After Elon Musk unveiled Tesla's Model 3 sedan, guests got to ride in "but not drive" the car for roughly five to 10 minutes. The experience was almost a decade in the making since Musk first laid out his "master plan" to get butts into the seats of electric cars. As soon as Musk finished speaking, dozens of people made a beeline for test rides, which were staggered based on the number on your event badge. With two cars available for test rides, three passengers at a time squeezed into each of the sedans for a spin.
The Model 3 seats five and gets at least 215 miles per charge, a minimum Tesla hopes to exceed.
It comes standard with autopilot hardware, but Musk didn't reveal all of the autonomous features that are in the works, and guests didn't get a chance to experience them Thursday.
Rather than autonomous rides, Tesla executives were at the wheel.
The Model 3 is smaller than the Model S, but it feels spacious. Sitting in the back seat, the continual piece of glass over the rear roof area gives the car a feeling of expansive interior volume.
"Beautiful proportions, stunning crease lines, gorgeous details," Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with Kelley Blue Book, said in an e-mail. "It looks like a million bucks."
JB Straubel, Tesla's chief technology officer, told a University of Nevada at Reno audience last fall that the Model 3 has new battery architecture, new motor technology and a brand-new vehicle structure. Much of that wasn't visible to initial test riders. What was noticeable was the car's ability to go 0-to-60 miles per hour in less than 6 seconds and handle tight curves with ease.
While the Model S has been famous in part for its 17-inch vertical touch screen, the Model 3's is smaller, at 15 inches, and is set horizontally.
Musk looked visibly happy Thursday night. The introduction of the Model 3 is a seminal moment in the company's history, part of a plan he first revealed in August 2006. Before showing Model 3, he stressed the importance of accelerating the transition to sustainable transportation as the impacts of climate change become increasingly severe.
"This is really important for the future of the world," Musk said.
Hours after Musk's remarks, more than 134,000 people had put down $1,000 reservations, exceeding the number of Tesla cars on the road worldwide today.
(Photo by Tesla Motors)