What we know about Tesla’s Model 3

Tom Randall

Tesla is getting ready for its biggest-ever unveiling: the Model 3, the $35,000 sedan designed to take electric cars mainstream. As the fateful date approaches, the company has been dropping hints about what to expect from a project that has been a decade in the making. With just a few days left before the big show, here’s everything we know, as well as a few things we’ll be watching for late Thursday night:

■The Model 3 will be about 20 percent smaller than the Model S, or roughly the size of an Audi A4, said CEO Elon Musk. There’s also no engine in an electric car, and Tesla likes to use that empty space for a “frunk,” a front trunk for extra storage. Will that feature survive in the smaller Model 3?

■The Model 3 is now the company’s top priority and is “going to be probably the most profound car that we make,” according to Musk. At this week’s event, a working prototype will be ready on-site to take reporters for “a quick spin.” Musk had previously indicated he might not show the full car, which won’t officially go on sale until late 2017.

■The biggest unknown about the Model 3 is its look. Will it have the distinctive oval front end of the Model S, or the tight-lipped mouth of the Model X? What about those huge windshields? Tesla may have given a clue with the invitations, which feature pictures of the Model S, the Model X and a silhouette in place of the Model 3. As some Tesla watchers have pointed out, the silhouette is a perfect match for the Model S.

■Tesla is reportedly already taking reservations from employees looking to buy the Model 3 and will offer the rest of us the same chance at its showrooms on Thursday morning, before the unveiling. A deposit of $1,000 is required up front, but it’s refundable at any time.

■Even if Tesla’s late 2017 delivery goal is successful — a big if, given the company’s record of missing deadlines — it could still be a while before production ramps up. Whenever deliveries start, reservations from previous Tesla owners and those buying highly optioned versions of the car will be first in line.

■Unlike Tesla’s premium luxury cars, the Model 3 won’t come in a souped-up Signature Series. Don’t worry, though. In February, Musk expressed regret over how a hefty $140,000 Signature Series price tag became associated with the Model X SUV before the rollout of the $80,000 base version. Tesla has been careful to brand the new Model 3 as a $35,000 car and will want to keep it that way, even if the average sticker price ends up closer to $50,000.

■Tesla promises a range of at least 200 miles per charge. If it offers the same 60 kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack planned for the 2017 Chevy Bolt, its range could beat that mile-marker considerably, based on the Model 3’s small size and the performance of other, larger Teslas.

■Despite some speculation to the contrary, only one car is to be unveiled: the Model 3 sedan. Rumors circulated that Tesla might also announce a crossover vehicle, but the company says this event will focus exclusively on the Model 3.

■The basic Model 3 will cost $35,000 before government incentives, which in the U.S. range from $7,500 to more than $13,000, depending on the state. Tesla’s federal incentives will begin to phase out when the company reaches 200,000 in cumulative U.S. sales probably in 2018.

■The Model 3 will probably come equipped with sensors for autonomous driving, even if Tesla will require additional fees to activate them.

■The Model 3 will have a warranty similar to that for the Model S, including an eight-year, infinite-mile, transferable warranty on the battery pack and drive unit, Musk said in August 2014. That’s important because Consumer Reports dinged the company last year for excessive drivetrain problems.

■The car’s logo may be three parallel bars, but don’t call it the Model III, Musk told followers on Twitter. The bars should be horizontal, similar to the stylized “E” in the Tesla logo. That’s no mistake: Musk originally wanted to call it the Model E, which would spell out “SEX” with his full lineup of Model names. He had to settle for “Model 3” because Ford wouldn’t give up the trademark it owns.