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Nearly a quarter of Tesla’s Model 3 reservation deposits in the U.S. have supposedly been refunded

Most of the refunds happened this April, after Elon Musk again said the mass-market car would be delayed.

A Tesla Model 3 in a showroom Scott Olson / Getty
Rani Molla is a senior correspondent at Vox and has been focusing her reporting on the future of work. She has covered business and technology for more than a decade — often in charts — including at Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal.

Two years ago Tesla began accepting $1,000 deposits for its new, lower-priced Model 3 electric car, with the expectation that customers would likely receive their vehicles in 2018. Hundreds of thousands of people have reserved one.

But perhaps due to extended production delays, many customers have been asking for their money back.

As of the end of April, some 23 percent of all Model 3 deposits in the U.S. had been refunded, according to new U.S. data from Second Measure, a company that analyzes billions of dollars in anonymized credit and debit card purchases.

These cancellations aren’t necessarily bad for Tesla, since its production rate is nowhere near as high as it needs to be to fulfill the more than 450,000 reservations it still has. Last quarter, it delivered just 8,180 Model 3s.

Presumably, potential Tesla customers could make a deposit again when production is more regular. The potential longer-term harm would be in alienating them so that they choose a different brand of car altogether.

A Tesla spokesperson said that Second Measure’s data does not align with its internal data, but would not be more specific as to how far off it is.

But Second Measure’s numbers did match up last August, when Tesla CEO Elon Musk disclosed that there were 455,000 net reservations out of 518,000 gross reservations, suggesting 63,000 cancelations and a 12 percent cancellation rate.

About 60 percent of Model 3 reservations so far in the U.S. were made back in April 2016, when Tesla first began taking deposits.

About 18 percent of the total refunds on the Model 3 happened this past April, the largest share out of any month, according to Second Measure. That’s when Musk explained that Model 3s would be delayed six to nine months.

That’s also when the largest share of “configuration fees” — a non-refundable deposit customers put down to customize their vehicle shortly before they receive it — were spent, meaning with production ramping up more customers had to decide whether they actually wanted to pay $35,000 (at the very minimum) for their Teslas or ask for refunds. As more Tesla Model 3s become available, we’ll get a better glimpse of what share of reservations turn into purchases.

As of April 2018, 8 percent of Model 3 customers have paid a $2,500 configuration fee. We’d note that paying a configuration fee could also mean that the customer opted for a more expensive Tesla model, like the S or X. Indeed, Musk has said that Tesla is doing its best to “anti-sell” the Model 3 so that people buy more expensive models.

In its latest earnings release, Tesla blamed order cancellations on “delays in production in general and delays in availability of certain planned options, particularly dual motor AWD and the smaller battery pack.”

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