DETROIT — The time has come for Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk to fulfill the promise of moving from niche automaker to provider of affordable, all-electric cars to the masses.
After nearly a decade of producing premium, low-volume vehicles, the first production Model 3 — starting at about $35,000 — was expected to have rolled off the assembly line Friday, July 7, at Tesla's factory in Fremont, Calif.
The first 30 owners, many of whom are expected to be employees, are to receive their cars during a "handover party" on July 28.
But the celebration will be short-lived. Tesla faces unprecedented, if not unbelievable, targets to ramp up Model 3 production to 20,000 units a month by year end — a key to Musk's plan to produce 500,000 vehicles in 2018 and about 1 million by 2020.
"It is definitely a make-it-or-break-it moment for Tesla," said Mike Ramsey, a research director for Gartner Inc. "They have to produce a car that has fewer problems than the Model X. If the car comes out with the kind of issues the Model X had, it could be very damaging to Tesla."
Ramsey and others stressed they do not see Tesla folding if the Model 3 launch is problematic, but they said quickly filling hundreds of thousands of Model 3 reservations is critical for the company's business operations.