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Tesla Model 3 pre-orders reach 276,000

Elon Musk unveils Tesla's newest electric car, the Model 3, at the company's Hawthorne Design Studio on Thursday.

Elon Musk unveils Tesla’s newest electric car, the Model 3, at the company’s Hawthorne Design Studio on Thursday.

(Tesla Motors)

Tesla Motors Inc.'s Elon Musk said worldwide pre-orders for the newly announced Model 3 electric car hit 276,000 during the weekend.

The chief executive posted the number Sunday on his Twitter feed. He said that if the trend continues, orders will hit 500,000.

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Tesla’s new Model 3 starts at $35,000 and has a range of 215 miles per charge. Customers must put down $1,000 to reserve one of the cars, which go on sale in late 2017. Customers are free to change their minds, however: The money down is refundable.

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The Palo Alto, Calif., company started taking orders early Thursday before Musk unveiled the new car.

Musk said in tweets that the company is focusing on ramping up production and eventually will need to build a factory in Europe to satisfy demand.

He said the car will be rear-wheel-drive with optional all-wheel-drive, and its steering controls will feel like a spaceship.

The large number of orders makes it likely that many won’t get a $7,500 U.S. tax credit for buying an electric car. The credit phases out when a manufacturer hits 200,000 in U.S. sales. Tesla won’t say how many of the orders came from the U.S., but Musk said in tweets that a production ramp-up should let large numbers of Model 3 customers get the tax credit.

Tesla plans to have a presence in India before Model 3 production starts, and its high-speed charging system and service will cover all of Italy later this year, Musk says.

The Model 3 is less than half the cost of Tesla’s previous models, and its range is about double what drivers get from current competitors in its price range, such as the Nissan Leaf and BMW i3.

It also faces competition from General Motors, which is set to start selling the Chevrolet Bolt electric car at the end of this year with a similar price tag and a 200-mile range.

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