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By Phil LeBeau, CNBC

Years from now, people will look back at the unveiling of the Model 3 as a watershed moment not only for Tesla Motors, but for the entire auto industry.


Within 24 hours of launching its first lower-price electric car, Tesla locked in a large base of paid reservations directly from retail buyers, not dealers, for the model.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the company received 198,000 Model 3 orders in 24 hours. In a tweet Friday, he touted a "bright" future for electric cars.

"Recommend ordering soon, as the wait time is growing rapidly," Musk said in a tweet Friday afternoon.

"We are simply awestruck by the demand surfacing for the Model 3," wrote Stifel auto analyst James Albertine. "We had no idea the reservation orders would be this strong."

Read More from CNBC: Would You Put Down $1,000 for the New Tesla Model 3?

Tesla shares were trading about 3 percent higher Friday afternoon. The trading volume in the stock more than doubled its 30-day average.

According to one Carnegie Mellon professor, the Model 3 may have sold more units in one day than the entire U.S. plug-in auto industry in 2015.

Tesla says the most basic version of the Model 3 will start at $35,000, though the first ones delivered are expected to sell for far higher prices, perhaps even as much as $55,000 or $60,000 due to customers adding more features like a bigger battery pack with greater range.

The automaker promises the base model will have a range of 215 miles fully charged.

Musk estimated the average car would sell for roughly $42,000, including optional features, for total sales of about $7.5 billion. However, that assumes all of the customers who made a deposit will complete the order.