Skip to Content
Climate change

Tesla’s First Affordable Car Is Finally Entering Production

Question is, will the company be able to build the Model 3 at the rate it claims?

Elon Musk has announced that the Model 3, his automaker’s cheapest car yet, will begin to roll out of the factory as soon as Friday.

The vehicle, which will cost around $35,000, is Tesla’s first attempt at winning over mainstream car buyers. In the past, the automaker has produced vehicles squarely targeted at the luxury end of the market—with its Model S costing almost $70,000 before any extras are added. 

Tesla will deliver the new Model 3 sedan to its first 30 customers on July 28, which just meets the promised July deadline set out by Musk. But in building a populist car, the company must make it in quantity—indeed, 400,000 people have already paid $1,000 deposits to secure one of the vehicles.

The projections for increasing output are as ambitiously Muskian as ever. The automaker will build just 100 of the cars in August, but it hopes to increase that to 1,500 in September, then 20,000 in December. In 2018, it aims to pump out 500,000 of the vehicles in total, and then increase that to one million by 2020. 

Musk says that Tesla’s highly automated production line has been designed to make that possible. The Model 3 production line is intended to use fewer and fewer humans as time goes on—ideally until there are none to get in the way of the robots. “You can't have people in the production line itself, otherwise you drop to people speed,” he has said.

But as we’ve explained in the past, it is unclear whether Tesla’s facilities can keep up with the dramatic rates of increased production that Musk promises. While America’s largest auto plants do crank out more than 500,000 vehicles a year, they are established and stress-tested facilities that have slowly built up to that capacity. Tesla, meanwhile, will be debugging its facilities while increasing output at breakneck speed.

It’s not impossible, and if anyone can do it, it probably is Musk. He is, after all, a man who said he’d recycle rocket boosters, received incredulity from incumbents in the space industry, and then went right ahead and showed them all it was possible. Scratch that: he made it look easy.

But Musk has a hit-and-miss track record when it comes to meeting his self-imposed deadlines. While Tesla may this week hit its target for having the vehicle first roll off the assembly line, ensuring that they keep rolling at a fast enough rate will be quite another challenge.

(Read more: “Why Tesla Is Worth More Than GM,” “Tesla’s Next Broken Promise,” “What It’s Like to Be a Worker in Tesla’s Car Factory”)

Deep Dive

Climate change

This CRISPR pioneer wants to capture more carbon with crops

New research at Jennifer Doudna's institute aims to create faster-growing, carbon-hungry plants using the gene-editing tool.

giant kelp underwater
giant kelp underwater

Running Tide is facing scientist departures and growing concerns over seaweed sinking for carbon removal

The venture-backed startup believes kelp could be a powerful tool to combat climate change. But some scientists fear the ecological risks on large scales.

biomass with Charm mobile unit in background
biomass with Charm mobile unit in background

Inside Charm Industrial’s big bet on corn stalks for carbon removal

The startup used plant matter and bio-oil to sequester thousands of tons of carbon. The question now is how reliable, scalable, and economical this approach will prove.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.