Meanwhile, many hundreds of thousands of vehicles is a lot to produce, even for a more established manufacturer than Tesla. The Toyota Camry was the most popular car in America last year, with 429,355 vehicles sold, followed by the Toyota Corolla at 363,332 and the Honda Accord with 355,557. For its part, Tesla delivered 25,202 Model S cars in the U.S. during that same period. To put that figure in context, it’s about the same number of Lexus GX460 full-size SUVs or Fiat 500 hatchbacks that were sold last year. All of which is to say: For the Model S to reach Camry or Accord-levels of popularity, Tesla would have to ramp up its production capacity quickly and substantially to start delivering by its late-2017, as the company has promised. In all likelihood, many Model 3 reservation customers will wait longer than two years for their vehicles.
Despite the decidedly average sticker price, would-be Model 3 buyers are not necessarily average themselves. For one part, Tesla extended first dibs to its existing customers, which is just to say, folks who can afford $100,000 cars. For another part, it takes a special kind of customer to be able to drop $1,000 on the promise of a new car a few years down the road, even if the deposit can be refunded.
Consider the seven early Model 3 buyers that Mashable profiled this week. Even if anecdotal and skewed due to selection via Twitter, the sample points to an undeniable pattern: they are young, mostly white (one is South Asian), mostly male, mostly work in tech, and mostly live mostly in the Bay Area. One of the two women Mashable spoke with is a race-car driver who already owns a Model S. These are not everymen and women; they are elites. Tesla is still the BMW of electric cars.
By contrast, the average new car buyer in 2015 put down only 10.4 percent cash, which means that the average down payment was $3,488. For the average person who needs a new car, tying up a third of a down payment in electric-vehicle futurism is an unaffordable indulgence.
In fact, electric cars are exerting an under-discussed uncertainty on the car-buying market. The promise of cleaner, cheaper-operating electric vehicles—particularly at a price point that ordinary folk can afford—makes buying a traditional combustion or even a hybrid vehicle a riskier proposition than it was just a few years ago. Meanwhile, the conditions for electric-vehicle adoption have become less favorable since the Model S was introduced. For one part, some states have significantly reduced the tax incentives that made more affordable electric vehicles like the Nissan Leaf appealing, pushing typical buyers back toward cheaper combustion vehicles. And for another part, falling oil prices dropped the cost of gas to under $2 at the start of this year. As with the hybrids that came before them, electric vehicles never offered an appealing financial proposition as compared to combustion-engine automobiles.