Tesla's (TSLA 3.94%) first "affordable" model, the Model 3 sedan, is set to begin production next month. Although Tesla hasn't officially unveiled the final production version of its new compact sedan, it has told us quite a bit about the car -- both directly, and indirectly.
Here are nine things you might not know about the Tesla Model 3, but should -- especially if you're planning to order one of these American-made premium electric cars.
It's the latest Tesla, but it isn't the most advanced
CEO Elon Musk has said repeatedly that the "Model 3" name doesn't mean that the new Tesla is the company's latest and greatest. It will be the latest Tesla, but its price point means that it can't have all the high-tech features of the big Teslas -- much less any radical innovations.
Musk has said that the big Model S will always have Tesla's latest and most advanced technology. The Model 3 is a simpler, more affordable Tesla.
The Model 3's interior will surprise you
Spy photos of preproduction Model 3s show a surprisingly sparse interior for a car that is positioned to compete with the BMW 3-Series and Audi A4. There are no visible gauges on the dashboard, just a steering wheel and what looks like a large iPad stuck to the dash.
That's the Model 3's touchscreen, through which the driver will likely control many of the car's functions. Speed and range information might be provided through the touchscreen as well, or a heads-up display may put key information in the driver's field of vision.
Otherwise, the Model 3's interior is expected to be simple but high-quality, with good materials and (hopefully) great fit and finish.
The first Model 3s will have few options
Musk has said that the first Model 3s will be built in only a few colors and will have very few available options. That's a sensible limitation to help reduce complexity as Tesla's all-new assembly line (and its suppliers) gradually ramp up to full speed. It should help ensure that the Model 3s that are built once the line is up to full speed are built to a high quality standard.
More -- and more expensive -- options will come later
While the first Model 3s will be kept very simple, expect more options and versions to come along later. Musk has hinted that one or more high-performance versions of the Model 3 will be offered, and longer-range batteries and added luxury features may also become available in time.
The average Model 3 will sell for considerably more than $35,000
Once Tesla adds options to the Model 3, expect at least some of them to be quite popular. While the Model 3's starting price will be $35,000 before government incentives, Tesla itself expects average transaction prices to be over $40,000 -- and some analysts think the average could be closer to $50,000.
The Model 3's true range might be a surprise
Tesla has promised that the Model 3 will have a range of 215 miles per charge. That seems low: General Motors' (GM 8.35%) similarly priced Chevrolet Bolt EV has an EPA-estimated range of 238 miles.
That may be setting us up for a surprise. It's possible that Tesla plans to announce a higher range when it unveils the Model 3's final specs. It's also possible that its range really will be 215 miles, perhaps with more range optional -- which would be a different kind of surprise.
It has new improved batteries made in the USA
Tesla's chief technology officer, JB Straubel, has said that Tesla is aiming for a 30% improvement in energy density with the Model 3, compared to its earlier models. That will help reduce both cost and weight for a given amount of range.
The battery packs for the Model 3 will be made at Tesla's "Gigafactory" in Nevada, which it owns and operates jointly with its longtime battery-cell supplier, electronics giant Panasonic (PCRFY 0.52%).
It should get top safety ratings
Tesla has always made safety a top priority. The Model S earned five-star ratings from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in overall crash testing and in each sub-test. Expect the Model 3 to do the same.
Tesla might only deliver a few Model 3s in July
Tesla has promised that the first Model 3s will be delivered to customers in July. That's also when an online Model 3 "configurator" will go live on Tesla's website.
Customers and fans should be prepared for the possibility that Tesla may only deliver a few Model 3s in July -- and in August and September as well. It will take a while for Tesla to get its production line up to full speed.