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Tesla warns new customers of a 2-year wait for the Model 3

Tesla warns new customers of a 2-year wait for the Model 3
A Model 3 mockup outside Tesla's battery factory near Reno. (Russ Mitchell / Los Angeles Times)

Tesla said its new Model 3 mid-market electric sedan is on schedule and will begin shipping to customers by the end of next year. But in an update on its website Monday the company said the delivery estimate for new customers is "mid 2018 or later."

The update "does not reflect any change in our plans. We still plan to begin Model 3 deliveries in 2017, and we adjusted the delivery date on our marketing page to reflect more accurate timing for new/future reservation holders," a Tesla spokesman said.

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As many as 373,000 potential customers put down $1,000 reservation deposits to get in line for a Model 3, the company said. Those deposits are refundable. Tesla has not said how many have pulled their deposits.

What, if anything, the website update means for the company's Model 3 rollout schedule is unclear. Tesla has pledged  to produce 500,000 automobiles by the end of 2018. Last year, it manufactured 50,000 cars.

"It's a huge undertaking to go from 50,000 to 500,000 cars," said Karl Brauer, analyst at Kelley Blue Book.

He noted that the company has not said how many Model 3s it will deliver next year. Tesla had promised to start delivering its Model X SUV to customers by the end of the third quarter of 2015. And technically, it did — six of them. "Almost nobody started receiving the Model X in large numbers until well into 2016," Brauer said.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has said he intentionally sets unrealistic production deadlines to spur suppliers and employees and speed projects along. The company's manufacturing plant, in Fremont, is under orders from Musk to start turning out finished vehicles by July 1.

In a call with financial analysts earlier this year, Musk said, "In order to achieve volume production of a car, a new car with several thousand unique items, you actually have to set a target date internally and with suppliers that is quite aggressive. And that is the date that has to be taken seriously."

The company sells two high-end cars, the Model X and the Model S sedan, both of which can easily cost more than $100,000.

The Model 3 is expected to start at a base price of $35,000 before options. The market reception for the car is considered crucial to the company's financial success.

Twitter: @russ1mitchell

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