Pre-Ordering Cars: How We Got Here

Brick and mortar car dealerships were not deemed “essential services” in 2020 so many had to temporarily shut their doors and halt new-car orders from factories. Little did anyone know that demand for cars would quickly rebound, buoyed by federal stimulus checks and lower public transit use. Scrambling to recoup lost profits, the auto industry found inefficiencies in the traditional inventory model: 

  • Dealers have to pay for physical space to store cars that may or may not be purchased
  • Dealers had to pay to keep cars in inventory insured and showroom ready, and
  • Dealers had to pay to have specific colors or trims shipped from other locations. 

Anticipating customer demand is a big part of the business, and costly to get wrong. 

Ford CEO Jim Farley, who moved to an all-online model for EVs explained, "You cannot imagine ... how much money we waste… guessing what our launch mix is for a new product."’

The overhead of the traditional dealership model is even more pronounced when it comes to new technology. Dealerships may feel like they are taking a risk to have them on their lots, and manufacturers don't want to overproduce unwanted cars. 

The pre-order model solves this problem for both parties.

The pre-order model solves this problem for both parties. Manufacturers can make cars that people want, and dealerships get easy sales by delivering them. Pre-orders also mean up-front insight into market appetite, and better resource allocation during manufacturing. The overwhelming success and industry-leading profit margins of Tesla’s direct order model has been convincing traditional OEMs to try out pre-ordering. 

In early summer 2022, in partnership with AAA Washington, we surveyed over 200 people to ask two simple questions: what EVs have you preordered, and which do you intend to actually buy?

Six months later, the EV market has matured quite a bit, and we asked a new group of EV shoppers the same questions. In both cases, the chances that reservation numbers turn into actual sales depends a lot on the model.

EV shoppers send mixed signals with duplicate orders and intent to buy

The images below show what percentage of reservation holders intend to take delivery of their vehicle, for the most highly ordered models. We compare the “intent to buy” between our June 2022 inquiry and the recent one in Q1 2023. We found that, overall, shoppers have become more discriminating about what they are reserving, and how many reservations they have. What it boils down to right now is that the more mainstream and available certain cars become, the less “pre-order fever” we see -- the more shoppers can discern what they really want. 

This story unfolds in a few charts. As electric cars become more mainstream, buyers are reserving the car they want, not any car that catches their eye.

Cars that were very hot in the spring, such as the VW ID4, Ford F-150, and Mustang Mach-e, are now easier to find at dealerships and on the street, so reservations have cooled off. In the case of the Mustang Mach-e, although reservations have dropped off, the intent to purchase has skyrocketed, showing that shoppers view the reservation as a true preorder, rather than a mere expression of interest.

Some other things remained the same. Buzzworthy new cars are still getting a lot of reservations with mixed intent to buy.

These EV-firsts, such as the Fisker Ocean and the Aptera, have risen in popularity, as have new entries from traditional car brands, such as the Lyriq. The Rivian R1T and R1S remain strong in terms of reservations and intent-to-buy, likely due to their relatively new presence on the streets - and the fantastic reviews. 

The Aptera was actually the breakout hit of early 2023. It has a novel three-wheel design, solar powered charging, and a low purchase price. It is also the most highly reserved car for two groups: current plug-in drivers reserved it more than any other car, at 22% of respondents, and a whopping 50% of new-to-EV homes have reserved one.

Any recent road trip would remind you that America still runs on pickup trucks. Truck shoppers still have multiple reservations across multiple brands.

Our data shows that electric truck shoppers still hedge their bets the most, with a lot of overlapping reservations between Rivian, Cybertruck, Silverado, and F-150. Those who are looking for a sedan tend to reserve one or two models, which are more likely to be fulfilled. 

Similarly, truck shoppers seem skeptical they will ever see their reserved Cybertrucks. Although 77% of reservation holders plan to buy theirs, they have also made reservations on a lot of other trucks, the Fisker Ocean, and Aptera. No new EV drivers have a reservation for the Cybertruck. 

There are two clear outliers when it comes to intent to buy: 

  1. Tesla cars: Model S, Model X, Model Y, and Model 3, which have very high order fulfillment, and 
  2. Chevrolet Silverado, which has just over 20% intended fulfillment

In the case of Tesla, there is a non-refundable order fee that may weed out some impulsive reservations. However, the purchase intent dropped from 100% over the summer to around 95%. This is likely because summer 2022 was a unique Tesla market. They were so in-demand, reservation holders were able to resell their order before taking delivery

In general, refundable reservations mean that customers can express interest in many cars and make the decision based on delivery date, financing options, and early reviews of the cars. And most traditional OEMs want it this way - easy reservations pump up their numbers, build excitement, and generate market data on potential buyers – even if these reservations don’t all turn into sales.

