Home Industries Automobiles The Ratings Game GET EMAIL ALERTS More than 70% of Tesla’s biggest fans didn’t buy a Model 3 when offered, analyst finds

March 20, 2018

Most Model S and Model X owners offered the chance to buy a Model 3 didn’t take Tesla up on offer, Bernstein analyst contends

Tesla Inc. fans have waited a long time for the chance to buy the electric-car company’s Model 3 sedan, but an analyst said Monday that many didn’t jump at their first chance to buy one.

Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi Jr. said among that the most recent group of reservation holders to receive purchasing privileges — existing owners of the company’s previous cars, the Model S and Model X — less than 30% opted to configure and purchase the car when given the chance. That was just the second group to receive access to purchase a Model 3, after Tesla employees.

“If correct, this take rate would be substantially worse than predicted by our July 2017 survey, which had indicated that up to 69% of S/X owners with reservations were likely/very likely to take delivery of their Model 3,” Sacconaghi wrote.

Tesla TSLA, -2.42% has banked on the Model 3 becoming a mass-market automobile, after releasing the Model S and Model X with high price tags meant to help finance the wholesale manufacturing changes that Chief Executive Elon Musk has ushered in for the Model 3. Hundreds of thousands of reservations flowed in after Musk first showed off the car, with $1,000 deposits attached, and Musk said late last year that Tesla had about 455,000 Model 3 reservations.

Earlier Monday: Tesla stock is still a sell at Goldman Sachs

Those $1,000 deposits are refundable, though, and reservation holders are not forced to immediately configure and purchase the car when they are offered. Tesla began offering the cars to employee reservation-holders last year, and then moved on to Model S and Model X owners who reserved a Model 3, and has since moved on to first-time buyers, according to Sacconaghi.

Using Bloomberg’s Model 3 tracker, Tesla’s disclosures and his own research, Sacconaghi reported Monday that 55% of employee reservation-holders bought the car when offered, while slightly less than 30% of Model S and Model X owners with reservations configured and purchased a Model 3 when offered.

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Sacconaghi warned against “ringing the fire bell” at such news, pointing out possible reasons for his results:

• Lack of configurations: Tesla is only offering one Model 3 configuration at the moment, for $49,000. In the future, Tesla is expected to offer a base model at Musk’s promised price of $35,000, as well as all-wheel-drive configurations that potential owners in cold climates may be waiting for.

• Bad timing: Owners may be waiting for the lease on their Model S or Model X to expire, or waiting to sell their current Tesla.

• Lease option: Some may be waiting for Tesla to open up leasing options for the Model 3

See also: Tesla could be falling short of key Model 3 goal, but who’s counting, analyst says

Of course, Sacconaghi also suggests a fourth possible reason that would not be good for Tesla: Reservation holders who are not sure they actually want to buy a Model 3. “Those of whom are genuinely undecided on the Model 3, and/or may be waiting further data points on initial build quality, and perhaps competitive EV offerings from other manufacturers,” he said.

Sacconaghi wrote from experience, as he is a Tesla owner who was offered a Model 3 and did not opt to immediately configure and purchase the car. As an owner of a Model X and a Model 3 reservation-holder since early 2016, his family was offered the chance to configure and purchase a Model 3 on Jan. 4.

He deferred the purchase due to personal reasons, including whether the car would be optimal for a family of five, and said Tesla followed up three times within a month after he declined to take them up on the offer. The final plea, on March 5, was a personal email from “a Tesla support person” that sought information on if he was waiting for a different configuration before ordering the car.

“Based off this experience, our hypothesis is that Tesla may be modestly concerned/surprised about the Model 3’s low take rates,” Sacconaghi wrote. “In particular, we suspect that our most recent email from Tesla (asking us to identify our desired Model 3 configuration) was part of an effort to determine which new configurations might be most effective in converting deferrals to deliveries.”

Sacconaghi retained a “market perform” rating on the stock with a $265 price target, and noted that Tesla has several “levers to pull” that could juice the rate at which customers are buying the cars, like releasing the all-wheel drive version or opening up leasing options.

Tesla stock closed with a 2.4% decline at $313.56 Monday, and is up 19.9% in the past year, as the S&P 500 index SPX, -1.42% has gained 14.1%. Analysts are split on the stock, with nine rating it the equivalent of a buy, 10 a hold or similar, and nine have a sell or underweight rating. The average price target is $319.74.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment on this article.