Tesla's lower-priced Model 3 sedan is the car that could help the company turn the corner and become a key player in the burgeoning market for mid-priced electric vehicles, according to industry experts.
Even before Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, showed off the mid-sized sedan Thursday night, more than 115,000 pre-orders -- carrying with them a $1,000 deposit -- were placed for the new vehicle. During the unveiling inside a SpaceX hangar in Hawthorne, California, a ticker showed in real-time how many more orders were being placed by people eager to be among the first to drive the $35,000 Model 3.
Model 3 orders at 180,000 in 24 hours. Selling price w avg option mix prob $42k, so ~$7.5B in a day. Future of electric cars looking bright!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 1, 2016
"This is a critical vehicle for Tesla, much more critical vehicle than any vehicle that has come before," Jack Nerad, executive editorial director at Kelley Blue Book, told ABC News. "This is their effort to become more than a niche. A lot is riding on this."
The first challenge will be delivering vehicles on time. Musk said he feels "confident" the company will meet its goal of delivering the first Model 3 vehicles in late 2017.
"The electric vehicle market is getting more and more crowded and as the months go by, there will be more competition from major manufacturers, so time is of the essence," Nerad said. "I think based on their history, they are not noted for exactly hitting the mark right on the money in terms of delivery, so I think there are some concerns about that and some of those pre-orders will fall away because of that"
On the design front, the Model 3 fits into the Tesla family with sleek lines and boasts a roof area with a continuous pane of glass, giving the five adults it can seat extra headroom and the feeling of having more space, Musk said.
The key metric many people were waiting for was range per charge. The Model Model 3 can go 215 miles on a single charge, which is around what Nerad said he expected from the vehicle. Musk also committed to doubling the number of Tesla's public charging stations from 3,600 to 7,200.
It also includes semi-autonomous driving features, including automatic lane changing and lane keeping, and can accelerate from zero to 60 in less than 6 seconds, Musk said.
"You will not be able to buy a better car, any better car, for less than that," he said.