Ahead of Tesla Model 3 reveal, pre-order frenzy begins for $35k electric car

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Tesla Model 3 teaser image with Model S and Model X, March 2016

Tesla Model 3 teaser image with Model S and Model X, March 2016

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Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA]—or just Tesla, as it might now prefer to be called—has very closely guarded nearly all the details about its third mass-production all-electric car, the smaller, more affordable Model 3.

Tomorrow’s when the Silicon Valley automaker will at last reveal more, and allow a first look at this new sedan, which is expected to start reaching customers in late 2017.

Tesla Model 3 reservations start then—March 31—at Tesla stores worldwide as they open locally (there’s actually a separate queue for each region, and employees and existing Tesla customers get priority), or online at Tesla.com when the live reveal happens, at 8:30 p.m. PT.

Technically, what happens tomorrow is still a pre-order, as the $1,000 that interested parties are asked to commit will remain fully refundable until an actual car is assigned to that order, around delivery time.

Tesla Model 3 Reservation Agreement

Tesla Model 3 Reservation Agreement

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The Model 3 is expected to start reaching those at the top of the order list in late 2017, with deliveries starting with the West Coast and progressing east to the rest of the U.S. and other parts of the world.

Simpler and more straightforward—but will it still wow the followers?

Compared to the Model S liftback sedan and Model X gullwing crossover, the Model 3 is expected to be a simpler, more straightforward electric car—perhaps with the potential to be optioned well over the $50k mark. It’s expected to include a suite of active-safety and autonomous-driving technologies, a version of the advanced interface that Model S and Model X drivers mostly love, and of course Tesla’s system of live, over-the-air vehicle updates that sometimes include feature updates that make the car better.

In all fairness, the Model 3 shown tomorrow is anticipated to be a prototype; although the automaker's other models have changed very little in design on the path from prototype to production. 

By the time it's on sale, however, the field of affordable electric cars will have changed quite significantly, with the introduction of the 2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV, as well as a new-generation version of the Nissan Leaf.

Those models, expected to have a driving range of over 200 miles, may come close to rivaling the range offered by base versions of the Model 3.

2016 Tesla Model X launch in Fremont, California

2016 Tesla Model X launch in Fremont, California

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But none of those will have the luxury cachet of Tesla, and the brand’s fanatical following. And Tesla has a record for overachieving; it would be a surprise if the Model 3 didn't have some kind of surprise-and-delight feature that hasn't yet made it into the rest of the entry-luxury set.

Check back here, and at Green Car Reports, for the latest as we report from the Model 3 launch tomorrow night.

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