Elon Musk hands over first 30 Tesla Model 3s, but warns of 'manufacturing hell' ahead

Lights go dim. A rocket-launch-style countdown begins. Upbeat music pounds out some bass-heavy drama. 10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1, lift off.

Headlights shine onto the stage, and a red Tesla Model 3 rolls up a ramp.

The car brakes to a halt. A dramatic pause, and there he is! Chief Executive Elon Musk — the man making electric cars cool — steps out, walking to the edge of the stage to introduce the new “mid-market” vehicle.

A crowd of thousands — mostly Tesla employees – goes wild.

It’s supposed to be party time in Fremont, outside the renegade car company’s assembly plant. Tesla fans have been waiting for months for the company’s first truly mass-production car to hit the road.

But Musk talks for about 15 minutes, says the first 30 cars will be handed over to their new owners – all Tesla employees – and then that’s it. The much-anticipated show is over.

Now comes the hard part. Musk claimed Friday Tesla has at least 500,000 advance deposits on the car.

Whether the company can turn them out by the hundreds of thousands, and keep the investment capital flowing to pay for it, is a question that many Tesla stock investors ask themselves every day.

Before the show, in a meeting with the media, Musk warned of “six months of manufacturing hell” ahead. On stage, Musk extended that period to a possible nine months.

Model 3 production is expected to start slow: 100 cars in August, 150 in September, followed by what Musk calls an “exponential” jump to 20,000 a month by New Year’s Day. On stage, Musk extended that period to a possible nine months. Regular customers – that is, people who don’t work at Tesla – will have to wait until September or October to start getting their cars, the company said.

A Tesla news release on Friday offered some previously unreleased details. The base price of the car, $35,000 before incentives, was well known. The price of add-ons was not. It turns out that options ranging from fancy wheels to self-driving capability could lift the price to $60,000.

Some other specifics emerged: The Model 3’s range is 220 miles. For an extra $9,000, a bigger battery can boost range to 310 miles. Zero-to-60 time is 5.6 seconds.

The company aims to sell 500,000 cars, including the Models S and X. Last year, it sold about 76,000 cars total.

Quality will be a key issue as production ramps up. The Wall Street Journal test drove a Model 3 on Friday, and wrote that the ride “wasn’t free of glitches, underscoring why Tesla is delivering the first Model 3 batches to employees. The test sedan wouldn’t slip into drive from park and needed to be reset, similar to rebooting a computer.”

russ.mitchell@latimes.com

Twitter: @russ1mitchell

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UPDATES:

July 29 9:20 a.m.: This story was updated with additional details.

July 29, 6:15 p.m.: Photo of automobile updated.

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