Tesla Model 3 order frenzy makes it 'the iPhone of the auto industry'

Pre-orders top $9.6 billion; price per vehicle with options is likely to be around $42,000

Tesla Model 3

Tesla CEO Elon Musk released this mock up of the Model 3 on Sunday via Twitter.

Credit: Tesla

Tesla's upcoming Model 3 all-electric vehicle has captured consumers' imagination -- to the tune of more than $9.6 billion in potential sales since its launch last Thursday night.

"That is amazing and I don't think anything like that has happened in the auto industry before," said Egil Juliussen, director of research for Infotainment & Advanced Driver Assistance Systems at IHS Automotive. "Tesla Model 3 is the iPhone of the auto industry in terms of pre-orders."

As of Saturday evening, more than 276,000 people had put down $1,000 each in order to reserve the four-door sedan, which will have a base price of $35,000, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk. That's $276 million dollars Tesla has raked in without delivering a single car. The Model 3 is due to ship in mid to late 2017.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla

The Tesla Model 3.

Yesterday, Musk took to Twitter to further whet the appetite of potential car buyers, writing: "Wait until you see the real steering controls and system for the 3. It feels like a spaceship."

Perhaps most telling, Musk wrote that the average price for the Model 3 with an "average option mix" will be around $42,000

Musk also noted that Tesla will have to "rethink production planning." He plans to   give another pre-order update on Wednesday.

During the impromptu Twitter Q&A on Sunday, Musk said that the final design for the car isn't set in stone and that the looks of the front end, the edges and overall contours are likely to see further refinement.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla

A rear view of the Model 3.

The rear seat of the car will fold down, allowing passengers to sleep on it, and the Model 3's drivetrain will be a rear-wheel drive. It will have an optional dual-motor all-wheel drive system that costs less than the $5,000 it retails for today on Tesla's Model S sedan.

"Even RWD will have great traction on ice due to fast torque response of Tesla drivetrain," Musk tweeted.

The Model 3 can travel up to 215 miles on a single charge and go from 0-60 mph in less than six seconds. BY comparison, the entry-level Mercedes C-class moves from 0-60 mph in 6.3 seconds.

One feature unique to the upcoming vehicle is the lack of an instrument panel on the dashboard. While the Model 3 may yet get an instrument panel, as of its unveiling, the only source of information available to a driver appears to be a 15-inch touchscreen mounted mid-dash.

Tesla Model 3 Tesla

A look inside the Model 3 with its 15-in. tablet infotainment system and its no-instrument-panel dashboard.

As pre-orders continue to grow, analysts are speculating about why the Model 3 has captured the imagination of the consumers.

For example, the Model 3 has a luxury car image while still being a "green car," Juliussen said.

" The known features are very good: range, acceleration, auto pilot, [over-the-air software] upgrade capability," Juliussen wrote in an email reply to Computerworld. "In essence, the Tesla models are the first software-defined cars that can and have been upgraded to get better with age."

Model 3 Tesla

An overhead view of the Model 3's all-glass sunroof.

The starting price for the Model 3 is only slightly higher than the average selling price of new cars in the U.S., Juliussen also noted.

"Musk has done a masterful job of [positioning] the product -- [the] only CEO that can match what Steve Jobs did," he wrote.

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