With the launch of its highly anticipated Model 3 in “production Hell” — to quote CEO Elon Musk — Tesla reported a record quarterly loss Wednesday of $619 million.
Right on cue, Model 3 customers like me got an email three hours later.
“Thank you again for your Model 3 reservation,” read the missive from Telsa’s Palo Alto headquarters. “We’re making significant progress clearing early production bottlenecks but, as we continue to work through them, your estimated delivery timing will now be slightly later than we originally expected.”
Checking my account at Tesla.com, delivery for my sedan, with 310-mile range and an estimated 5.1-second 0-60 sprint, has been delayed a month — from February-April of next year to March-May. Customers ordering models with 220 miles of range and all-wheel drive will wait even longer. Orders are filled based on when $1,000 deposits were received (in my case, April 2016), with priority given to Tesla employees and repeat customers.
Two pals in the Detroit area, both longtime owners of Tesla Model S sedans with delivery dates ahead of mine, got similar notices with similar delays.
Tesla’s charismatic founder, has always made grand claims about his products that often are followed by readjustments for reality. For example, Tesla’s most recent model, the stunning, falcon-door Model X crossover, was promised for delivery in late 2013 — but didn’t arrive in driveways until nearly two years later. Now in full production, the $80,000 electric ute is selling at about 2,000 units a month — or just below Model S sales (one of America’s top-selling large luxury sedans) at 2,400 units.
Musk predicted that the compact Model 3 — the luxury maker’s first chariot under $40,000 (my big-battery version will retail at $49,000) — would deliver 5,000 units per week by December as the company ramped up to make good on an unprecedented 450,000 pre-orders. That prediction got a bucket of cold water when Tesla moved that production goal to possibly March. Tesla only produced 260 cars by September, well shy of its target of 1,600.
This week’s announcement of delays was expected, even if the size of the loss was not.
Musk has long predicted “production Hell” for the company’s key, volume model, but the delays have raised concerns that customers will flee to other brands like Chevrolet’s Bolt EV that promise similar performance to the Model 3, but without the production headaches.
“Model 3 reservation holders may not be thrilled about the fact that they have to wait longer than they thought for their vehicle, but it likely won’t cause them to cancel their orders en masse,” Edmunds auto analyst Jessica Caldwell said Wednesday. “Many Model 3 customers put deposits down on the vehicle more than a year ago before they even saw the vehicle, so it’s clear Tesla buyers don’t follow the usual logic-driven car-buying process.”
Guilty as charged. I deposited $1,000 on the Model 3 fully expecting glitches — as did my Michigan peers.
My reasons for buying the Model 3 transcend the simple need for transportation. I suspect buyers of other highly anticipated cars like the Corvette Z06 or Dodge Challenger Hellcat would say the same.
A hopeless motorhead who likes fast cars, I also looked at buying a ferocious BMW M2. But as Musk has proven with his Model S and Model X, Tesla is a singular, American-made brand — from its “Ludicous” acceleration to tablet-sized console displays. It is a visionary tech company like Apple that has brought fresh eyes to an old market. The Model 3 promises to be fast, beautifully designed, with a unique interior. In short, it’s different.
There is also the journey. As a startup trying to compete with giants like GM and Honda, Tesla is due for stumbles. Musk, like Henry Ford a century ago (Tesla’s “Model” badging is an intended echo of Ford’s Model Ts and As), is a rare auto pioneer trying to transform an industry. Other automakers openly admire Tesla’s vision — and the way it has forced them to reimagine their products.
So I will wait. But others may not.
“This delay won’t be the last,” says auto analyst Anton Wahlman of financial website Seeking Alpha who has anticipated Tesla’s problems. He predicts only 100,000 Model 3s will come off the line in 2018.
Of the 450,000 with deposits, many have bought into Musk’s vision of a “sustainable energy future” of EVs.
Others expect a $7,500 tax credit, which is now on Washington’s chopping block. Not me.
Even if Congress keeps the EV credit, Telsa will have hit its 200,000 limit (counting all Model S, X and 3s sold) by the time I get my car. For green buyers, the Chevy Bolt — or forthcoming, 200-mile range Nissan Leaf EV — should do just fine. I’ve driven the superb Bolt EV — even autocrossed it — and its torquey, all-electric, 200-mile plus range (albeit front-wheel drive versus the Model 3’s rear-wheel drive) parallels Tesla.
Brand matters. How much will be in the eye of the buyer.
Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at email@example.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.