July 25, 2019 – As I listened to a fairly subdued Q2 earnings call last night, I felt almost a sense of helplessness on the part of a very tired and subdued sounding CEO Elon Musk. Surely Elon is tired from his non-stop 10+ year journey to build Tesla from an idea into an automaker pumping out 5,000 Model 3’s a week (with a target of 15,000 vehicles). Q2 results were simply poor. Delivering 95,356 electric vehicles (77,634 were Model 3’s, +52% vs Q1) and posting a $408 million operating loss continues to raise the question: will Tesla ever be profitable? Elon sounded a note of sadness announcing that founding Chief Technology Officer, JB Straubel was stepping away from his Executive role (moving to an advisor) – the man who hired Elon into Tesla over a decade ago; the man working side by side with Elon to launch every model from the Roadster to the Model 3 and largely shaping the forthcoming Model Y. Very big shoes to fill indeed.
Does Tesla Have A Demand Problem?
The photos in this blog-post were taken yesterday (July 24, 2019) at my local Tesla Service and Delivery Center in Roswell GA. Just one month ago, this lot was EMPTY with all Model 3s and a few Model S and X had been delivered to new customers. ALL of these Model 3s have been sold and are waiting for delivery to their new owners. Most are the higher priced dual motor and performance versions of the Model 3 ($50,000+). With the Federal Tax Credit moving down to $1,875 for this last quarter (Q3 2019) before phase out, Tesla reduced the price of the Model 3, now starting at $38,990 very competitively priced! Tesla does not suffer from a demand problem for Model 3. Model S and X sales have matured (14,000 units produced on a single shift operation at Fremont CA). A refresh in the works? Elon says no. But he’s been known to deliver trompe l’oeil (trick of the eye) before.
Why is Tesla Currently Unprofitable?
The simple reason: it has yet to reach economies of scale. In 2019, Tesla has produced a total of 164,186 vehicles, all but 28,000 of which are Model 3s. The auto industry is driven by scale to amortize vehicle development and massive fix costs of production and assembly along with safety and compliance costs. Tesla continues to build toward that future with the launch of the mid-sized Model Y SUV (Fall 2020) and forthcoming Pick Up truck (the largest light duty segment in the US market) while ramping up Model 3 sales in the largest electric vehicle market in the world: China. It’s going to take 500,000+ vehicles produced per year, to drive Tesla to profitability. This is one age-old lesson from the auto industry that Tesla still needs to learn.
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