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LIers line up for hours to reserve Tesla Model 3 cars

Tesla Product Specialist Hannah Hunter, left, helps Dawn

Tesla Product Specialist Hannah Hunter, left, helps Dawn and Nick Gentner, of Blue Point, with their children Daytona, 5, and Loudon, 3, pre-order the Tesla Model 3 in the dealership's Manhasset showroom on Thursday, March 31, 2016. Credit: Barry Sloan

Customers lined up for hours Thursday morning at the Manhasset dealership of Tesla Motors to reserve the company’s first affordable electric car.

Dentist Suresh Patel, 43, of Sayville, was one of the first to plunk down a $1,000 deposit for the delivery of the Model 3, which was unveiled in Los Angeles Thursday night and goes into production late next year. The delivery date is still uncertain.

About 134,000 people worldwide reserved the car Thursday and another 46,000 followed suit Friday, Tesla said.

Patel went to the dealership in the Americana Manhasset Mall with a friend who also placed an order for the $35,000 car. “We got there when the store opened, about 10 a.m.,” he said. “There were about 100 people in front of us and, within minutes, another 20 or 30 people behind us. It took about 2½ hours to get into the store and physically place an order for the car.”

He said one group had camped in front of the small dealership all night.

Long lines, reminiscent of the crowds at Apple stores for early models of the iPhone, were reported from Hong Kong to Austin, Texas, to Washington, according to Bloomberg News.

Tesla’s media relations office declined in an email to disclose the total number of people who put down a deposit for the car Thursday.

Nick and Dawn Gentner of Blue Point said they had heard about the long line, so they waited until the afternoon to drive with their 3- and 5-year-old children to Manhasset to place their order. “The models that have come out so far haven’t been family affordable cars,” said Nick Gentner, 36, a foreman for the Long Island Rail Road and a self-described car buff who plans to use the Model 3 for his commute to Queens.

Costing about half of other Teslas, the five-seat Model 3 will have a 215-mile range between rechargings, Tesla said, about double that of most competitors in its price range, and be eligible for federal and other government incentives intended to promote nonpolluting vehicles. The federal incentive, a $7,500 credit, will end once Tesla sells 200,000 vehicles in the United States, a milestone expected to be years off.

Rear-wheel drive will be standard with four-wheel optional.

The Model 3 is the most serious test yet of 13-year-old Tesla’s ability to go from a niche player to a full-fledged automaker. It could be the car that finally makes electrics mainstream — or the limited number of Tesla stores, chargers and service centers could scare off customers.

The company’s website lists nearly 80 stores, including locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Tesla sells two vehicles now, the Model S sedan, which starts at $71,000, and the Model X SUV, which starts around $80,000.

The Model 3 puts Tesla within reach of millions more customers. Last year, only 2.1 percent of new cars purchased in the U.S. cost $75,000 or more.

But Tesla faces several hurdles. U.S. buyers remain skeptical of electric cars, and low gas prices haven’t helped already anemic sales. Sales of new electric vehicles grew 6 percent in the U.S. last year, but they still remain less than 1 percent of the overall vehicle market, according to IHS Automotive. Tesla also faces growing competition from big, deep-pocketed rivals such as General Motors Co.

With Bloomberg News

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