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Tesla announces new, smaller electric vehicle named Model 3

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Tesla Motors today confirmed plans for its newest vehicle, a smaller car called the Model 3, which Auto Express reports is designed squarely to take on BMW's 3 series.  According to the report — which Tesla verified today — the vehicle will be 20 percent smaller than the Model S, and go more than 200 miles on a charge. The Model 3 will be unveiled for the first time in 2016, with sales beginning the following year, Auto Express says.

The Model 3 will actually be the company's fourth car, and is set to come after Tesla's Model X. That vehicle was displayed at an event in California in 2012, and is headed to early buyers later this year. It's a "crossover" that falls somewhere between a sedan and a sport utility vehicle and fits up to seven passengers. The company originally planned to begin building it last year, but that timetable was pushed back.

In an interview with Auto Express, Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk said the name for the Model 3 stemmed back to a legal entanglement with Ford, which threatened to sue Tesla over a trademark for "Model E."

"We were going to call it model E for a while and then Ford sued us saying it wanted to use the Model E — I thought this is crazy, Ford's trying to kill sex! So we'll have to think of another name," Musk said. "The new model is going to be called Model III, we'll have three bars to represent it and it'll be S III X!"

Less range than existing Tesla cars

The Model 3's reported range would be less than the Model S, which is rated for 306 miles when equipped with the 85-kWh battery. By comparison, the Roadster (Tesla's first car) is rated for 245 miles per charge, and weighed nearly 2,000 pounds less.

Some details about the vehicle were outed by Musk in a talk back in March, including the 20 percent size difference and 200 mile range. In an interview with Autocar earlier this month, Tesla's vice president of engineering Chris Porritt added that the new model would not be based on the aluminum platform found in the Model S, and that the company was banking on more cost-effective battery technologies to reduce overall costs of the car.

We won't know what the Model 3 looks like just yet. Auto Express has published a number of photos, that Tesla now says were "mock-ups" based on speculation.