As First Model 3 Rolls Off The Line, Can Tesla Sustain Momentum? Tesla's first Model 3 comes off the assembly line Friday, a pivotal moment for the company. It's Tesla's mass-market electric car — with a $35,000 price. But it faces challenges ramping up production.
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As First Model 3 Rolls Off The Line, Can Tesla Sustain Momentum?

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As First Model 3 Rolls Off The Line, Can Tesla Sustain Momentum?

As First Model 3 Rolls Off The Line, Can Tesla Sustain Momentum?

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Big week this week for electric and hybrid cars. Volvo became the first automaker to commit to making all its models either electric or hybrid after the year 2019. And today, Tesla is rolling a new car off the assembly line, the Model 3. It's supposed to fulfill CEO Elon Musk's promised to make an affordable, long-range electric car. NPR's Sonari Glinton is on the line to help us work out whether this premise is hype or horsepower or something like that. Hey, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Hey, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So this Model 3 is a sedan, I gather. Why is Tesla banking that a Model 3 sedan is what the world needs?

GLINTON: Well, the Model 3 is a stab at the mass market. It's an all-electric car. And it retails for $35,000 with about a $7,500 rebate. And that puts it well within the range of a new car buyer. The average new car is about $33,000. So it goes 215 miles. And that's a lot. Elon Musk plans to have about 30 vehicles by the end of the month, ramping up to about 1,500. And this is a really big bet.

KELLY: Yeah, no, absolutely. Well, and in terms of the numbers they're making, I'm going to have to ask you about scale because the goal here for Tesla is not just to persuade people they need to buy this electric car, it's to persuade a lot of people they need to buy this car, right?

GLINTON: Yeah, exactly. This car is very hype. And I think a lot of the other car companies can actually touch it. Last month, Tesla sold 4,400 cars. And now they're wanting the scale to produce about half a million. Now, to give you an idea...

KELLY: Ah.

GLINTON: ...Toyota sells about 450,000 Camrys. So it's doable. But that is hard. It's a hard task.

KELLY: It's a huge ramp-up, yeah.

GLINTON: Yeah, exactly. And so - and one of the problems is actually not whether or not they can build the cars but whether they can build the batteries quickly enough to go into the cars and produce batteries for a whole number of platforms.

KELLY: Well, can you tell yet, is it a good car? Have you had the chance to drive it?

GLINTON: Well, I have not had the chance to drive this car. And...

KELLY: Yet.

GLINTON: Though, I've - yet.

KELLY: We'll hope to get you in there soon, yeah.

GLINTON: Yes, though I've ridden in it. But, you know, Tesla has gotten a lot of praise for the quality of its cars, though sort of that long-term quality has sort of fallen off a little bit. And there's no telling how well a car company can do when it goes from selling 4,400 cars to selling, you know, tens of thousands of them in a month.

KELLY: What would it take for Tesla to consider this car a victory, a win? I mean, we've talked about trying to persuade people they need an electric car. What does Tesla have to do to pull this off and say, OK, we did it?

GLINTON: Well, one of the things about the car business is anybody can make one good car. But it's really can you make 20 different cars, you know, year after year? That is the hallmark of a really great carmaker. But Elon Musk is not just betting on cars, he's betting on the electrification of cars. He's betting on autonomous cars. He's betting on revolutionizing the dealer process. He's built this gigantic battery factory that wants to cheapen and change how we manufacture batteries.

Oh, and by the way, while he's trying to do all of this, General Motors already has a car on the road that's doing exactly what the Model 3 says it's going to do. And every other carmaker has plans for a full-on electric car coming sometime in the future. So it's not like this is a space without competition. But what Elon wants to do is blow things up and change the way we do things.

(SOUNDBITE OF LJONES'S "JAZZ TECHNICIAN")

KELLY: That's NPR's Sonari Glinton.

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