Sometimes, if you ask a question often enough for long enough, an answer will eventually be forthcoming.

In the case of the net number of $1,000 reservations for the Tesla Model 3 electric car, it took 16 months for the company to cough up the latest data.

It came, not surprisingly, from CEO Elon Musk, speaking on a conference call for financial analysts yesterday afternoon.

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In April 2016, Tesla quoted a number of 373,000 reservations taken for the Model 3 following its splashy debut and enormous publicity.

The company then resolutely declined to respond to queries from journalists or financial analysts asking for an update of that number—until yesterday.

In the analyst call, Musk raised the issue himself after a question about Porsche's announcement of 15-minute DC fast-charging time for the Mission E electric sedan it will put into production in 2019.

2018 Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3

According to a transcript of the earnings call, Musk said:

One thing I want to correct from Friday: I don't think it really has much materiality, but I did misspeak at the Journalist Review on Friday.

I had said that there were 500,000 net reservations. I did also say that I wasn't sure because I don't follow this number, and this was just a guess.

And so we did check to get some precision on this.

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So to be more accurate, there have been 518,000 gross reservations for 3, and we have 455,000 net reservations. But those cancellations occurred over the course of more than a year.

The net gain since Friday, net of cancellations, has been over 1,800 per day.

Musk went on to explain that he considered the question of reservation totals essentially irrelevant:

I think this is inconsequential because with a small amount of effort we could easily drive the Model 3 reservation number to something much higher, but there's no point.

2018 Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3

It's like if you're a restaurant and you're serving hamburgers and there's an hour and a half wait for the hamburger, do you really want to encourage more people to come order hamburgers? It doesn't make sense.

So I think it's neither here nor there, but I wanted to make sure there was not a misunderstanding.

No doubt we will see a slew of new analyst commentary over the next few weeks that incorporates the updated figure of 455,000 reservations.

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There will also be assumptions on what percentage of those reservations turn into sales. (Not every single reservation will become a $35,000-to-$50,000 order.)

Even taking a conservative approach—assuming 60 percent of the reservations turn into paid Model 3 purchases—Tesla appears to have something like 275,000 Model 3s to build, starting now.

Orders will likely continue to increase, as Model 3 cars on the road receive more publicity and Tesla's production lines ramp up to full speed in Fremont, California.

2018 Tesla Model 3

2018 Tesla Model 3

The company is targeting a production rate of 5,000 cars a week by the end of this year.

Even at that rate, an order placed today for a Tesla Model 3 electric car may not be filled for as long as 18 months.

If that timing is borne out over the next six months, the world's older carmakers are likely to look with envy at Tesla's order book and wonder what they need to do to capture some of those orders.


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