while his is a different kind of car company, he’s not building gadgets, rolling out new versions each year. He’s building an electric car line.

There has never been a car company like Tesla or CEO quite like Musk. His transparency is remarkable, regularly hopping on Twitter answer random questions about still-under-development products like the Model 3, and his technical acumen, often on display on Twitter (and in countless interviews and talks) is impressive. 

Of course, Musk does the same for his other ventures, enthusiastically live-tweeting SpaceX launches and sharing tunnel-level construction images from his Boring Company.

People joke that Musk is like Iron Man’s Tony Stark and I don’t think they realize how right they are. Yes, he can be Stark-level cocky, but I think it’s his willingness to pull back the curtain on almost everything that makes Musk the most Stark-like CEO on the planet.

Musk was more than willing to tell us in 2015, that the Model 3 couldn’t really happen without the completion of his Gigafactory, the massive battery-building complex he built in Nevada. 

You know he wasn’t trying to distract anyone from, say, Model 3 development woes, because the factory is built and started producing batteries in January, just in time for the start of Model 3 production. It will ramp up production over the coming months.

Musk has even gone so far as to outline how he’ll ramp up Model 3 production. Starting with 100 now, 1,500 by September and, he claims, 20,000 Model 3 cars a month by December.

Granted, that does sound like crazy-talk, but then so did a private space company ferrying supplies to the International Space Station by 2012.

There is, of course, another side to Tony…er…Elon Musk. He can be, shall we say, withholding. 

For all the detail Musk has given us about the Model 3 (and there is a lot on Twitter and on the Tesla site), there are some holes. The biggest is a detailed description of the car’s interior. Aside from that somewhat-concerning single dashboard screen and the fact that it seats five adults, we have no idea what it looks like or how it feels.

Starting Friday night, though, that may change. After Musk finishes giving his presentation at the back of his Tesla Factory, 100 employee/customers will accept vehicle delivery.

It’s unclear if they will drive them right off the lot or accept keys for pickup at a latter date. I’m hopeful, though, that we’ll witness a parade of people driving off in freshly minted Model 3’s with Elon Musk standing on stage waving wistfully, maybe with a tear in his eye.

Soon after, these drivers will start posting their first impressions – unless Musk made them all sign a strict NDA –  lifting the last bit of mystery shrouding these cars.

That moment will also mark the beginning of a new kind of race. 

Tesla’s Model 3 should be the most performant $35,000 electric car on the market (215-mile range, 0-to-60 in 5.6 seconds, All Wheel Drive by 2018) with 373,000 pre-order customers eagerly awaiting delivery (that could literally take months, if not years to happen). In the nine years since Tesla’s been selling electric cars, it’s put roughly 230,000, give or take a few thousand, Roadster, Model S and Model X Teslas on the road.

Fulfilling all these Model 3 orders could help Tesla and electric cars achieve a kind of ubiquity never seen before in the automotive market. Perhaps more importantly, all of them will have built-in autonomy (starting at Level 3, where the driver is still needed, but upgradeable through software to fully-autonomous Level 5). There just aren’t that many self-driving-capable cars on the road today. Sure, many of the autonomous features will not be enabled and most of states (and national regulations) still don’t permit autonomous driving, but that will change in the coming years and hundreds of thousands of Tesla drivers will be ready.

There is a chance that something could go wrong.

Musk’s team is refining the production Model 3’s right up until the moment of delivery. He knows this isn’t a luxury car like the Model S, but that isn’t stopping him from seeking perfection. 

He’s right to do so, obviously. 

If Musk achieves his goal of delivering 20,000 Tesla Model 3’s a month (or more), he must have an error-free and unstoppable production line and cannot afford an early-stage defect that leads to a recall.

That could happen, but I’m betting that this small, private event will be remembered as the moment when Tesla matured as a car company and the rest of the auto industry quaked in its shoes.

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