Any commentary from Tesla Motors (TSLA -3.40%) on its Model 3, or its upcoming electric vehicle with a starting price of $35,000, is rare. But Tesla CTO JB Straubel shared a few notes about the important electric car on Thursday at IHS Energy CERAWeek in Houston (via

Here's the Tesla executive had to say.

Model S charging.

JB Straubel on Tesla and Model 3

  • The Model 3 features "next generation" Tesla technology.
  • The car is similar in size to Audi's A4.
  • "I think it will surprise people with the level of features it includes," Straubel said.
  • Cost is a primary focus for the company: "We don't really need more performance; we don't really need much more range; we need to focus on cost."
  • Straubel still doesn't view hydrogen fuel cell technology as a threat, noting there remain "fundamental problems" -- limited infrastructure in particular.

Perhaps the most notable excerpt from Straubel's talk is his reference to the Model 3's having Tesla's "next generation" technology. With Tesla CEO Elon Musk noting earlier this year that the company is currently working on a next-generation suite of cameras and sensors, it's possible this could have been what Straubel was referring to.

Tesla's next-generation suite of cameras and sensors could very well be built to support fully autonomous driving. Musk predicted during a question-and-answer session with press that Tesla vehicles will be able to drive themselves across the country, charging themselves along the way, in just two to three years. But Musk also noted that this feat would require Tesla's next-generation set of cameras and sensors.

Could Tesla be planning to equip Model 3 with autonomous driving capabilities?

It's also possible Straubel's mention of "next generation" technology could have simply been referring to Tesla's next-generation platform for the vehicle, as he company has repeatedly emphasized that thte Model 3 will be built on a different platform from Models S and X.

A Model 3 update
Production and deliveries of the Model 3 won't begin until late 2017. But the public won't have to wait that long to learn more about the vehicle. Tesla confirmed in the company's fourth-quarter shareholder letter that it will unveil the Model 3 design on March 31. 

Tesla Fremont Factory. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Along with a confirmation of Model 3's unveil date and a note that the company is still on schedule for production and the first deliveries of the vehicle, Musk recently shared, in a series of tweets, some specifics about how customers will be able to order the vehicle. Tesla will begin accepting reservations for the Model 3 in stores on March 31 and online on April 1. Reservations will require a $1,000 deposit -- lower than the $2,500 and $5,000 deposits required to order Model S or X, respectively.

The Model 3 is important for Tesla, as it will be priced significantly lower than its Model S and X, and the company is hoping it will be the vehicle to help propel annual sales from an estimated 80,000 to 90,000 in 2016 to 500,000 by 2020.