One year ago today, a communications staffer (since departed) wrote that Tesla had received 373,000 reservations for its future Model 3—a number first issued in April 2016.
In a splashy event for owners, fans, and media, a few dozen early-production Model 3 electric cars were delivered last Friday.
During the year leading up to that event, Tesla repeatedly declined to discuss the number of Model 3 reservations.
It appears to be continuing that practice since the event, in response to questions on CEO Elon Musk's comment to reporters before the event that Tesla had received 500,000 deposits for the Model 3 (of $1,000 each).
With the company unwilling to clarify further, that number would presumably, the gross number of deposits it has taken in over 16 months.
What's missing is the net number of reservations that remain on deposit after whatever cancellations may have occurred since.
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013
That is information that Tesla has steadily refused to provide.
Green Car Reports contacted the company again this week to ask for an update on the net number of reservations; we have received no response to our query.
The lack of a net reservations number—which could indicate the strength of Model 3 demand now that partial specifications and prices are out—has now become a topic of concern in the financial press.
The weekly Barron's, for one, wrote that, "Tesla is being cagey about the one number that matters most."
It quoted from a note to clients written by KeyBanc analyst Brad Erickson: “We followed up with the company later and found Tesla would not commit to the figure the CEO gave, other than to confirm that Musk did in fact provide it to the media."
The caginess underscores the confusion over Musk's half-million claim, leaving it completely unclear whether it reflects a net number after cancelled reservations or simply the total taken in since April 2016.
2018 Tesla Model 3
Posts from depositors who chose to cancel their Model 3 reservations for one reason or another are easily found on Tesla forums, among other sources.
Like many companies, Tesla has a tendency to vary the data it reports depending on how that information will affect its public perception, including that of the financial community.
A rare example of pushback came after it released second-quarter Model S and Model X delivery numbers last month but omitted the number of cars in transit, a statistic included in previous quarterly reports.
Relatively widespread complaints by analysts prompted the company to update its release a few days later: the number of cars in transit had declined from that of the previous quarter.
The revelation didn't necessarily help perceptions of the company's deliveries or ongoing demand for the aging Model S hatchback sedan and specialized Model X crossover utility vehicle.
Tesla releases the legally required minimum of financial information, of course, plus additional facts and statistics that present its operation in the most favorable light.
2018 Tesla Model 3
Musk has said that Tesla is targeting production of 5,000 Model 3 cars a week (or 20,000 per month) by the end of this year; the company delivered 76,000 cars during all of 2016.
Over time, deliveries of Model 3 will indicate true demand as new versions and features are rolled out.
Until then, analysts, fans, and readers will draw their own conclusions from the company's steadfast refusal to update a 16-month-old total for Model 3 reservations.
EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this article indicated that Tesla's target for Model 3 production had been reduced from 20,000 per month to 5,000 per month; that was in error. The number is 5,000 per week, or roughly 20,000 per month. We have revised the story and apologize for the error, with thanks to the readers who pointed it out.