Can Tesla Deliver 15,000 Cars?

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Tesla Motors Inc. (NASDAQ: TSLA) recently bragged it delivered 10,030 cars in the first quarter of this year. All of these were the company’s Model S. New models were not available yet. The figure might seem impressive, but Tesla has promised it can deliver 55,000 cars this year. For that promise to be fulfilled, Tesla will need to have a 15,000-delivery quarter — very soon.

Tesla has forecast that, for the full year, deliveries of its Model S and Model X will combine to trigger a 70% improvement over 2014. That may be hard. Rumors about China sales made investors anxious. This helped push Tesla shares to near a 52-week low. China has become the world’s largest market, quickly pulling ahead of the United States. Total American car and light truck sales should reach 16 million this year. Total sales in China will rise well above 20 million. Luxury car makers expect that China’s wealthy will help car sales as European sales remain modest and American sales improvements begin to slow.

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Tesla’s forecast for first-half deliveries hovers at above 20,000, based on information when it posted full-year 2014 earnings. To reach that number, Tesla only has to deliver 10,000 cars in the current quarter, but then the forecast figures rise rapidly. In the second half of the year, deliveries need to hit nearly 35,000, and that is only for the company to reach expectations. Tesla has reached a period in its evolution when investors expect it to outperform the numbers in its prediction. A super car should post super results, and super results would start well above 10,000 and will need to be at least half again higher than that.

Candidates for very high-end ultra-fast cars will have a chance to buy one from Tesla with the launch of the Model X. The P85D version cost $105,670. With a federal tax credit, the price falls to $98,170. Reviews of the car have been almost universally strong, so Tesla should have trouble keeping these in stock. However, they are still available for late May delivery and can be ordered from the Tesla Motors website, which is not a good sign.

Tesla management can use several excuses for less-than-expected sales. Perhaps there will be production constraints, or maybe trouble selling cars directly in some geographic areas. West Virginia recently banned direct sales of the company’s cars. However, West Virginia is not an important market for the cars, because of both population size and median income. In other words, slow sales in the state are not much of a reason for a shortfall.

So, rumors about sales in China, Europe and the United States still linger. To silence skeptics, Tesla has to post a big number. Based on its own forecasts, that figure needs to be delivery of at least 15,000 in a quarter. Anything less and worries about Tesla’s future will spike.

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