In just about two weeks, it’s 2017—the year in which the first production Tesla Model 3s are set to be delivered. And yet, with the exception of an occasional prototype sighting, there has been little, if any, real news on Model 3 in 4Q16.
This past week Electrek* posted new interior images for the Model 3. Fred Lambert, the author of the post, talked about the minimalist prototype interior dominated by the 15-inch landscape display. He speculated about a heads-up display (HUD), but noted that there was no clear evidence that it would make the final cut to a base production vehicle. He also mentioned a conversation with a Tesla engineer who noted that a “really unique ventilation system” would eliminate conventional air vents, giving the interior a even cleaner look.
All of this provides us with a hazy look inside Tesla’s “final” interior design. However, two big questions remain:
1. When will the design be finalized and presented to the public?
It would seem that a final production design would have to be completed no later than the end of 1Q17. Sure, there would be a continuous stream of small design tweaks based on lessons learned during alpha and beta testing and manufacturing validation, but the fundamental elements of the production vehicle design—both interior and exterior—must be finalized before many elements of production planning can proceed.
Remember that vendors must be selected for all interior production elements not built by Tesla, the Model 3 supply chain must be established, testing of vendor-supplied parts must begin, and manufacturing/assembly design (for "the machine that builds the machine") must begin long before mid-year if Tesla is to make its dates.
A key indicator of production design finalization will be Elon’s much discussed “Part 2” presentation for Model 3. My guess is that if Tesla is going to manufacture cars in 2017, the Part 2 presentation should happen sometime in early 2Q17.
2. Will Tesla be able to get Model 3 manufacturing up and running in 2017?
In my book Getting Ready for Model 3, I am on record as stating that it’s highly unlikely that Tesla will deliver more than 25,000 Model 3s in 2017. In fact, that's an aggressive goal. But what indicators can we look for to determine when even those numbers will be achieved?
The first indicator: Photos and videos of Model 3 in the wild will begin to appear regularly during late 1Q17 as the alpha manufacturing prototypes go on the road around Fremont, CA. Tesla will, of course camouflage the final exterior design elements with a combination of visual effects and false flag structural elements. The interior may very well be hidden with heavily tinted windows. But it’s not the details we need pre-Part 2, it’s the simple fact that more and more alpha prototypes are on the road.
The second indicator: Elon’s "Part 2" presentation of the Model 3 in early 2Q17.
The third indicator: After the Part 2 presentation, “final” versions of the cars will be seen throughout the bay area during 2Q17 and early 3Q17. Beta testing is in full swing.
The fourth indicator: A few major automotive publications will be offered tours of Tesla’s “revolutionary” Model 3 production line during 3Q17 or early 4Q17. The intent is to assuage investor concern and to use the resultant press as free publicity for the company and Model 3.
The fifth indicator: Tesla opens its on-line design studio in early 4Q17 and allows invited reservation list holders to configure and order their Model 3. I suspect that only then will we have a full description of options, different vehicle variants, and final costs.
Each of these indicators matter. If they don’t occur in the timeframes noted, it’s very likely that delays in Model 3 deliveries are in the cards.