New Tesla economy car sets off a frenzy at showrooms in Tampa Bay –

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TAMPA — Daniel Rios walked into an auto showroom in Tampa Thursday afternoon and put down $1,000 cash for a car that he has not seen, touched nor driven. In fact, the car won’t even come off an assembly line until nearly two years from now.

But Rios only needed to know two things about this car.

It will be a bargain, in his mind. And it is a Tesla.

Across the country and here in the Tampa Bay area, Tesla’s announcement Thursday that it will offer an economy version of its car set off a frenzy of people wanting to put down a deposit.

Tesla’s Model 3 will start with a $35,000 price tag, not counting a $7,500 federal tax credit or other government incentives and rebates. It is a sizable drop considering that the price of the Model S, a sedan, starts at $71,000. Tesla’s Model X SUV starts at $80,000.

Rios, a 27-year-old computer programmer who currently drives an Infiniti G37, expects he will end up paying about $50,000 for the Model S once he gets it customized (he is considering a performance package).

“I could get the Chevy Volt for cheap,” he said, but added: “I like to have nice things.”

Indeed, the electric-powered Tesla is a nice thing.

As other electric vehicles struggle to maintain sales while gas prices droop, Tesla has distinguished itself as a luxury car that happens to be electric, rather than an electric car that will save the driver money.

The Model S and X have features like Falcon Wing doors and autopilot, where the car can essentially drive itself on the highway. The vehicles do not have a motor and therefore use the front area as additional storage space, dubbed a “frunk.” The center dashboard of a Tesla also features a 17-inch touchscreen monitor. The most expensive of the Model S’s run more than $115,000 and can zoom from 0 to 60 mph in 2.8 seconds, with a top speed of 155 mph.

The features of the new economy Tesla were not made public until late Thursday night, too late to be included in this story.

Last year, 305 Teslas were registered in the Tampa Bay region, according to IHS Automotive. It is the third biggest market in the state after Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, which had 523 cars registered, and West Palm Beach/Ft. Pierce, which had 420.

According to the data, 704 vehicles have been registered in the Tampa Bay region since 2012, compared with 994 in the West Palm Beach region and 1,538 in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.

The Tampa Bay Region “definitely is a big market for Tesla,” said Jeremy Acevado, senior analyst for the California-based consumer car research firm

Of Tampa Bay’s Tesla owners, 50 percent have an estimated household income of $150,000 or more, 79 percent are men, and 72 percent are between 35 and 65 years old. These demographics line up with national statistics, according to IHS.

Acevado said that the Model 3 will likely appeal to a wider audience and can be affordable for a middle-class family or young professional.

“If Tesla does get their Model 3 to market pretty soon it’s going to be a game changer. That really can shake things up” for the electric vehicle market, said Acevado.

The company anticipates the Model 3s to begin production at the end of 2017, and once they are released, Tesla is forecasting sales of 500,000 cars annually.

The uncertainty was too much for Char Peppers, who drives her Mustang GT 300 from Wesley Chapel to her office in Tampa every day and is ready to go electric. She stopped by the Tesla showroom in Tampa but left without making a deposit.

“I’m 95 percent sure,” she said. “But I’m a little apprehensive without seeing it.”

That wasn’t the case at the Tesla showroom at the University Town Center Mall in Sarasota, where hundreds of people lined up to put down a deposit.

One of them was Larry Chanin, president of the Florida Tesla Enthusiasts car club, which he founded in 2011. It has about 600 members.

Despite that credential, Chanin, a 68-year-old retired engineer, had to wait in line nearly an hour to make his deposit. He said the first question the salesperson asked him was: How many do you want?

Just one. For his wife. He already has one.

Chanin said he is excited for the new model, but worries the roads will become saturated with Teslas, leading to long lines at supercharging stations and less convenient travel (Teslas require their own charging station).

The company says that won’t be an issue because it is adding more stations.

“As Tesla sees it, a critical component of the adoption of electric vehicles is to create a seamless and convenient charging experience wherever owners choose to travel,” said Tesla spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson. “We’ve designed a network that allows Tesla owners to drive all day, charging for just 20-40 minutes at one of our Supercharger stations and then stopping at night to stay at one of the thousands of hotels and resorts that offer Tesla Destination Charging.”

Stephen Hickey, the managing partner of Eddie V’s Prime Seafood in Tampa, said he has seen a dramatic increase in Teslas pulling into the restaurant’s valet stand, where they operate a Tesla charger.

At first, he said, the valets parked a few Teslas each week. Now, they will have as many as a dozen on a Friday or Saturday night.

Hickey plans to add another charging station in the next six months to keep up with demand.

Times senior news researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Reach Alli Knothe at Follow @KnotheA on Twitter.

New Tesla economy car sets off a frenzy at showrooms in Tampa Bay –