What Tesla’s New Model 3 Reservation System Means for Buyers

View of Tesla Model 3 in Chelsea, NYC show room
You won’t need a Tesla Model 3 reservation anymore, but many things remained the same. | Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As Tesla confronts a rising number of dropped Model 3 reservations, the automaker is abandoning its original system for ordering the car. Instead of taking $1,000, Tesla will ask for a $2,500 deposit, the Los Angeles Times reported.

That will allow anyone to configure their car on the company website, regardless of what place they held in line. Once Tesla assigns a VIN to the customer, the deposit becomes nonrefundable.

While that’s a change of policy for Model 3 orders, it doesn’t change for customers hoping to get a $35,000 model. Meanwhile, it means anyone who waited to secure a place in line in 2016 wasted their time.

Model 3 reservations are officially useless.

The thousands who stood in line in March 2016 believed they were getting priority over those who sat at home that day. At the time, Tesla bragged about the length of those lines.

However, by late 2017, it was clear that the place in line held by $1,000 was precarious. Only those who wanted the most expensive versions of the Model 3 have taken delivery of the car.

Those who hoped to pay $35,000 for a Tesla continued waiting, and it didn’t matter if they were first in line or sitting at home knitting on that spring day in 2016. By the start of 2018, it became obvious that reservations were meaningless, which is why so many people dropped them.

Tesla’s switch to $2,500 deposits makes it official, while it provides cover to stop reporting on how many reservations the company lost.

$2,500 still won’t get you an ‘affordable’ Tesla.

2017 Chevrolet Bolt EV
Frustrated Model 3 hopefuls have a few options in 2018. | Eric Schaal/The Cheat Sheet

Just as $1,000 couldn’t get $35,000 Model 3 hopefuls into a car, putting down $2,500 won’t get you the “affordable” version, either. Tesla reps confirmed in June that the earliest that car will roll off the line will be 2019.

To be precise, the company’s media relations team said they would be come “6-9 months” from the start of July. Given Tesla’s habit of stretching deadlines and missing targets, that very well could mean summer or fall 2019, if not sometime in 2020.

By then, those who sat at Tesla stores in 2016 would be celebrating their four-year anniversary of waiting for the car. Meanwhile, several viable Model 3 alternatives sat in dealerships in 2018.

The coming quality test

Now that Tesla has passed one of its revised production goals, the automaker will face impending quality tests. Some of the reported problems with early Model 3s would have been unthinkable to other automakers.

When we looked at the Tesla Model 3 owners’ site in early July, there were numerous glitches still being reported in deliveries from the last weeks of June. That tells us that the automaker still hasn’t worked out its production kinks.

Will it matter to the automaker’s loyal customers? So far, the company’s defective Model 3s may have sunk some Tesla fans enthusiasm, but it hasn’t broken their spirit.

We’ll see how they’re holding up once the first dual-motor editions — starting around $64,000 — start reaching buyers.