Comments on Tesla Model 3

Comments are in reverse chronological order, most recent first.

Close ups of another early Model 3 in silver

4 December 2017

In Los Altos, got a close look at a very early Silver car on 4 December 2017.

VIN 982 is probably one of fewer than 1,500 that existed at that point. Its owner is friends with a Tesla employee family that had two reservations, and received their first reservation. The new owner had picked it up the previous week.

Like me, the owner was trying to decide between the Silver shown here and the much darker, almost dark grey, Midnight Silver Metallic. Seeing the latter at the delivery center, they may prefer it. The silver is very light. In bright light it seems only slightly darker than the very bright chrome window surrounds. For some reason, in pictures the Silver seems darker than how the eye perceives it. Both colors are fairly stealthy, in different ways. The Silver acts as a mirror and picks up surrounding colors. The Midnight Silver Metallic is very dark and neutral, and not as noticeable as Black. I'm leaning towards Midnight Silver Metallic. It's like a very stylish grey suit.

Monroney sticker was for $60,500, but the owner bought the non-functioning Full Self-Driving (FSD) option in addition to the partially deployed Enhanced Autopilot (EAP). EAP features are still being rolled out gradually via over the air software updates. FSD may never be available if governments ban it. Also got the required large battery pack at $9k and required Premium package at $5k.

The V-Spoke wheels look as beautiful in person as in pictures at $1.5k, however I am getting the base cost Aero wheels for their claimed 10% range advantage which is entirely possible due to incremental improvements attributable to details in a very low drag car. Small changes can make a very large difference when the drag is this low, so the smoother airflow over the Aero wheels indeed could account for much lower drag and significantly longer range.

Again, the Model 3 proportions look slightly lumpy and pinched in photographs, but very nice in person. Perhaps the eye follows the lines in a more harmonious way as a life-sized, dimensional sculpture versus in pictures.

I sat in the Model 3 briefly, and it was very nice. The interior is pretty, and the sight lines are good. The very comfortable and supple high-end Ultrasuede polyurethane seats felt very much like current Model X seats, but a bit smaller. The stock black interior is very dark. The new Model S and X light beige interior may be the way to go. It's barely off white, like the foam in a latte. The pure white interior is almost painfully bright.

The center display is well-sized and positioned, and is not distracting. Its choice as computer interface is highly appropriate in an age of smart phones and touchscreen tablets. The interior materials are very high quality and elegant in a modern and understated way. The Alcantara on the doors, pillars and halo adds some luxury as does the wood dash trim. Overall it's very clean, tidy and pleasing. Very, very competent and tasteful design.

Many people may find it bland or cheap-looking if they prefer busier Baroque or Tokyo-by-night interiors with lots of buttons, knobs, displays, multiple binnacles, lights, cubbyholes, etc. I don't. The Model 3 interior is a modern art museum or zen garden, not the Ginza or Neuschwanstein Castle. It's Bauhaus, not bombast. Again, some people don't like it. Too bad for them that they lack the taste or cultural refinement to appreciate its beauty. Like the exterior, the Model 3 interior is a fine sculpture.

Model 3 frunk is much smaller than Model S and X, just large enough to fit a carry on bag, but the extra storage vice internal combustion is welcome. (Rear) trunk is large and much longer than most hatchback cars. Like other Teslas, Model 3 has additional storage in a deep compartment under the trunk floor, presumably behind the rear motor.

Impressions from being in and around the Model 3

Overall impressions getting hands on and seeing the car up close and in person is that the size is good. Significantly smaller than the large Model S or X, Model 3 is sized about the same as its BMW 3 series and Audi A4 benchmarks, but is much sleeker looking; like a Porsche, if Porsches actually had good proportions and styling, which they generally do not. Due to the shape of the car, the whole feeling is much smoother and more flowing than the 3-box 3 series or A4 sedans. Model 3 is a sedan but projects as much more feline and lithe due to its curves; like a small Jaguar sporty car, not a Jaguar sedan, which tend to be blocky and chunky: shaped like rugby players these days.

Model 3's physical presence is excellent: exterior size, proportions, practicality, visibility from inside the car, interior volume and design, styling. This is a well-considered car. And that's not even addressing the world-leading suspension design, incredible torque, low center of gravity, long range, automation, energy efficiency about 12% better than a much smaller Nissan Leaf, intuitive user interface, novel air conditioning, etc. Speaking of the latter, the air conditioning vents are very thin and virtually invisible. Due to their large area, I expect them to be very quiet and effective.

Still have not driven a Model 3 yet. Will keep checking the nearby dealers to see when they have some.

