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Tesla Model 3 pre-orders reach 253,000 in three days. Should you get in line?

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Update: This post has been updated with a new total for Model 3 pre-orders as well as confirmation of an available all-wheel-drive system.

Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] CEO Elon Musk confirmed that as of Saturday night pre-orders for the new Model 3 electric sedan totaled 276,000, a figure reached in just three days.

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He said this was well beyond Tesla’s expectations, explaining that it was almost four times as much as the company had predicted, at least for this initial reveal. Musk said some exciting news was planned for a second reveal prior to the start of Model 3 production late in 2017.

Tesla started taking pre-orders for the Model 3 on March 31, with many coming in even before the car was shown. The pre-order requires a deposit, which in the United States is $1,000, and isn’t binding so it’s likely we’ll see some cancellations by the time the rest of the payment for the Model 3 is due.

Nevertheless, the sheer volume shows that there’s high demand for electric carsamong mainstream buyers, especially when there’s a Tesla badge attached. The huge numbers also represent significant injections of cash into Tesla’s coffers. At $1,000 per pre-order, Tesla now has more than a quarter of a billion dollars more in the bank (the amount is actually higher as the deposits in some markets work out to be more than $1,000).

Interestingly, Musk also revealed that the average Model 3 price with options people are ordering was around $42,000. He has also since confirmed that rear-wheel drive will be standard but dual-motor all-wheel drive will be available. The starting price for the car is $35,000 before incentives.

Musk will give one final update on pre-orders on Wednesday to cap off the first week.

As previously reported, the Model 3 will offer at least 215 miles of range, as measured by the EPA, and in base form will be capable of 0-60 mph acceleration in less than 6.0 seconds. It has been designed to seat five adults comfortably and features a dash devoid of controls apart from a 15-inch floating touchscreen in the center.

Yet the Tesla Model 3, if it appears on the market in anything close to the “design prototype” form it revealed in Hawthorne, California, late this past week (and allowed a few of us a preview ride in), will be unlike any electric car ever produced.

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Here are some reasons you might want to consider holding out for the Model 3—followed by some reasons to be a little skeptical.

Effectively less than $30k—for early birds. Considering the $7,500 federal tax credit that applies to the purchase of an electric car (until Tesla reaches 200,000 cumulative sales), that makes the Model 3 an especially strong bargain, at less than the average price of a new car.

A better range than anything else under $50k. Within the first year or two that the Model 3 is on the market, we should see other all-electric luxury models from Germany—like the Porsche Mission E—but none of those models will be quite as

Elon Musk plugs a Tesla Model S into a Supercharger (Image: deanslavnich on Twitter.

Convenient, plentiful charging. Charging should be easy to find when you venture beyond the normal day-to-day commute, thanks to Tesla’s Supercharger network. With the announcement of the Model 3, Tesla says that it will have 7,200 superchargers (capable of restoring 80 percent of charge in less than 40 minutes) and 15,000 destination chargers that will charge any of these models up overnight or over the course of a day.

The toolkit for autonomous mode. Autopilot active-safety and autonomous-driving systems will be standard on every single Model 3; so if you think that switching to an electric car will involve other feature or safety compromises, it’s time to recalibrate.

A very space-efficient design. Tesla has already showcased the benefits of not having to design for an internal combustion engine (and all of its ancillaries) with the Model S and Model X. Now with the somewhat smaller Model 3, it seems like the dividends are even more pronounced. Yes, there’s space for five; and with two trunks (including the front “frunk” like the brand’s other models), there’s more totaly cargo space than any other model this size on the outside.

Resale value. Tesla’s cars, so far, have had phenomenally good resale value. This hasn’t at all been true of electric cars as a type of vehicle, but it’s held true across all the brand’s existing models.

But there are some concerns as well:

It’s an entirely new car. Yes, when we say entirely new, we mean entirely new. The Model 3 has very little in common with the existing Model S sedan and Model X crossover, which share some common components with each other. The body structure of the Model 3 relies a little more on a mix of steels and aluminum, while those other models are mostly aluminum. Reliability has already been pockmarked; and it’s an entirely different engineering and quality task to produce such a model in the hundreds of thousands, as Tesla plans.

Tesla has a history of being late. The Model X crossover arrived about 18 months later to market than originally anticipated. Musk said he’s quite confident that this new model will arrive on time, but with new underpinnings as well as a new battery-pack supply chain that depends on the company’s Nevada Gigafactory, there’s plenty of room for pause.

Will its luster fade by the time it arrives? It's unlikely. By the time the Model 3 arrives, there will be an all-new version of the Nissan Leaf, as well as the Chevrolet Bolt EV. Both will have a range of around 200 miles—but not the luxury cachet of Tesla.

Luckily those $1,000 deposits are fully refundable. So if you’re among the Tesla-loyal or just the Tesla-curious, it may make sense to get in line.


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