Despite Production “Hell”, Tesla Says It Will Deliver on Model 3 Goals

February 7, 2018, 10:57 PM UTC

Tesla reported Wednesday a $675.4 million net loss, or $4.01 per share, in the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31 as the automaker continued to invest in ramping up production of its Model 3 electric car and its other energy products.

The net loss, which widened from $619.4 million, or $3.70 per share, in the previous quarter and from $121.3 million, or 78 cents per share, a year earlier, was still smaller-than analysts had expected.

Tesla took a positive outlook for 2018, saying that “the planned ramp of both Model 3 and our energy storage products, our rate of revenue growth this year is poised to significantly exceed last year’s growth rate.”

Tesla reported higher than expected revenues of $3.29 billion, a nearly 10% increase from the previous quarter of $2.98 billion. Tesla said it had $3.37 billion in cash and cash-equivalents as of Dec. 31, compared with $3.53 billion at the end of the third quarter.

Here are some initial takeaways from the earnings report:

Model 3 Production Forecast

Tesla says it expects to produce 2,500 Model 3 cars a week by the end of the first quarter and 5,000 a week by the end of the second quarter.

But but but ….

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.

Tesla’s production problems were revealed in early October when the automaker reported it had produced just 260 of its new Model 3 electric cars in the third quarter, of which it delivered 220. Things improved in the fourth quarter, but were still below estimates. Tesla produced 2,425 of its new Model 3 electric cars in the fourth quarter and delivered 1,542.

Tesla delivered 28,425 Model S and Model X vehicles—a 10% increase from the third quarter.

Capital Expenditures

Tesla reported that its capital expenditures reached $787 million in the fourth quarter, most of which was spent on Model 3 production and its massive battery factory outside of Reno, Nevada.

The fine print: The company actually spent more than that, but says some capital expenditure payments for the Model 3 have been deferred to the first quarter of this year.

Gross Margins

The company beat analysts estimates on revenue. However, its automotive gross margin, which doesn’t include the sale of zero-emission vehicle credits, dropped to 13.8% from 22.2% in the same period last year.

Analysts on average had expected margins of 15.7 percent, according to FactSet, Reuters reported.

Customer Deposits

The company also has another unusual source for its reserves: customer deposits. It brings in money through customer deposits on future products, a tactic that many say is unsustainable.

Tesla took in $686 million in customer deposits in the third quarter. That figure grew to $853 million, likely thanks to the debut in November of the Tesla Semi and next-gen Roadster both of which have a reservations page. Roadster customers must drop $50,000 to make a deposit or if $250,000 if they want to reserve a founder’s series version.

An Autopilot Overhaul

Tesla reported it made an “extensive overhaul of the underlying architecture” of its Autopilot software. Autopilot, which was introduced in 2015, is a semi-autonomous driving software—and the accompanying hardware suite of sensors, cameras, and radar—that company the continues to improve via over-the-air software updates. Autopilot

The company says this will enable an improvement in the “collection and analysis of data and fundamentally enhanced its machine learning capabilities.”

The upshot: Tesla says it will allow it to rollout out a series of new Autopilot features in 2018 and beyond.

Tesla also plans to complete its coast-to-coast autonomous drive, a goal that was supposed to be met by the end of 2017.