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Tesla Motors, Inc.'s Model 3 Event: 4 Big Questions

By Daniel Sparks – Mar 8, 2016 at 9:38AM

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With the event less than a month away, here are some big unanswered questions about Tesla's Model 3.

On March 31, electric-car maker Tesla Motors (TSLA 10.97%) will unveil its long-awaited Model 3, Tesla's first vehicle with a more affordable price tag of $35,000 -- half the starting price of its Model S. Ahead of the event, investors have some big questions. Will they be answered?

Model S. Image source: Tesla Motors.

1. How many miles of range will the Model 3 be capable of?
All Tesla has said so far about the range of the Model 3 is that the vehicle will be able to drive at least 200 miles on a single charge. This would compare to the industry-leading 240 to 270 miles of EPA-rated driving range Tesla's Model S lineup boasts.

With the battery representing the most expensive component in the production of fully electric vehicles, it makes sense that the Model 3 would have a smaller battery and less range than the Model S. This would enable Tesla to produce the vehicle at a low enough cost to bring it to market at $35,000.

Tesla's Model S and X vehicles are available in two battery sizes -- 70 kilowatt-hour (kWh), and 90 kWh. In the past, Tesla has offered the Model S with smaller battery sizes, including 40 kWh and 60 kWh configurations. These two sizes had ranges of 160 and 208 miles, respectively.

Notably, the Model 3's smaller size -- it is expected to be about the size of an Audi A4 -- means the same size battery in a Model 3 will go further than it does in a Model S.

2. Will the vehicle outperform comparably priced cars?
Just as the Model S's performance metrics, including quarter-mile times, ability to handle tight turns, and zero-to-60 times, are often measured against comparably priced cars, investors are likely curious how the $35,000 Model 3 compares to vehicles like BMW's 3-Series and Volkswagen's Audi's A4.

If Tesla can capture a good portion of the performance of its Model S, the Model 3 should be both quicker and more capable on turns than comparably priced cars.

3. Will free Supercharging come standard?
For Tesla's Model S and X, owners get free access to the company's expansive network of 120 kW Superchargers, which charge Tesla vehicles about 170 miles in 30 minutes. In the past, Model S buyers had to pay an upfront fee to get access to the network, but now, access to the network comes standard.

With the vehicle priced much lower than the Model S and X, it will be interesting to see whether Tesla's Model 3 will get free access to the Supercharger network.

Supercharger. Image source: Tesla Motors.

While it's clear that it's inexpensive for Tesla to provide free Supercharging to its customers, this doesn't guarantee Tesla will extend the free charging for life that it has offered early adopters to future vehicle models.

4. What will initial demand look like?
Perhaps the biggest question on investors' minds will be about how potential customers will respond to the announcement. With Tesla CEO Elon Musk recently noting the company will begin accepting reservations for the vehicle, along with a $1,000 deposit, on March 31 in stores and on April 1 online, investors may soon get a glimpse of initial demand for the model.

Some of these questions, along with many others, could go unanswered on March 31. Musk has said the company will likely maintain some secrecy about the vehicle as long as possible. And he noted during the company's most recent earnings call that Tesla is still trying to decide whether it should "keep a few cards close to the vest."

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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