Tesla is pausing production at its California assembly plant in Fremont in order to prepare for Model 3 production, the company announced on Wednesday, and Reuters reports via separate sources that it will look to start test production of its Model 3 on February 20, ahead of planned wide-scale production beginning sometime later this year.
The Model 3 is Tesla’s more affordable all-electric vehicle, which has seen over 373,000 pre-orders and which will offer a range of at least 215 miles with pricing starting at $35,000 U.S. before government tax incentives. The vehicle will test the limits of Tesla’s production capability, since the company’s CEO Elon Musk has said they’re targeting production volume of 500,000 cars per year by 2018, in response to strong demand for the Model 3. Tesla is currently making around 100,000 vehicles per year, based on its production total for the final quarter of 2016.
Test production of the vehicle could help the company finalize design details, a process which sources told Reuters is still underway. The stated production start date target for the Model 3 is July 2017, a date considered very ambitious given internal progress, according to Reuters’ sources. Musk himself has also noted these dates may change depending on supplier ability to meet Tesla’s requirements.
Tesla faces more pressure than ever regarding getting Model 3 production underway, since Chevrolet has made good on its promise to produce and begin sales of its own Bolt EV with a 200+ mile range and price tag under $30,000 once you bake in green car incentives. The company also has a lot to prove in terms of investors, so any signal it can provide that it’s on its way to production at scale will be welcome.