5 surprises about Tesla’s Model 3 mass-market electric car

Tesla handed over the first 30 versions of its Model 3 electric car to employee buyers Friday, officially launching the company’s first car geared toward the mass market.

At a starting price of $35,000 before tax incentives, the compact car is suddenly within reach for many American families, although the price escalates quickly after adding options.

The initial version will cost $44,000 before the standard model is available later this year.

“The whole point of Tesla was to build a great affordable electric car,” CEO Elon Musk said Friday night at an event outside the company’s factory in Fremont, Calif. “That’s what this day means. I’m confident it’ll be the best car in its class, gasoline or not, hands down.”

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Here are five surprises we learned about the Model 3:

Color costs extra. If you want the Model 3 in anything but black, you’ll have to pay $1,000 extra. 

Although many automakers offer special paint at a premium, most offer a choice of standard colors at no extra charge. Not so with this car.

The optional color upgrades are Midnight Silver Metallic, Deep Blue Metallic, Silver Metallic, Pearl White Multi-Coat and Red Multi-Coat.

The longer-range version costs less per mile. Tesla is offering a 310-mile-range version of the Model 3 for a $9,000 upgrade.

While that sounds like a lot, the price is less per mile of range. At 310 miles and a base price of $44,000, the higher-range version costs $142 per mile. With a range of 220 miles and a price of $35,000, the standard version costs $159 per mile.

Buyers might not get it until 2019. While Tesla continues to maintain on its website that new orders could be delivered as soon as “mid 2018,” the company now acknowledges that it could take as many as 18 months. That could bleed into 2019.

Foreign markets have to wait.  People living outside of the U.S. won’t get left-hand-drive versions of the Model 3 until at least the second half of 2018, even if they ordered early. Production of the right-hand-drive Model 3 won’t even start until 2019.

A performance version is coming in summer 2018. Musk said early Sunday on Twitter that a high-speed version of the Model is “probably” coming by the “middle of next year.”

But the company must first focus on ramping up production of the current versions, which means “getting out of Model 3 production hell,” he said. The early days of manufacturing a new vehicle are challenge for any automaker, requiring a slow increase in production speed while workers get used to the new process.

“More versions = deeper in hell,” he said.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.

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