Even before the Tesla Model 3 was officially unveiled at the end of March this year, more than 120,000 people had put down $1,000 (or local currency equivalent) at their local Tesla store to secure themselves a place in line to order the mass-market, $35,000 long-distance electric car car.
By the end of the reveal event, that figure had risen to more than 135,000 in the first twenty-four hours, setting a new record for pre-order reservations for a new car. A few months later, even after Tesla had accounted for double-orders placed erroneously (and illegal orders placed by speculators trying to circumvent the 2-car max rule Tesla has in place), the California company had so many pre-reservations that it had to shift its expansion plans up a gear in order to ensure it could meet demand and fulfil orders in a timely manner when production starts late next year.
Until recently, Tesla’s website has continued to tell Model 3 reservation holders making their $1,000 deposit for a place in the queue that their cars would be delivered some time in “Late 2017,” with all Model 3 reservations made to date fulfilled by the company in the time between the start of Model 3 production mid-2017 and the end of the year. But over the weekend, Tesla began telling customers placing a new deposit for a Model 3 that their orders won’t be fulfilled until the middle of 2018.
In other words, if you’re placing a deposit down on Model 3, you could find yourself with a two-year wait before your car is on your driveway.
The change immediately caused some to question if Tesla was quietly pushing back the launch date for Model 3, something Tesla CEO Elon Musk quickly dispelled, responding to Fortune Magazine’s assertion that “Tesla says new Model 3 reservations won’t’ arrive for close to 2 years” by issuing the following tweet:
@FortuneMagazine This is because the first 12 months of production are sold out
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 18, 2016
For Tesla, the news that it now has enough pre-reservations to have a two-year wait list is both a blessing and a curse. Assuming all of Tesla’s pre-reservation holders convert their reservation into a confirmed order, Tesla’s ongoing money worries should ease substantially. But while Tesla is adamant its Model 3 will come to market on time and on budget, history suggests that Tesla’s new electric car will be delayed.
Why? So far, every single car Tesla has made, from the Roadster through to the Model X has been delayed. In the case of Model X, that delay moved the car’s planned early 2014 launch date to late 2015. Yet to be fair to Tesla by now, Tesla should have learned the lessons that caused Roadster, Model S and Model X to be late and without any of the complexities that caused the majority of the Model X’s delays.
But the real challenge facing Tesla isn’t that its Model 3 reservation wait list now extends to 2018: it’s that not all of its customers will be content to wait two years for a car that by then will have plenty of competition from other automakers.
Nissan, for example, is expected to have its second-generation LEAF electric car in production by then with a car that (rumors suggest) will offer a comparable range to Model 3 alongside some form of autonomous vehicle operation. The Chevrolet Bolt, a car which is already in production and is due to hit dealer lots in key markets in the next month, already offers 238 miles of range for a price not far off the Model 3’s base MSRP. And that’s before we even examine rumored longer-range electric cars due to go on sale by 2018 from BMW, Volkswagen, Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
At the moment, Tesla’s electric vehicle market dominance is driven by the fact that its cars offer more range per charge than any other automaker, the autopilot capabilities of its cars, and the fact that its vehicles can be updated with new features and capabilities via over-the-air updates. Being first in all of those areas has helped it stay at the forefront of electric vehicle sales.
But if other automakers are bringing similar-ranged cars to market with similar features at a similar price — and they can produce vehicles more quickly than Tesla, it’s questionable if that lead will remain.
And that’s why Tesla’s reservation book pushing out to 2018 could be a curse as well as a blessing.
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