Front view from earlier released photos.
Top view from Tesla press release photos.
Ready, set...
Smooth duck bill on the latest model.
Leading the Beemer on a street in Palo Alto.

THE Model 3s are coming.

Two weeks after Tesla CEO Elon Musk teased the first six-second video of a newly minted, almost-final version of the US$35,000 (RM155,068) car, prototypes have begun to appear in the wild. Images of two Model 3s were taken outside the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto, California, last week.

The two prototypes show sleek modifications, months before the rollout.

With about 400,000 reservations at US$1,000 (RM4,430) a piece, this is arguably the most anticipated new car in automotive history - one that’s already changing the trajectory of electric-vehicle development.

Tesla’s production ramp for the Model 3 is extremely aggressive. In order for Musk to hit all of his production targets, the company would need to build about 430,000 Model 3s by the end of next year. He would need to massively outsell the car’s biggest competitor, the BMW 3 Series.

The images taken in Palo Alto include a photograph of the Model 3 and the BMW side-by-side. This is the second time Tesla has been spotted testing the Model 3 alongside a BMW, suggesting engineers may be benchmarking or tuning the car to match the competition.

One of the biggest mysteries remaining for the Model 3 is how the interior will look and feel, and how far will Tesla go with autonomous-driving features at launch. The automaker has already begun selling a US$3,000 (RM13,290) “Full Self-Driving Capability” option for its other models, and Musk told me on Twitter in January that the features will begin to appear around the time of the Model 3 launch.

A grainy photo of the interior of the “release candidate,” has a mysterious red button near the passenger side of the 15-inch touchscreen display. Is this an emergency override? Does this activate maximum plaid mode? An eject button? So many possibilities.

Love it or hate it, the stiff-lipped front end of the Model 3 is one of its most distinctive features. The car doesn’t have a grille, because unlike a gasoline-powered car, it doesn’t need one. After the initial unveiling of the Model 3, Musk said there was still “some tweaking underway” for the nose. “Edge and contour refinement are ongoing.”

Now we see the results. The edge seems a bit smoother and lower, and the corners of the mouth slightly stretched to the sides. It’s less stark, and suggests a shadow of a Mustang grille combined with the hood swoop of a Porsche 911.

Last year, Musk also said the company was working on expanding the opening of the rear trunk from what was initially unveiled (the car also has a front trunk where a gasoline engine would go). If any changes were made to the exterior opening, they appear to be very subtle.

Tesla plans to deliver the final Model 3 in July. The first several thousand will go to employees holding reservations, and then the rollout will start in California and move eastward as production picks up. --Bloomberg

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