Spotted very early Model 3 in Sunnyvale

10 October 2017

Spotted a Model 3 in Sunnyvale, California not far from home. At that point in time, they were very rare, probably fewer than 300 extant. As mentioned before, it looks much better in person. The proportions are much better balanced and make a pleasing overall form. In pictures, the proportions and lines seem slightly odd. Car was Midnight Silver Metallic with the V-Spoke wheels. (Click on the thumbnails below to get the larger image.)

Impressions upon seeing Model 3 in person for the first time

23 September 2017

I saw a Model 3 on the road for the first time a few blocks from my home in Silicon Valley. It was Midnight Silver Metallic. At first it was slightly hard to determine whether it was a Model S or Model 3. Only after noticing the upturned nose and the slightly smaller size did it become apparent that it was indeed a Model 3. (Since I was driving, and wasn't entirely sure what I was seeing, I did not take pictures; at first I thought it was a Model S.)

Given that a few hundred Model 3s have been produced to date, this was almost certainly an employee car. There are many Tesla employees (and customers) in the area.

Model 3 seems slightly but noticeably smaller, like a scaled down Model S. Initial impression is that it's smaller, curvier, and sexier than the slightly conservative and larger Model S. As others have reported, Model 3 is indeed much better looking in person than in pictures. The proportions of the nose and greenhouse are clean and lively. In pictures, the back of the car looks too large, but in person, it balances the rest of the car nicely.

The slightly curvier hunched back of the Model 3 together with the more pointy hips gives the impression of an animal ready to pounce. It gives energy and drive to the shape of the car. Model 3 takes the wallowing bloat (pregnant whale look?) of the Model X central greenhouse and turns it into something much smaller, quicker and lithely agile. The upturned nose is indeed a bit unusual, but appeared less pronounced and ugly than the unveil prototypes. The nose job definitely helped Model 3.

Updates from the delivery of the first 30 Model 3s

28 July 2017

Key specifications revealed by Elon for two initial versions of Model 3:


Long Range

This equates to approximately 240 Watt-hours per mile for the previously announced large battery pack capacity of 75 KWh and a calculated 53 KWh for the smaller battery pack (probably 55 KWh given slightly lower efficiency of a smaller pack). 240 Watt-hours per mile is significantly more efficient than Model S and Model X. Most of the efficiency difference should be due to smaller size, lower mass, and better aerodynamics of Model 3. Dual motor Model 3s should be even more efficient and therefore have slightly longer range and quicker acceleration.

Elon also said that by the end of 2018 there would be three times as many Superchargers as today (end of July 2017).

Live streamed test drives showed a Model 3 interior vastly improved over current Model S and X: lots of storage, better materials, cleaner styling, very roomy back seat, highly practical. Almost everything is controlled from the touch screen, including ventilation direction, steering wheel tilt and telescope, glovebox release, etc. There may be no standalone physical buttons (aside from Federally-mandated hazard light button?). The touchscreen is very clear and may be 4k resolution.

User interface has car performance in the third of the screen towards the driver. Speedometer is prominent at the top, and autopilot very prominent below it. Map, rear view camera, web browser, etc., are on the two thirds of the screen away from the driver. Temperature and fan controls are at the bottom row of the 2/3, along with music, etc. Overall, the user interface looks very clean, efficient and logical, and is an improvement over current Model S and X.

Presumably at some point Model S and X interiors and user interface will be improved along the lines of Model 3. There has been much anti-selling of Model 3 by Tesla in order to not cannibalize Model S and X sales by the much less costly Model 3. One of the claims is that Model 3 is not a newer generation car. In fact, Model 3 very much seems to be a newer, improved generation of car with improvements in almost all aspects, but especially in functional and stylish interior design and even better user interface. Model 3 appears to be an outstanding car, and a significant improvement over Model S and X. It's also measurably more efficient.

Initial body colors are blue, red, white, black, silver, midnight silver metallic. I still need to see the car in person in daylight to decide which one looks best. They all looked pretty good though I'm not a fan of white. Of course the color availability will change over time also. Wheels are the design-patented Aero and V-spoke. Aero is 18 inch. V-spoke 19. Turbine wheel was not seen. Roofs may have all been glass, though metal roof and sunroof should be available eventually. Model 3 metal roof is used on an official anti-selling page.

More information, including more specifications and pricing of optional feature packages is in the Tesla 3 Press Kit.

Very significantly, Model 3 base weight of 3,549 pounds is about 1,100 pounds lighter than Model S, which may account for much of the very sharp handling Kim Reynolds reported in Motor Trend.

"The Model 3 is so unexpected[ly] scalpel-like, I'm sputtering for adjectives. ... Have I ever driven a more startling small sedan? I haven't. At speed, it gains a laser-alertness I haven't encountered before. By happenstance, associate road test editor Erick Ayapana had penciled me into a 2.0-liter Alfa Romeo Giulia to get here, and it feels like a wet sponge by comparison."

