Shares of Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) popped on Wednesday, following a tweet from CEO Elon Musk that said the company would share some "news" on Thursday shortly after market close. Hype persisted on Thursday when the company started redirecting pages on its website for ordering vehicles to a message teasing: "The wait is almost over. Great things are launching at 2pm [PST]."

The wait that Tesla was referring to turns out to be the highly anticipated $35,000 version of Model 3 -- the company's cheapest vehicle yet by a long shot.

A woman unlocks her Model 3 with a Tesla app on her smartphone.

Model 3. Image source: Tesla.

What you need to know

Tesla's new $35,000 version of its Model 3 features the company's promised standard battery, with 220 miles of range on a single charge. The vehicle has a quick zero-to-60 acceleration time of 5.6 seconds and a "standard" interior, helping Tesla achieve the lower cost. Its standard interior features manual seat and steering adjustments, cloth seats, and a downgraded "basic" audio system, among other differences from more expensive versions of the Model 3.

Tesla also launched a "standard range plus" version of Model 3 for $37,000, with 240 miles of range.

Deliveries of the vehicles will begin in the next two to four weeks, depending on the exact configuration a customer orders.

To help Tesla bring this $35,000 version of the Model 3 to market, the company also announced it will be closing many of its stores and shifting to sales online. "Shifting all sales online, combined with other ongoing cost efficiencies, will enable us to lower all vehicle prices by about 6% on average," Tesla said in a blog post on Thursday, "allowing us to achieve the $35,000 Model 3 price point earlier than we expected."

A long road

Customers indeed have been waiting a long time for this vehicle. The company started taking reservations for the vehicle in early 2016, with deliveries beginning in the summer of 2017. 

When the first deliveries began, Tesla said a standard-battery version of the vehicle would be available for $35,000, but also emphasized that a more expensive, longer-range version would begin delivering first. The standard battery Model 3 variant would start shipping later that year, the company said at the time.

Tesla was way off.

But this didn't mean the company hasn't come out with cheaper versions since the Model 3's initial launch. Thanks to the introduction of a midrange variant and a few price cuts, the entry-level price for the Model 3 has fallen from $49,000 initially to $42,900. The availability of a $35,000 version, therefore, makes the Model 3 much more affordable.

Tesla said in a Jan. 18 blog post that it was critical for the company to be able to bring lower-priced Model 3 variants to the market as its production ramped up and credits for buyers were phased out. The $3,750 U.S. tax credit that buyers currently qualify for is set to be cut in half on July 1 and phased out entirely by the end of the year. But Tesla said it still had work to do to bring costs down.

The company apparently pulled it off -- and earlier than its latest expectations, too. Just a few weeks ago, Tesla was saying on its website that it would be another four to six months before the cheaper version would come to market.

With the $35,000 version released, Tesla's guidance for 360,000 to 400,000 vehicle deliveries in 2019 looks easily achievable, as Tesla delivered 90,966 vehicles in the fourth quarter alone without the help of its lower-priced Model 3.