Tesla's Model 3 debuts in Palo Alto

Excited customers eager to drive, content to wait

Jean Nguyen was among the handful of (almost) Tesla car owners gathered outside the Palo Alto automaker's showroom at Stanford Shopping Center just before 10 a.m. on Friday anxiously waiting to get their first up-close and hands-on look at the new Model 3 sedan that most had ordered more than a year ago, but until now, hadn't had the opportunity to see on display.

Nguyen, who works at Stanford University, said he's been waiting for a chance to check out the new sedan in person since he put down his $1,000 deposit on March 31, 2016 -- the first day Tesla started taking reservations. He said Tesla has notified him that his car should be available anytime between now and March, but he anticipates that he won't likely receive it for at least another six months. Nguyen said he did track down two Model 3s from the first limited batch off the assembly line in December after someone posted their locations on the social news site Reddit.

"I thought there would be a huge line, but I'm glad there wasn't," he said as the glass sliding doors to the showroom opened for the official unveiling of the vehicle, which debuted in the company's Stanford and Los Angeles Century City Mall locations only.

Starting at $35,000, the all-electric sedan is aimed at the mainstream market. The company, which has close to a half million reservation holders, began making its first round of Model 3 deliveries to buyers in mid-December, six months after starting limited production of the vehicle. As of the end of 2017, the company has delivered about 1,500 vehicles, according to spokeswoman Gina Antonini.

In coming weeks, Tesla plans to bring Model 3 display vehicles to showrooms across the country, followed by test-drive vehicles, Antonini added.

For the past year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has told the media that he expects to produce 5,000 vehicles a week when full-scale production ramps up. That target date, however, has been delayed three times from December to March, and now to the end of June.

Antonini said the average wait time for those who have reserved a car is about 18 months.

Menlo Park resident Frank Sortino said he is supposed to receive his car delivery in June. This was the first time he had sat in the car.

"It's a good looking car. I'm very surprised it's as attractive as it is. I thought it would be much more mundane," he said while comparing the gray display model to the red Model S parked along side it. "I'm very excited. It's gonna be worth the wait."

Others in attendance shared his view. One attendee, who identified himself as Bill, said he plans to use for cross-country trips to the East Coast and into Canada. He said he wants one with a dual motor -- a feature that is not yet available but that hopes will be an option by the time he gets his configuration notice to customize his car's color, battery size and other features.

He also said he didn't mind the wait.

So far, Tesla has only manufactured the upgraded Model 3 that costs about $54,000 and has a battery that can travel an estimated 310 miles on a single charge, along with other premium features such as 19-inch wheels. (The baseline model comes with a battery that can travel 220 miles). The car can achieve 0-60 mph acceleration of 5.6 seconds and reach 130 mph.

Other standard equipment includes a 15-inch touchscreen display, Wi-Fi and LTE internet connectivity, navigation and voice-activated controls.

For Palo Alto couple Richard Johnsson and Nancy Teater, this will be their second Tesla. They purchased a Model S in 2016 that Richard drove across the country. The second car is for Nancy, who currently drives a Toyota Camry hybrid that is due for replacement, she said.

"We want to be all electric," said Richard, who was traveling in Cuba when Tesla opened up reservations for the Model 3.

"It took me a couple of days to get internet connection over there, but I got on on the third day, April 2," he said.

While exploring the car, the couple said there were several features on the Model 3 that they preferred over their Model S. The sun visors are thicker, and it's easier to get into the back seat, they said.

Richard said he checks his place in the queue nearly everyday. He recently learned that the company sends out configuration notices to customers every Thursday. Once you receive a configuration notice, your car is typically delivered within three months, he said.

"When you order a Tesla, you learn to wait," said Richard, who waited 59 days for his Model S.


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