CENTURY CITY (CBSLA/CNN Money) – Angelenos eager to buy a Tesla Model 3 will finally get a chance to check out the electric car up close.
On Friday, the Model 3 was put on display at Tesla showrooms across the U.S., including one in the Westfield Century City Mall. People will get a chance to sit inside the vehicle, but will not immediately be able to test drive it.
The Model 3, with a starting price around $35,000 — about the same as the Chevrolet Bolt EV — it is Tesla’s first mass-market electric vehicle. It was first unveiled in March. The base $35,000 model has a range of up to 210 miles on a single charge.
Over 400,000 people worldwide have already paid refundable $1,000 deposits to buy the Model 3. It’s unclear how long of a wait they can expect before they receive the car. The Model 3 was supposed to be leading the charge for the mass-market EV. But something went wrong. Tesla has struggled to make the car — only 260 had been produced as of October. That’s given General Moters a long lead in the marketplace.
Next year will be the first full year that the Chevrolet Bolt EV will be available nationwide. But it’s already been a clear marketplace success. Already more than 20,000 have been sold. And it wasn’t even available in all 50 states for most of the year. Prices for the Bolt EV start at about $37,000 and it has batteries that can take it an estimated 238 miles.
The redesigned Nissan Leaf is also just entering production. For now, the Nissan Leaf isn’t going head-to-head against the Bolt EV, since it doesn’t go as far — only 150 miles on a charge. But it also doesn’t cost as much, with a starting price in the U.S. of under $30,000. A version of the leaf that will be closer to the Bolt’s range and price is expected to come later.
Still, if it can get its production troubles behind it quickly enough — something that remains far from certain — Tesla could handily outsell either Nissan’s or GM ‘s electric cars, despite Tesla’s far more limited dealer network.
Sam Abuelsamid, a transportation analyst with Navigant Research, expects more than half of the people who have put down deposits will ultimately back out when they learn how much options cost, and about what he describes as the car’s awkward interior controls. Even then, the Model 3 would be well positioned to take the lead in sales.
Electric cars will still only make up just 1.5% of all U.S. auto sales according Navigant Research. But, for EVs, the really important numbers to watch are price, driving range and availability.
Electric cars are far simpler, mechanically, than internal combustion cars and should be more reliable. But it will take time for people to realize that they aren’t going to freeze up like their smart phones do, Kelley Blue Book analyst Rebecca Lindland says. Seeing more electric cars on the road in large numbers will help ease those fears.
One remaining wrinkle is the $7,500 federal tax credit that manufacturers are counting on to help sell these electric cars. That incentive survived the Republican tax overhaul, but the full credit will begin to phase out after each manufacturer sells their first 200,000 electric cars. And GM, Nissan and Tesla are expected to hit that number some time next year.
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