[Wow, Motor Trend needs an editor who is both awake and has passed a basic English class; there's also typo in the third paragraph.]
Lighter weight also accounts for a significant difference in efficiency. Lower mass requires less energy to move around. Lighter is better, and Model 3 is significantly lighter than Model S. (Model 3 is about 25% smaller in plan view than Model S and weighs about 22% less, so some of the weight savings definitely comes from simply being smaller.)

For comparison the two-seat EV1 weighed about 3,100 pounds with a 1,000 pound battery pack. Call it 2,100 pounds without battery pack. The five-seat Model 3 weighs about 3,800 pounds with a 1,000 battery pack, or about 2,800 without. Model 3 is a larger car however, which of course adds mass, and it's built to tougher and much more modern crash standards.

Some quick notes and observations after the first unveiling of the Model 3 on 31 March 2016

3 April 2016

After the presentation, more information came out in YouTube videos of people getting test rides and Elon's twitter feed. Many of the YouTubed test rides were conducted by Doug Field, Tesla's Engineering Vice President. (Search YouTube for "Tesla Model 3 first ride" to find some.)


In terms of exterior styling, Model 3 is mostly a 20 percent smaller Model S with some of the nose and glass treatments of the Model X. For example the deep, front, header-less window of the X became the deep, rear, header-less window of the 3. The preproduction prototype 3 got some of the squared-off, and blanked-off nose of the X. Unfortunately this was one of the uglier elements of the X. Many people don't like it, and Musk has hinted it may be modified before production. The rest of the 3 exterior is a bit sharper and cleaner than the S. It's very good looking except for the nose.

Because of the smaller size, the front shrunk a bit in length, gained a bit in height or steepness, and is generally a bit more compact. It has a nice general shape that many people have likened to the Porsche Panamera, but which I think also has a bit of Ferrari 360 Modena. The general shape is very pleasing. However...

One criticism about the Model S which can be carried forward through X and 3 is that the general shape of the car, and particularly the nose, is based on a design language of internal combustion cars, in particular their need for copious cooling air. Combustion cars have large grilles to allow enough airflow to dissipate the 80% or so waste heat they generate. (They are about 20% efficient. In contrast, EVs generate about 20% waste heat; they are about 80% efficient. EVs have 4 times lower cooling needs for the same useful power output.) Because it draws from this design history, Model S has a black nose cone blocking off the opening where a grille would be in a combustion car. Model X closes off most of the the grille, leaving a tiny slit opening at the upper edge. It's strange, and the "missing grille" is a consequence of the combustion car design language. Apple's early graphical user interface design was also criticized for skeuomorphism.

While the resulting car shapes are generally pleasing and familiar, they also represent a missed opportunity to strike out in a new design direction that truly reflects the novel characteristics of an EV. EVs should not have a "mouth" that's closed off; they should use a design language that doesn't have a mouth. Admittedly such a form may appear strange to people, since we seem to mentally model cars as animals with a face, nose, mouth, eyes, etc. Model 3 continues this arguable design error and in a sense highlights it with mouth that's noticeably blanked out. The "missing grille" effect is symptom of an anachronistic premise in the inappropriately applied design language of combustion cars. EVs don't need a large grille and therefore shouldn't have a mouth, at least not if form follows function.

The flanks are sleeker and sharper than the Model S, in very much a Southern California school of design also seen in some of the Toyota Calty designs for example. In many ways they are an improvement. The sharper flank edges may act as vortex generators to improve the airflow trailing the car, keeping it attached to the car longer and reducing drag. It looks more aerodynamically correct than smooth rear flanks, which can lead to flow detachment, turbulence and increased drag. A large flat lip spoiler is stamped into the rear trunk lid. All of the details, smooth front, sharper rear, and overall clean design may contribute to a hoped-for 0.21 drag coefficient, which would match Volkswagen's limited-production XL1 but not the 0.19 of GM's production EV1.

The greenhouse is one large, graceful, aerodynamic, curving arch from the base of the windshield to the trunk. It's aesthetically very pleasing and probably good for drag, but for safety I'd like to see more steel and less glass. The large greenhouse may add to the internal thermal load also, though the glass surely has some heat management properties. The concept of a tall, long, smooth, curved greenhouse seems carried over from X, but is better-proportioned in smaller 3. The greenhouse is still a bit too large in Model 3, but it's good looking.

