Following the recent unveiling of General Motors' all-electric $37,500 Bolt and the company's confirmation of late 2016 rollout, the pressure is on for electric-car maker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) to follow through with its plan for a comparably priced electric car of its own. Not only does the company now face competition in the long-range EV space, but the Model 3 represents the a critical step in Tesla's primary mission to "accelerate the advent of sustainable transport." Fortunately, all signs currently suggest the Model 3 is on time, beginning with the Tesla's planned unveiling in March.
The Model 3 timeline
"Model 3 is on schedule," said Tesla spokeswoman Khobi Brooklyn in an email to Reuters last week. More specifically, Reuters' Rick Wilking noted that Tesla said it will unveil the design of Model 3 in March -- a period aligning with the company's initial timeframe for its first more affordable vehicle.
The most specific timeline for Tesla's Model 3 unveiling was outlined in the company's third-quarter shareholder letter, which said it was "planned for late March."
A late March unveiling for the Model 3 is particularly important for Tesla, as it will allow the company to begin accepting preorders and to gauge demand for its first vehicle priced in line with higher-volume sedans.
After the unveil, Tesla plans to begin delivering Model 3 to customers by the end of 2017 -- a feat that will require the company's Gigafactory, or the world's largest battery factory, to be operational.
Model 3, our smaller and lower cost sedan will start production in about 2 years. Fully operational Gigafactory needed.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) September 2, 2015
The biggest evidence that Tesla's Model 3 unveil and launch are unlikely to be delayed is the company's progress on its Gigafactory, which is being built in conjunction with Tesla's expected sharp increase in demand for lithium-ion batteries due to the company's Model 3 launch. Production wasn't initially supposed to begin at the Gigafactory until 2017, but Tesla had already started producing its energy storage products at the factory before 2015 ended. Further, the company has accelerated its plans for cell production at the factory. Currently, battery production at the factory is only at a pack level, but now Tesla is planning to begin cell production for Tesla Energy products by the end of 2016.
And its not just production at the factory that is ahead of a schedule. Overall construction of the ambitious factory is ahead of schedule, too, management noted in the company's most recent shareholder letter.
A glimpse into Tesla's Model 3 efforts
Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel recently gave some investors a peak into how seriously the electric-car maker is taking the Model 3.
"Most of the people inside of Tesla are no longer working on the S and the X, but they're hard at work designing and inventing all the technologies to go into the Model 3," Straubel said in an October 2015 presentation at University of Nevada. "[I]t's a completely new platform -- different technology base -- and aimed at building hundreds of thousands per year instead of tens of thousands per year."
Investors should keep a close eye on any news on Tesla's Model 3, as it represents a critical step for the company. Management will likely discuss the Model 3 more closely during its fourth-quarter earnings call, which will likely take place at the beginning of February.