Tesla has reportedly refunded almost a quarter of Model 3 reservations

It's refunding twice as many deposits as it's taking in, analyst firm says

Tesla Model 3
Tesla Model 3 / Image Credit: Drew Phillips
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Tesla's problems hitting its own benchmarks for Model 3 production may be prompting more customers to ask for their money back, as the financial analysts at Second Measure note that refunded deposits for the electric sedan are on the rise and are at nearly a quarter of all deposits.

As of April, 8 percent of U.S. reservation-holders who plunked down $1,000 to order a Model 3 had configured one for production, versus 23 percent of deposits that have been refunded, according to Second Measure, which uses anonymized purchases to analyze consumer-products companies. The remainder is a mix, known only to Tesla, of people still holding a spot in line for their new car or waiting for their refund request to be processed.

That could be a problem. More than a third of Tesla's cash holdings were customer deposits for the Model 3 and other models, as of last quarter. And as Second Measure notes, Tesla right now is paying out refunds faster than new Model 3 deposits are being made — twice as many, the analytics company says, so far in 2018.

Reservations for the Model 3 got off to a fast start two years ago, when Elon Musk said Tesla had taken 180,000 orders for the electric sedan in the first 24 hours alone. The company says it still has 450,000 reservations on its books. During the first quarter, it delivered just 8,180 Model 3s to customers.

A Tesla spokesperson told Recode that Second Measure's data didn't align with its own internal figures, but wouldn't be more specific. Second Measure said its data does align with Tesla's self-reported rate that 12 percent of deposits had been refunded as of August 2017.

Tesla has famously struggled with the Model 3's production ramp, delaying its production targets several times. In its first-quarter letter to investors, Tesla said it now targets "approximately 5,000 Model 3's per week in about two months, although our prior experience has demonstrated the difficulty of accurately forecasting specific production rates at specific points in time because of the exponential nature of the ramp." The company last month temporarily suspended production for the second time this year, while Musk explained in a confidential letter to employees that upgrades could increase production capacity to 6,000 per week by the end of June. At that rate, it would still take nearly a year and a half to catch up to its current order backlog.

According to Bloomberg's tracker, Tesla is currently building Model 3's at a rate of 2,560 per week for a total of 33,641 since production began last September.

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