Tesla hits top gear as sales outperform estimates

Tesla Motors delivered 24,500 vehicles in the third quarter, topping analysts’ estimates, after the chief executive Elon Musk implored employees to boost sales during the period ahead of a plan to raise more capital.

The maker of electric cars and energy storage devices shipped about 15,800 Model S saloons and 8,700 Model X 4x4s, California-based Tesla said.

The quarter was Tesla’s last chance to show that it can be profitable before it raises money to ramp up production of the new Model 3. Mr Musk urged employees in an August 29 email to work on “building and delivering every car we possibly can”. The company has been taking aggressive measures to keep sales of the Model S and Model X strong while it awaits the smaller, less-expensive Model 3, which is not slated to begin volume output until late next year.

The third-quarter deliveries were positive and beat most estimates, said Jeffrey Osborne, an analyst at Cowen.

“We were looking for 20,500 this quarter with an acceleration in 4Q to get to 50,000 for the second half,” Mr Osborne said. “We believe bullish investors were in the 22,000 to 23,000 range.”

Yet the company offered no commentary “to allay investor concerns about discounting to make numbers and drive positive cash flow in the quarter,” Mr Osborne said. Mr Musk last week urged employees to stick to pricing policies, responding to concerns that Tesla was straying from a long-held policy against discounting its cars.

Tesla said its delivery count should be viewed as slightly conservative because it only counts a car if it is transferred to the customer and all paperwork is correct. The company reiterated that it expected to deliver 50,000 vehicles in the second half.

Tesla introduced a 60-kilowatt-hour Model S in June that starts at US$66,000 in the United States before federal or state incentives. In August, the car maker added a 100kwh battery option with additional range. The company also announced a two-year lease on orders placed by September 12.

Tesla produced 25,185 vehicles, 37 per cent more than in the second quarter.

Brad Erickson, a Pacific Crest Securities analyst, had estimated third-quarter deliveries at 22,000. In a note, he said Tesla’s US sales centres were using a deeper discounting formula to boost third-quarter sales.

Tesla is increasing production at its California, factory with an eye toward making 500,000 cars a year by 2018, a goal that also depends on the company’s battery factory east of Reno, Nevada, coming online with battery-cell production. Both efforts will require more funding in the fourth quarter, Musk has said.

The third-quarter deliveries figure is a preliminary number that may change slightly in November when the company reports earnings for the period. The car maker releases global sales figures quarterly, instead of the monthly country-by-country results typically announced by other motor manufacturers.


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