Premium electric-car maker Tesla will not have a display at the Chicago Auto Show that begins this week, but it’s still turning heads in the Windy City.
Tesla introduced the first Model 3, its entry-level EV under $40,000, for Midwest public display at its gallery space in north Chicago on Thursday. Tesla says other Midwest stores are sure to follow with their own Model 3 displays, including Troy’s Somerset Collection store, which opened last fall.
The sleek Model 3 is the hottest new vehicle on the planet with customers placing over 450,000 pre-orders for the car in 2016 before a vehicle was even produced. Like the coveted, $70,000-plus Model S sedan that made green vehicles sexy, the $35,000 Model 3 promises over 200 miles of range and explosive, battery-powered acceleration. Upper trims will crest $60,000 and offer all-wheel-drive and 310 miles of range.
Fremont, California, production began in late 2017 but has significantly lagged company production promises of 5,000 vehicles a month. InsideEVs reports that only 1,875 Model 3s were delivered in January — though that still made it the most-sold EV in the market ahead of the all-electric Chevy Bolt and Toyota Prius Prime. Tesla has revised its production schedule to 5,000 a month by the end of June.
The Chicago showcase is an indicator that Model 3s are being delivered to customers across the country after initial deliveries went to Tesla employees and early investors mostly in California near Tesla’s Silicon Valley headquarters and manufacturing facility.
Joel Szirtes of Pleasant Ridge, who already owns a Model S luxury sedan and Model X SUV, says that he will take delivery on his 310-mile range Model 3 in the next week. Szirtes configured his order online less than four weeks ago, suggesting that Tesla is at least meeting its promised delivery window of one month after customers finalize their purchase.
Chicago, and Tesla locations in Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati, are important to Detroit customers because Michigan law does not allow Tesla to directly sell to customers as a violation of state dealer franchise laws. Both Illinois and Ohio, by contrast, allow direct sales — which also means that owners get their cars serviced in those states.
Szirtes, for example, ordered his Model S sedan online in 2011. It was serviced by Tesla staff out of Chicago’s West Grand Avenue store which opened in 2009.
As Ohio operations grew, southeast Michigan customers like Szirtes were redirected to the Cleveland store for service beginning in 2013. Vehicle service is one of Tesla’s greatest challenges as its “master plan” to electrify the market transitions to a mass-production vehicles like the Model 3. The company is working to increase service capacity three-fold — including mobile vans that can service owners at their home rather than making long-distance treks to, say, Cleveland.
Tesla’s Gold Coast gallery on North Rush Street opened Thanskgiving week and is the company’s fourth Chicago location. Unlike the other Chicago-area locations, however, Gold Coast showroom employees do not directly sell to customers given Illinois’ limits on sales locations. In addition to its innovative EVs, Tesla has sought to transform the auto showroom experience by adopting an Apple model with stores in heavily trafficked retail locations.
“This will be the first opportunity for Midwest consumers to visit a gallery to see the car, sit inside it and learn about it from Tesla’s knowledgeable staff,” said Tesla.
The Model 3 follows the general architecture of the larger Model S. Its large (up to 75 kWh) battery is located under the floor for a lower center of gravity and more cargo and seating capacity.
The Model 3’s minimalist interior, however, is even more radical than the Model S and X with most controls accessed through a 15-inch center screen. There is no instrument panel behind the steering wheel.
The design has both impressed and confused new owners and media reviewers. Some are uncomfortable having to turn on headlights and adjust climate controls via touchscreen.
“It might be going too far too fast in eliminating tried-and-true ways to control aspects of the car,” said Motor Trend, which has had extensive time with the car.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.