Tesla’s Cybertruck preorders don’t tell the whole Story

December 24, 2019, 11:30 AM UTC

The November unveiling of Tesla’s Cybertruck was met with raised eyebrows, and not all were about its bizarro postapocalyptic design. Tesla revealed impressively low pricing—the Cybertruck will start at $39,900—but a stunt intended to demonstrate the truck’s toughness ended with two “bulletproof” windows shattered.

All in all, hopes were dashed that Tesla could move aggressively into the wildly lucrative (and currently gas-guzzling) American truck market with such a radical design. Credit Suisse analysts said legacy truckmakers could “breathe a sigh of relief.” Tesla’s stock fell more than 6% after the unveiling.

But in the following days, CEO Elon Musk announced “orders” for the Cybertruck had reached 250,000. Impressive, non?

Well, that depends on how you define an “order.” Musk was actually citing fully refundable $100 deposits, or 0.25% of the cost of even the cheapest Cybertruck. According to Edmunds, the average down payment for an auto loan is now 11.7%—so $4,670 for an entry-level Cybertruck. The low commitment raises questions about how many of those will turn into actual sales when production starts in late 2021. But the short-term PR boost was real. Tesla’s stock had recovered most of its post-Cybertruck nosedive within a few weeks.

A version of this article appears in the January 2020 issue of Fortune with the headline “Tesla’s $100 Deposit Keeps Shorts at Bay.”

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