Ever since Elon Musk’s first presentation of the Model 3, the one that saw literally hundreds of thousands of preorders occur in the course of an hour, ther have been questions about the car’s main competition. Its electric powertrain, range and starting price seem to lean toward cars like the Chevy Bolt and Nissan Leaf. Yet its size, body style, level of luxury and technology seem to lean more toward cars like the BMW 3 Series. So which sort of car is the Tesla Model 3 really aimed at? Well, the answer is likely “D, all of the above”.
It wasn’t long after the Model 3’s actual debut that Tesla claimed it wanted the Model 3 to be the best car at its price point, period. At a starting price of $35,000 (before tax incentives), the Model 3 is a bit more money than the Bolt and a bit less than the comparable 3 Series. So it’s around the price of both. With options, though, the Model 3 balloons well into the 3 Series’ price ranges. And it’s not likely that the majority of Model 3s will be sold for $35,000.
In terms of performance, luxury and technology, though, the Model 3 is right there with the 3 Series. Even the smallest battery Model 3 has similar performance to the BMW 330i and comes with similar tech, both as-standard and optional. So in terms of what you actually get with the Model 3, it’s very comparable to the 3 Series. It’s also more upscale than cars like the Chevy Bolt, even though its price is low enough to entice potential Bolt customers to spend a bit more and get the Tesla.
But the idea isn’t necessarily to compare numbers, size, shape and options. The idea is that Tesla wants to make a car that brings the electric vehicle to the mainstream. The Model 3 is supposed to be the car that Bolt owners aspire to own and that makes 3 Series owners jump ship. Tesla wants the Model 3 to be its sales giant, the car that launches the brand into the upper echelons of sales success, alongside BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Lexus and Audi. But at the same time, it’s designed to be an affordable EV, much like the Bolt and Leaf.
Tesla doesn’t really want to pigeon-hole the Model 3 into a segment or give it specific competition. The Model 3 is designed to be the best car for the money, regardless of competition. It offers an electric range of over 250 miles, a 0-60 mph sprint of under six seconds, seating for five, a luxurious cabin and enough tech to make any Silicon Valley nerd happy. Even as a BMW fan, it’s hard to argue with that. So the Model 3’s main competition is anything even remotely around its price point. And I think that was Tesla’s intention.