Why You Shouldn’t Care About Car Reservations

Cadillac said reservations for its Lyriq SUV "sold out in just over ten minutes." Does that mean anything?

The front end of the new 2023 Cadillac Lyriq, the GM brand's first all-electric SUV, in a black room
The Cadillac Lyriq may or may not be a hit, but reservations aren't the way to tell.

As the automotive industry goes through a sea change, it seems like we get splashy new vehicle announcements and electrifications plans every week. Cadillac, meanwhile, has been lying in wait. There have been some notable developments this year among their classics — the new Escalade is a hit and their Blackwing models are being heralded as the “last combustion powered sedans that matter” — but the next generation has yet to be fully revealed.

We’re talking about the Cadillac Lyriq, an upcoming SUV that will be the American luxury brand’s first all-electric vehicle. Not only that, but it will be the harbinger of the entire lineup’s electrification; the company has said it’s aiming to only sell EVs by 2030, and parent company General Motors is aiming for the same goal by 2035 (aiming being the operative word there).

We recently got one step closer to the Lyriq’s long-awaited debut. The first of the electric SUVs won’t be available until the first half of 2022, but reservations for those first-edition models — the 2023 Lyriq Debut Edition — opened last Saturday, September 18. You may have heard about this already, not because the fact that the reservations opened is a particularly big deal, but because they sold out so fast that Rory Harvey, vice president, Global Cadillac, released an official statement.

“Today, reservations for the 2023 Cadillac LYRIQ Debut Edition sold out in just over ten minutes and we continue to see a lot of enthusiasm around the brand – both current product and in our all-electric future,” Harvey wrote on Saturday. “The initial response for LYRIQ has been extraordinary. Since the show car unveiling last year, more than 200,000 people have expressed interest in learning more about the vehicle and our electric future.”

He added that more vehicles won’t be available to order until next summer.

This has led to a number of headlines from reputable outlets saying that the Cadillac Lyriq has “sold out.” But that’s not the case, is it? These so-called “reservations” have sold out, and reservations do not equal purchases; as Cadillac notes on its website, the $100 reservations are refundable and simply “[secure] your place in line to submit a vehicle order.” Not only that, but we don’t even know how many reservations we’re talking about here — Cadillac has refused to release that number when asked. Instead, they’ve cited the figure of 200,000 people “expressing interest,” which is close to meaningless, as is the idea that these reservations sold out.

What we’re really talking about when we talk about reservations is not the popularity or desirability or importance of any vehicle; it’s simply another marketing tool in the carmaker playbook, one that’s been gaining steam in the last five years or so. 

The most notable example is the Tesla Cybertruck. When it debuted in 2019, Elon Musk said the electric truck garnered 146,000 reservations in the first day. Today, a fan-made reservation tracker puts that number over 1 million. The problem with those hype-worthy numbers? The pickup is not even close to going on sale. Elsewhere in the EV world, there was the case of Lordstown, a company accused of falsifying preorder numbers. But even in the world of real-life vehicles, the Ford Bronco, a legitimate sensation with specs to back it up, released a certain number of reservations for a First Edition model back in 2020 … then doubled it when those were scooped up quickly. Today, some people who reserved a Bronco in 2020 and went on to actually order it are still waiting for their vehicles.

These are wildly different scenarios, I’ll admit, but they all show that the current reservation fever we’re experiencing in the car world serves almost no other purpose than to boost the image of automakers. It’s an airhorn they can use to hype up their wares, but for you, the car buyer, it’s mostly just noise. 

There are some real-world implications, to be sure, as Ford is reportedly increasing production capacity for its electric Lightning pickup due to strong interest, and if you want to buy certain special-edition models (like the Lyriq Debut Edition or Bronco First Edition), you’ll have to be quick on the draw. 

But as recent history can show us clearly, reservations don’t mean sales, they don’t mean the final product will be worth turning that reservation into a purchase and they don’t mean your car, if you do end up buying it, will get to you any faster than if you wait for an actual production release.

The Cadillac Lyriq may or may not end up being a hit, but reservations are not the way to tell.

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