As mentioned above, I find the 3 interior a significant improvement over S, which is in comparison a bit busy. 3 is definitely highly minimalistic on the inside, but follows Bauhaus principles of keeping it very simple, clean and functional. I thought it was a bit stark at first, but like it very much now. It's a lot like the futuristic spaceship interior in Stanley Kubrik's 2001, or indeed Musk's Dragon v2 space capsule. Model 3 has a very different interior design language than S; much cleaner. At the same time, I'm sure there will be people who won't like it. I prefer classical minimalism and functionality over baroque filigree; Bauhaus over Rococo.

EV1 Part Deux?

Tesla benchmarked the EV1's 0.19 drag coefficient and may not have quite met it, but it's very clear they had EV1 on their minds. EV1 may have been one of the reasons Tesla was started in the first place. It was truly shameful that GM built such an incredibly advanced car in the EV1 then took it back and crushed them.

EV1 had no dashboard, instead placing instruments in a band directly below the windshield. Model 3 has a similar band and could put instruments there. If so, it would be a direct homage to EV1. Even if Model 3 doesn't put instruments in the band below the windshield, it may have been influenced by EV1's lack of driver side instrument binnacle and low, pushed forward dash. EV1 had a somewhat protruding center console with pushbutton controls and vacuum florescent displays, were Model 3 has a more protruding center touchscreen control. EV1 had a broad, unusually tall, flat center tunnel housing some of the batteries and providing an arm rest, cup holder, change pocket, shift lever, etc. Model 3 has its batteries below the floor, but adds a broad, flat center console missing from Model S. Model 3's center console has cup holders and a possibly adjustable arm rest.

Some of the details and maybe some of the shape of Model 3 are reminiscent of EV1. The rear trunk opening is almost exactly as I remember EV1. The main difference is that EV1 had curved struts locating the trunk lid that attach inside the trunk, while the Model 3 prototype has shorter struts near the top where the upper arms of the trunk lid meets the C-pillar. This exposes the shorter strut mechanism to more weather. The water channels around a weatherstripped dam wall protruding up from the trunk opening is exactly as EV1 handled it.

Also the general shape of the Model 3 is like a slightly curvier EV1. One difference is that the EV1 was strongly curved-in front to back in plan view where Model 3 is probably more squared off. But the somewhat wedgy front ends of both cars is similar in philosophy. The wedge blends in from the sides in a curve that's somewhat EV1 like. At least a little of the EV1 design and sprit lives on in the Model 3. Model 3 is better looking. EV1 had 10% lower drag.

Some Perspective

Many of these are relatively small details, even if they're really positive and cool. The big picture impact is that the reception of Model 3 has been incredibly enthusiastic, with likely the first couple years of production already reserved. That's amazing, and perhaps what happens when you make a great-looking, modern, less-polluting, great-performing, great-driving car that can also drive itself, etc. Also EVs cost about a third to quarter as much to operate as internal combustion, so there are major economic benefits over a similarly-priced combustion car, and 35k to 45k is pretty mainstream pricing. Future owners may not realize this aspect yet, but they will save many thousands of dollars over buying gasoline. Tesla built a great brand and great car with the Model S in particular, and it's paying huge dividends in orders for Model 3.

Certainly Tesla may dominate the near-term EV market, but I hope it's the start of mass adoption of EVs in general. If so, Tesla will deserve a lot of credit for getting it started.

A related, interesting question is what happens to the rest of the car industry. Sure 200k cars is a small fraction of global annual production of about 100 million, but the popularity of the car must cause concern for the benchmark competitor BMW 3 series, Mercedes C class, Audi 4 series. Hopefully it pushes more manufacturers into EVs just to stay competitive. GM is really the closest with the 200-mile-range Bolt, and it may get wiped out by the similarly priced but much more sophisticated, better looking, and more advanced and automated Model 3. BTW, GM could have owned this market by continuing to build and develop the EV1 while advancing battery technology, just like Xerox could have owned the GUI PC market long before Apple and Windows. Instead, they crushed them.

The grassroots support for this car is amazing. 100k people ordered without seeing it; and 200k more ordered knowing they would not get a car for a couple years. How many other cars in history had 300k+ pre-orders? Very likely none.

People going to the stores to place their orders noticed that the mix of cars in the parking lot was mainstream: SUVs, Hondas, Camrys, minivans, and only a few Teslas and Leafs. These are ordinary Americans, not radical eco-warriors, hypermilers, etc. That's a great sign of mainstream adoption. And apparently they want an amazing car. :)

Once you go electric you never go back. The instant torque is addictive, even on lower-powered cars, and the operating costs are a small fraction of gas or diesel. Getting the battery cost curve down is critical and especially with Gigafactory, we may have already passed the point of no return for combustion cars, even if most people don't realize it yet.

I wish the Model 3 great success and hope it's the start of a new era of much more efficient, cleaner driving. It's off to a great start and EVs couldn't have a better representative than the Telsa Model 3!