Could the Audi e-tron Made-to-Order sales plan backfire?

During Audi’s incredibly impressive worldwide launch for the e-tron, its first-ever electric car, the brand’s then president of North America Scott Keogh spoke about how the e-tron would essentially be made-to-order, for lack of a better term. Essentially, there will be no Audi e-tron inventory at dealers and potential customers will have to choose their spec, put down a $1,000 reservation for one and wait for it to be built.

This process could take anywhere between a few months to a year, from order to delivery, for customers to get their cars. While that may sound absurd, especially in America where dealers care only about moving inventory, there’s good reason for this plan.

Electric cars like the Audi e-tron aren’t big sellers just yet. So the idea is to not have a ton of unused inventory sitting on dealer lots, especially in most of America, where electric cars just aren’t that popular yet. This might turn some buyers off but those who understand and want to be on the cutting edge won’t mind.

Some EV fans disagree, though. In this recent article from InsideEVs and¬†EVANNEX (who makes aftermarket parts for Tesla), they argue that this is a poor business model for the e-tron. Admittedly, there are some good points here. One of them being that it’s going to be very difficult to bring traditional car buyers into the EV world if they have to wait that long and that’s true.

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However, this seems a bit near-sighted. Tesla recently did something similar with the Model 3. Except it took well over a year for customers to start getting the cars they reserved and, in many cases, some customers still haven’t received their cars. So to criticize Audi for taking reservations prior to delivery when Tesla was taking reservations prior to product development even being complete, and was praised for doing so, seems a bit hypocritical. Though, it’s not much of a surprise that an aftermarket Tesla-part maker would have such a stance.

Now, in Tesla’s case, the issue was with manufacturing, as the Silicon Valley-based brand simply couldn’t pump out Model 3s fast enough. Audi won’t have that problem, as its plant in Brussels where the e-tron is being built is far more capable of pushing out cars in a timely fashion than any Tesla factory, Giga or otherwise. Audi is a powerhouse manufacturer, delivering millions of cars every year with ease from multiple plants. So the turnaround for e-trons won’t be so bad, even if global demand becomes quite high. Plus, Audi has the ability to retool other plants to help if need be, as all global manufacturers do with several products.

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Also, this plan could very possibly only be temporary. If the Audi e-tron becomes a popular model, it’s possible Audi could start shipping inventory to dealers, to provide customers a more traditional buying experience.

Now, we’re not saying Audi’s plan is foolproof or that it’s perfect. Simply that there’s no way one can rationally give it a sad head shake and then praise Tesla for doing something so incredibly similar. We’ll see how it all pans out but we have a feeling Audi’s massive success as a global manufacturer, it’s record success over the past couple of years and it’s overall manufacturing know-how is probably good enough to make the e-tron a success of its own.

Nico DeMattia

I've been in love with cars since I was a kid, specifically German cars. Now I get to drive them talk about them on the internet.