Tesla Sold Less Than 30,000 Cars Last Quarter

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Skeptical investors continue to believe that Tesla Inc.’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) $58 billion market cap is too high. If car sales are a measure of success, Tesla only made 29,967 deliveries in the fourth quarter of last year.

While founder Elon Musk says the company’s more mass market cars will move that figure into the hundreds of thousands, the figure shows how long a march it has to make to that goal.

The figure was not much of an improvement from earlier quarters, which is a slowdown in Tesla’s sales rate. Management reported:

In Q4, we delivered 28,425 Model S and Model X vehicles and 1,542 Model 3 vehicles, totaling 29,967 deliveries. Combined Model S and Model X deliveries in Q4 grew 10% globally compared to our prior record in Q3, and they grew 28% compared to Q4 2016. As we indicated heading into Q4, production of Model S and Model X during the quarter was limited to 22,137 vehicles due to reallocation of some of the manufacturing resources to Model 3 production. This enabled us to reduce our finished-goods inventory to the lowest level in about 18 months.

The inventory reduction is not an impressive achievement.

Tesla’s revenue for the quarter was $3.3 billion, up from $2.3 billion in the same quarter a year ago. The net loss was $770 million, compared with a loss of $219 million in the fourth quarter of 2016.

While Tesla claims it can make large numbers of cars, it is far from proving it. Tesla management said:

We continue to target weekly Model 3 production rates of 2,500 by the end of Q1 and 5,000 by the end of Q2. It is important to note that while these are the levels we are focused on hitting and we have plans in place to achieve them, our prior experience on the Model 3 ramp has demonstrated the difficulty of accurately forecasting specific production rates at specific points in time. What we can say with confidence is that we are taking many actions to systematically address bottlenecks and add capacity in places like the battery module line where we have experienced constraints, and these actions should result in our production rate significantly increasing during the rest of Q1 and through Q2.

The next step up in anticipated production is also small:

As we shared previously, in order to incorporate our learnings and be capital efficient, we intend to start adding enough capacity to get to a 10,000 unit weekly rate for Model 3 once we have first hit the 5,000 per week milestone.

Investors have to believe Model 3 production will double soon, and then double again, for production rates to get to levels that could match forecast demand for Model 3. And those forecasts are no more than forecasts. No one knows what the eventual demand for a $35,000 electric car will be, even if made by Tesla instead of GM, which makes similarly priced electric cars.

Tesla is still a very small car company. It has several hurdles to make before it is even midsized by industry standards. It is a long way to go from fewer than 30,000 deliveries in a quarter to six figures.