For the Silverado, which has had the lowest intent to buy in each survey, the delivery timeline (2024) may be too far away to commit to. This is supported by the fact that intent to buy is creeping up as time goes on. Overall, across the two surveys, we have seen that uncertainty on delivery time - or delivery at all - may cause some shoppers to modulate their enthusiasm for certain vehicles. The Tesla Cybertruck, with its seemingly infinite production delays, comes to mind here.

Have a pre-order (or more than one)? Take our survey and we’ll update our numbers again over the summer. 

About the data

Some other interesting stories emerged from our survey data. Since this is our first update since our initial survey, and here’s what we’re seeing now. 

Our population of survey respondents is made up of: 

  • 13.6% of responding homes have a plug-in hybrid (PHEV)
  • 75.5% have a battery electric (BEV) already
  • Of the households that already have a BEV, 44% have a tesla, 26% have a Chevy, 11% a Nissan, and 6% have a Ford
  • 16.2% do not yet own an EV

In terms of the overall trends that we found in our data:

  1. Tesla car reservations didn't overlap with reservations for other brand cars in the 2022 and they still don't. If you’ve reserved a Ford F-150, Rivian, or Chevy Silverado, chances are good that you may also have reserved a Tesla Cybertruck. But, if you’re interested in any of the traditional OEM's car and crossover options, there is virtually no overlap with Tesla. There is a clear chasm between non-Tesla and Tesla reservations. 
  2. Current Chevy owners are most likely to have a reservation for a Cadillac Lyriq (23% surveyed), showing satisfaction with the brand and a desire to upgrade. They have also reserved the Aptera (19%), Chevy Blazer (15%), and a new Bolt (7.8%)
  3. Current Nissan drivers have reservations for the Aptera (32%) and Ariya (21%), also signaling satisfaction with their current brand. In the past year, as the EV market has grown, there has been a lot of speculation that the days of brand loyalty is over. We will keep our eyes on this data to see what story unfolks.
  4. Drivers who do not yet have an EV have reservations for Tesla sedans, VW ID4, Hyundai Ioniq 5, and the Chevy Bolt. Based on popularity and delivery numbers, we can assume that most of the Tesla reservations are for Model 3/Y, which means that all these first-time EVs are mid-priced vehicles that offer convenience, comfort features, and 200+ mile range.

Do these observations line up with your experience? We invite you to take our survey and let you know what the pre-order landscape looks like in your corner of the world!

Updated: EV Pre-Order Numbers Leaderboard

Since the pre-order model has been adopted by the growing electric vehicle market, Recurrent has started tracking publicized pre-order numbers, plus the delivery estimate for each car. To get this data, we comb the internet, including forums, EV industry journalism, and press releases. Drop us a line if you've seen an update or have intel.

  • Tesla Cybertruck
  • Rivian R1 (S or T)
  • Ford F-150
  • Hummer SUV
  • BMW iX and i4
  • Cadillac Lyriq
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5
  • Chevrolet Silverado
Estimated Backlog #
Delivery Estimate (if you order today)
Reservation $ (plus binding or non-binding)
  • $100 refundable
  • $1,000 refundable
  • $100 refundable
  • $100 refundable
  • $1,500 refundable
  • $100 refundable
  • $100 refundable
  • $100 refundable
Last Updated Date
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • Kia EV6
  • Lucid Air
  • Mercedes EQS
  • Nissan Ariya
  • Porsche Macan EV
  • Subaru Solterra
  • Tesla Roadster
  • Toyota bZ4X
  • Fisker Ocean
  • Aptera
  • Chevrolet Bolt EV/EUV
  • Ioniq 6
  • Polestar 2 or 3
  • Vinfast VF8 or VF9
  • Porche Taycan
  • 5 -19 months (src)
  • 2023
  • 2023
  • Reservations closed (src)
  • 2024
  • 2024 (src)
  • Unknown
  • 2025 src
  • 2023
  • 2023-2024 (src)
  • 2-6 months (src)
  • In production, limited availability
  • 2023
  • 2023 (src)
  • 6-9 months (src)
  • $100 refundable
  • $300 - $1,000 refundable
  • $2,500 refundable
  • $500 refundable
  • TBD
  • $250 refundable
  • $50,000 (src)
  • TBD
  • $250 (src)
  • $100 (src)
  • $500 (src)
  • $500
  • $1000
  • $200 (src)
  • Unknown
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023
  • April 2023

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