When it began production at the end of September, the Tesla Model X luxury crossover SUV became Tesla’s second mass-produced electric car to enter into production at its Fremont facility off the south-eastern corner of the San Francisco Bay, and the third Tesla model to enter production since the company was founded back in 2003.
First unveiled back in 2012, the Tesla Model X has represented years of research and development for the firm, carried out by an ever-expanding team of engineers focused on building the safest, cleanest and most technologically advanced vehicle they can.
But with the Tesla Model X now in production, the majority of the engineers who worked on it have been shifted to Tesla’s next production electric car, the mass-market, $35,000 Model 3.
That’s according to Tesla Motors [NASDAQ:TSLA] Chief Technology Officer JB Straubel, who as Charged EVs reports, told students at the University of Reno in Nevada that with the Model X now in production, the majority of Tesla engineers were working on making the Model 3 a commercial reality.
“Most of the people inside Tesla are not working on the S or X, but are hard at work designing and inventing all the technologies going into the Model 3,” he said, explaining that Tesla hoped the Model 3 will be produced in volumes of “hundreds of thousands per year instead of tens of thousands per year.”
Straubel was at the University last week to give a talk celebrating the announcement of Tesla’s brand-new internship program at the nearby Tesla Gigafactory, as well as investment of $1 million into the university’s own battery research program.
The Gigafactory, being built just outside Reno-Sparks, represents a massive investment into the local economy of the area and will employ more than 6,500 staff when it reaches completion some time next year. From that point on, the 2,000-acre $5 billion facility will be able to produce lithium-ion cells in such large volumes — enough to power half-a-million electric cars per year — that economies of scale come into play, dramatically lowering the cost of lithium-ion battery packs and thereby making Tesla’s promised 300+ mile Model 3 sedan a truly affordable vehicle.
Before the vehicle gets its public unveiling next spring however, Straubel was clear that Tesla’s engineers have a lot of work ahead of them. Unlike the Model X, which reused many Model S components and design elements, the Model 3 will be the first car to be built on Tesla’s third-generation platform. As such, it will be a completely new vehicle.
“For better or worse, most of Model 3 has to be new,” explained Straubel. “With the X, we were able to build on a lot of common components with the S, but with the Model 3 we can’t do that. We are inventing a whole new platform for Model 3. It’s a new battery architecture, a new motor technology, a brand-new vehicle structure.”
While we’ve seen a few snippets here and there of what the Model 3 might look like, Tesla is carefully keeping final Model 3 design a closely-guarded secret. So far, we know it will be smaller than the current Model S, occupying the same compact car class as the 3-Series BMW. Performance will likely be slightly slower than the Model S or Model X — although we’d guess far above anything offered by mainstream automakers — and Supercharging will come as standard.
With the majority of Tesla’s engineers now working full-time on the Model 3, expect lots more news in the coming months, leading up to the big reveal some time in March next year.
In the meantime, we just have to hope that Gigafactory preparations continues apace so it can reach full cell output well ahead of the Model 3’s planned 2018 debut.
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