The first production model of the Tesla Model 3 out the assembly line in Fremont, California , U.S. is seen in this photo from July 10, 2017.

Electric car maker Tesla has rolled out its new Model 3 vehicle – the company’s cheapest car to date.

The first 30 customers – most of them employees of the company – received their cars on Friday.

Chief executive Elon Musk said the Model 3 was the “best car for its cost, either electric or gasoline”.

Prices start at $35,000 (£26,650), which the firm hopes will bring mass market interest.

The price is still higher than that of rival electric car the Nissan Leaf, which starts at $30,680, or the hybrid Chevrolet Volt, which goes for $34,095.

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Past Tesla models, the “S” and “X”, had a starting price of $80,000, putting them beyond the means of many.

The company aims to produce 5,000 units of the Model 3 a week in 2017, and 10,000 a week by 2018. Buyers ordering now are being told to expect delivery late next year.

More than half a million customers have already placed deposits.

If Tesla can successfully produce and sell that many cars a year, it will outperform BMW, Mercedes, and Lexus in the US.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk pictured smiling in Adelaide, South Australia, on 7 July 2017.Image copyrightEPA
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Showman Mr Musk was on buoyant form at a delivery ceremony at the firm’s plant in Fremont, California, driving on to an outdoor stage in a Model 3.

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“For the future, the future being now, the cars will be increasingly autonomous,” Mr Musk said.

He added that every Tesla model had the hardware needed to drive itself.

“You will be able to watch a movie, talk to friends, go to sleep…”

The Model 3’s electric battery will run for 354km (220 miles) before needing a recharge, Tesla says.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk introduces one of the first Model 3 cars off the Fremont factory's production line at the company's facilities in Fremont, California, on July 28, 2017.Image copyrightREUTERS
Image captionElon Musk introduces one of the first cars off the production line

The more affordable Model 3 is a significant step for the firm, whose market value hit $49bn in April.

The Model 3 launch comes a week after the UK government announced an end to sales of new petrol and diesel cars by 2040, under plans to tackle air pollution.