Since the Model S debuted, Tesla's problem has never been demand, according to the company. It is supply-constrained and still climbing out of the hole the Model S made while now bringing the Model X online and dealing with that vehicle's teething problems. So adding another model, and a very affordable one if the $35,000 base price is to be believed, isn't going to help things along.
The key may be the reservations themselves. For one thing, Tesla will at least have solid cash flow for a while, allowing it to make the investments necessary to ramp up production of a mass-market EV. Recall that Musk was a co-founder of PayPal, a company that makes money in part by holding onto money. With each of those people paying $1,000 for their spot in line, that means Tesla is sitting on $180 million in reservation money from now until the cars start trickling out of factories in late 2017. Think of it as a large-scale Kickstarter. And when Musk says the first deliveries will take place at the end of next year, that probably means token deliveries to meet the goal like we saw with early Model X customers. Given the delays for pretty much every other Tesla model, we're confident large volumes of Model 3s won't be hitting roads until deep into 2018. And that's just more time to make interest on those deposits.
Now the reservation deposits are refundable, and some will get tired of waiting. Others will join the line, however. So that should take care of cash flow for a while. The other possible enemy is logistics. Musk says the Gigafactory will be able to supply batteries for 500,000 cars per year by 2020. There's no clear timeline of how that rate will increase between now and then. And the former NUMMI plant where the Model S and Model X are currently built will need plenty of enhancements if it's going to turn out that many vehicles. In 2015, Tesla delivered just 50,580 cars. Again, that wasn't for lack of demand.
Investors seem confident in the Model 3, at least for now. Today, the day after the announcement, shares of TSLA are already up about 5 percent from the previous close, although an initial spike in the price has already subsided somewhat. Maybe those investors did the simple math of 1,000 x (number of reservations). Maybe they believe the car will change the industry. Maybe they just heard about Tesla for the first time.
Us, we're just waiting to hear what Musk says next; yesterday's announcement was "part 1 of the Model 3 reveal," according to a Tweet from Musk. We'll learn about the dual-motor cars, the various battery sizes, and upgrades like Ludicrous or maybe even Plaid speed, all of which will spur even more intenders to plunk down a grand for a deposit. Thankfully this car isn't trying to add any new tricks, like the falcon-wing doors of the Model X, that could further slow development and the move to production. It would appear to be a scaled-down Model S, but we know things are never that simple.
Musk said online ordering opened early yesterday "to ensure no server overload." While that may be, we'd wager that it also didn't hurt to build the hype a bit bigger. This company knows how to get attention with its secrecy and splashy reveals. Those 180,000 (and counting!) prospective customers had better hope it's as good at following through on the promise.