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Tesla crushes short thesis on declining Model 3 demand

Tesla announced during its Q2 2018 earnings call that interest and demand for the Model 3 remains strong, particularly from customers who are not part of the company’s initial line of reservation holders. The update follows months of speculation that the rollout of the Model 3 has been anything but smooth. Since starting production of the electric car, Tesla has faced difficulty after difficulty, spurred by aggressive timelines announced by CEO Elon Musk and bottlenecks that emerged from its production lines. When the Model 3 was released, Elon Musk boldly declared that Tesla would aim to manufacture 5,000 of the vehicles per week by the end of 2017. That goal proved elusive until the end of Q2 2018, and only because Tesla adopted a “burst build” strategy.

While Tesla managed to hit its target of manufacturing 5,000 Model 3 per week at the end of Q2 2018, doubts from the company’s critics about the demand for the electric car emerged. As noted by Elon Musk during the recently held earnings call, Tesla actually sustained the Model 3’s 5,000/week production rate for multiple weeks in July. With the company producing more vehicles, Tesla began stockpiling more of the finished Model 3 in several lots such as the Burbank Airport while the cars waited for delivery.

Lots filled with the Tesla Model 3 ahead of Q2 2018’s end. [Credit: Tesla Bull/Twitter]

Viewed by the company’s critics, the lots filled with vehicles were proof that demand for the Model 3 was declining, and that the cars indicated that customers were opting out of deliveries due to poor quality. Latrilife, a Tesla critic, even announced on Twitter that Tesla’s Burbank Airport lot is under 24/7 surveillance. Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberrino also published a note recently stating that Model 3 demand appears to be waning based on social media activity around the electric car.

According to Tesla on its recently held earnings call, however, interest in the Model 3 is alive and well. While responding to a question from Toni Sacconaghi of Bernstein, Tesla worldwide head of sales Robin Ren stated the company now sees more orders for the AWD dual motor and Performance variants combined compared to the Long Range RWD Model 3. Perhaps even more importantly, Tesla has also been seeing interest in the Model 3 coming from individuals who are not part of the electric car’s list of reservation holders.

“Since we opened the configurator to the general public in early July, we have seen an increased demand coming from people who do not currently hold a reservation. This is something that we found super exciting. These are the people who have no idea about Model 3 and they heard about Model 3 is available to order. Many of them requested test drives.

“Since early July, we have over 60,000 test drive requests in the US alone. These people come into our stores, do the test drive, and they become super excited, and they decide to order the car. We believe the strong demand, especially from non-reservation holders, will continue as we increase production.”

The Model 3 showcased at the 2018 Goodwood Festival of Speed. [Credit: Dean Scott]

Tesla also noted that Model 3 customers have been trading in vehicles that are not in the electric car’s segment. The Model 3 competes in the midsize luxury sedan market, but the Top 5 vehicles the electric car’s customers have been trading in are the Toyota Prius, BMW 3 Series, Honda Accord, Honda Civic, and the Nissan Leaf. These vehicles, save for the BMW 3 Series, are not luxury sedans at all. Instead, they belong to a more affordable segment in the mainstream auto market. This means that as Tesla produces more of the electric car, even customers who drive more affordable vehicles are considering the purchase of a Model 3, a car that is more expensive.

Part of this could be due, of course, due to Tesla’s promised $35,000 Standard Range RWD version of the Model 3, which is expected to start production in 6-9 months. At its entry-level price, the Model 3 has the potential to take a big chunk of the midsize sedan market, possibly even taking on mainstays such as the Toyota Camry. Even without its base model, however, the electric car is still a compelling purchase, considering that it is one of the only vehicles on the road that is set to get better over time, thanks to Tesla’s trademark over-the-air updates. And that, for some customers, is worth the extra investment.

Tesla crushes short thesis on declining Model 3 demand
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