An article in the New York Times Dealbook blog claims that Tesla is using their customer deposits on upcoming models as a major source of cash to finance operations.
The article states that
Those loans, as we know from Fisker’s trials and tribulations, are rather fickle and are not a reliable source of incoming for a struggling “green” automaker. While customers generally put down about $5,000 to reserve a Model S, deposits for customized cars can run much higher (one interviewee in the article put down $40,000) – and customers may be unable to get back their money if Tesla tanks.
Tesla apparently does not put their customer deposits aside, and uses the money to finance their operations. If the company goes bust, customers will have to wait until other major creditors, like the federal government, get paid. Customers have yet to sign formal purchase agreements, though that will apparently be happening soon.
Washington state is so far the only location where Tesla uses segregated accounts to hold customers money. California, by far Tesla’s biggest market, does not require this. Tesla has collected about $61 million in deposits in 2011, up from $5 million in 2010. While Tesla’s enthusiastic customer base has no problem forking over cold, hard cash (significant sums, at that) to reserve one of the so-far unreleased models, the idea of it being largely unaccountable once received by Tesla seems a little disconcerting, especially in light of the volatile nature of the “green technology” business and Tesla’s track record for releasing new product.