Why are people waiting in line to reserve a Tesla Model 3?

Tesla Model 3

Tesla is unveiling the Model 3 later tonight, but without knowing what the car will look like, its options or official driving range, thousands have lined up to reserve one across the globe. While online reservations won't open up until the 7:30pm PDT tonight, anyone can walk into a Tesla Store and plop down $1,000 (£1000) to reserve a car.

Think about that for a sec -- buyers are ready to hand over $1,000 to Tesla Motors for a car with an expected base price of $35,000 (£30,000) that they know very little about, except it's anticipated to have 200 miles of pure electric range. Even with the latest Apple device releases, people wait in line in hopes to buy a device that was already announced.


The reservation line at Tesla in Hamburg, Germany this morning

The Tesla Model 3 reservation consists of putting down a $1,000 deposit for a promise of an affordable 200-mile range electric vehicle (EV) that starts production in late 2017. Of course, the fee is completely refundable, or can be applied towards a Model S or X at any point in time. But it still seemed crazy to me, at first.

I spoke to a handful of people who were planning on reserving a Model 3 to figure out why they have so much faith and trust in Tesla, ranging from existing EV, Tesla owners to first-time buyers.

The Tesla effect

Buyers trust Tesla to produce a car that will deliver on its promises, sight unseen. The same wouldn't happen for any other brand.

"Their commitment to EVs is unparalleled, their customer support is beyond acceptable," said Ryan Wallace, a Nissan Leaf owner passionate about EVs. "Tesla puts their money where their mouth is with the Supercharger network and is always trying out new features, like battery swapping."

Tesla's Supercharger network currently consists of 613 stations with 3,628 total chargers across North America, while CHAdeMO, a quick charge connector used by the Nissan Leaf, Kia Soul and Mitsubishi i-Miev, only has 1,530 chargers, as of January of this year.

Tesla Supercharger network

Tesla's Supercharger network

But CHAdeMO is only one of the quick charging standards used by mainstream EVs, there's also the SAE Combo plug that's used by Volkswagen (VW), BMW, Ford, General Motors and the cost of public charging.

Nissan provides free charging through select networks with its No Charge to Charge program for new Leaf buyers, but its only for the first two years. The cost varies by charging station afterwards, but not every charging station is free – only select networks that opt-in – whereas the Tesla Superchargers are free for the lifetime of the vehicle.

Should I reserve a Tesla Model 3?

I started the day thinking it was crazy to wait in line and give Tesla money for a car that you might not see for at least 2 years. After speaking with these potential Tesla Model 3 buyers, it didn't seem as crazy to reserve a Tesla Model 3 anymore. You're putting down a deposit that's completely refundable at any given time, so if you change your mind, it's still your money.

Half-way through the day, my mind changed and I contemplated reserving one myself. I bought my wife a 2015 Nissan Leaf towards the end of 2014 and it's been a great car. However, it lacks driver assist technologies, the infotainment system is terrible, the 84 miles of rated range is limiting for longer trips and NissanConnect EV telematics service is still unavailable from the phone app.

By the time the Model 3 would arrive, if I reserved one, the Leaf will be paid off, so I wouldn't have to worry about trade-in value and can sell it outright. Tesla has managed to provide software updates to the Model S that fix and improve features in a timely manner, while I have to schedule an appointment and spend time at a Nissan dealership for a recall on the Leaf that requires a software update.

Tesla Model S

The Tesla Model S

The Chevy Bolt is also coming later this year with 200 miles of range and a starting price of around $37,000, but the first car I bought out of college was a 2008 HHR SS and the dealership experience soured my trust for the company. Hyundai has the Ioniq EV coming, but 110 miles of electric range isn't worth the added costs to me.

So I started the day thinking it was crazy to reserve a car to mulling it over, but I'm very impatient and I don't really want to wait two years for a car. Whether or not I get one may come down to how easy it is to accidentally fill in all of my financial information on Tesla's pre-order page. Oops.