It's bigger than Star Wars.

The  Tesla Model 3 is the 200-miles range electric car that will debut next year, but over the weekend, 276,000 people plunked down $1,000 to reserve one

CEO Elon Musk mentioned that the average selling price is $42,000 (with a base price of $35,000), which means the total haul will be around $12B. In terms of actual incoming cash flow, that's $276M for a car that few of us have actually driven.

That's also bigger than the Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening weekend at $246M. It's a testament about the state of the electric car industry, despite what my colleague here says about the number of charging stations being too low (which is true). More importantly, it's a testament to Musk himself and the company in terms of how to effectively build momentum for your product.

First, this was as big or bigger than any movie opening. People lined up around the block. They didn't just hand over $10-$15 to see a movie, they handed over $1,000 for a pre-order. The car doesn't even come out until later in 2017, so it's more like 18 months than a year. You can't even test drive it. The price for the car is about twice what you'd pay for a similarly sized Nissan or a Mazda. (The average price of $42,000 puts it closer to the price of an Audi A4 or A6, actually.)

So what's the secret? I see a direct comparison to Apple and how they market their products. It's a veil of secrecy that is only partially obscured. We know the car will have a massive tablet that looks like an iPad (the bigger 12.9-inch version not the smaller one). It will go 0-60 in four seconds, or close to what you'd expect in a Corvette Stingray. It will support Autopilot for autonomous driving on the highway. And, it looks like a spaceship both inside and out. It screams Apple from every B-pillar.

All of that pales in comparison to the overall strategy behind the product. The company made a legit sports-car to whet our appetite, then a large luxury car that goes 300 miles on one charge. Elon Musk became the new Steve Jobs. The company set up their own charging stations all over the country (although there's only three of them in my entire state). When you order one, you pick out your features like you are ordering carpet and blinds for your house, then have it delivered to the store in your area owned by Tesla, craftily avoiding the word dealership. If you don't happen to live near a store, you can have one delivered to your driveway.

If that control over the ecosystem, the high-profile CEO pulling levers from behind a curtain, the lines of people waiting to order a product, the mountains of cash collected even before a product ships, and the fine control over a hype machine doesn't remind you of Apple, you are not paying attention.

Now for the coup. The Model 3 is the "everyman" car, which is why some estimates suggest there will be as many as 500,000 pre-orders before the dust settles. We wonder why GM just paid $1B for Cruise Automation, right? Maybe they smelled something in the air. At 500,000 units, it will put Tesla well above iconic brands like Mazda and VW (in 2015, both sold around 400,000 units each in the U.S.) although that's still nowhere near Nissan (1.5M vehicles) or Ford (2.6M vehicles). 

This is the EV that will finally turn Tesla into a mainstream power.

What do you think? Is Tesla the new Apple? Post in comments.

Published on: Apr 4, 2016
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.