Elon Musk’s Plan for Distracting From the SEC Lawsuit? Delivering Tesla Model 3 Cars to Buyers

September 30, 2018, 7:19 PM UTC

Elon Musk got sued and quickly settled with the SEC? Whatever. The big news for Janet Beach was finally getting her hands on the wheel of the Tesla Model 3 she ordered 18 months ago.

“I bought it without driving it, that’s how much confidence I have,” said Beach, who picked up her red sedan in Bellevue, Washington. She hasn’t lost faith in the company that made it, or in its chief executive officer. Controversy is to be expected. “There’s to be a little bit of negative commentary as he pursues his dream of changing the world.”

There was a lot of that kind of talk over the weekend, as Tesla Inc. counted down to the final hours of the quarter ending at midnight Sunday and tallied the numbers of how many electric cars it could churn out and deliver to customers. Will Tesla show there’s enough demand for electric cars for them to enter the mainstream — and as money-makers?

Musk has given assurances that the company is on the verge of being out of the red after reporting its largest-ever loss in the last quarter, and that production of the Model 3 is finally humming. He told employees in an email obtained by Bloomberg News that profitability was in sight. If the last push to boost deliveries beats the clock with big numbers, he said, “we will achieve an epic victory beyond all expectations.”

He had been as upbeat as ever going into the weekend, seemingly unperturbed by the Securities and Exchange Commission’s fraud lawsuit accusing him of falsely claiming in a tweet that he had the funding lined up to go private. A settlement agreement reached Saturday requires Musk to relinquish his post as chairman for three years while allowing him to stay on as CEO.

“Ignore all distractions,” Musk said Friday in an another email to employees obtained by Bloomberg News. “One more hardcore weekend and we will be victorious.”

Showroom Scenes

In the Chicago suburb of Highland Park, more than 75 people crammed into Tesla’s service center and another 50 or so waited outside. In the Los Angeles community of Marina del Rey, a steady stream of customers arrived while tractor trailers pulled in to unload vehicles that had been stored in Burbank. In Coral Gables, Florida, a showroom attendant who declined to be named said deliveries were scheduled hour-by-hour to avoid congestion.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many outlets across the U.S. were doing record-high volume; the one in Brooklyn, for example, was fairly quiet Saturday morning.

Others were so busy that volunteers showed up to help staff out. Andrew Doane, who has a Model S sedan, Model X crossover and Model 3 car and is president of the Tesla Owners Club of the Mid-Atlantic region, mustered club members to pull shifts at delivery hubs in Virginia and Maryland, and worked one himself.

“This weekend is the pivot point,” he said, describing it as watershed moment not just for the company but for the shift away from the internal combustion engine.

Vinod Kothapa did his part in making this transformation. He picked up a new black Model X SUV on Saturday at the delivery center in Fremont, California, just down the road from the company’s lone auto plant.

“Fossil fuels are polluting the planet and increasing global temperatures,” Kothapa said. “I want oil to be worthless.”

Rumor Mill

Tesla could release production and delivery figures for the quarter as early as Monday. The rumor mill has been cranking, with speculation that Tesla locations were aiming to hand over cars to new owners at a rate of at least 120 per day. One volunteer in Austin, Texas said on Twitter that his group was getting ready to push 240 vehicles out the door before midnight Sunday.

Cathie Wood, the CEO of Ark Investments and a Tesla shareholder, said she learned of Musk’s settlement with the SEC while she was waiting to get her Model 3 in a jam-packed store in Westchester County, New York.

“That one store was scheduled to deliver 250 cars today, and no on minded the wait,” Wood said on Twitter. “The Model 3 is from another world!”

Since the $35,000 base-version of the Model 3 still isn’t in production, the average selling price is far north of that. The company released specifications for a faster and more powerful version of the car in May that approached the $80,000 mark.

Tesla delivered 18,449 Model 3 sedans in the second quarter, according to the company’s last shareholder letter. Goldman Sachs analyst David Tamberrino, who has a sell rating on the stock, estimates third-quarter deliveries of about 52,000 — a nearly three-fold increase.

If that’s the number, Tesla could be on the verge of closing the books on its long era of losses. No car company has ever been able to profitably build and sell electric vehicles.

‘Amazing’ Result

Tesla fans believe Musk’s company will be the first against long odds. “Big auto and big oil want him to fail. There’s a lot of corporate interest in him not succeeding,” said Bob Jorth of Kalamazoo, Michigan, who ordered his Model 3 in February 2017 and picked it up on Saturday. It’s his first electric car; he had been driving a gas-electric hybrid. “It’s a natural progression away from the internal combustion engine, and I’m very excited.”

In Tysons, Virginia, Tesla employees lined up by the door, greeting customers. Rodney Tanner, a Model 3 owner from nearby Bethesda, Maryland, was among the volunteers helping out.

“What Tesla’s trying to do in terms of becoming a profitable, successful automaker is such a tough challenge,” Tanner said, marveling that the company barely existed 10 years ago and now makes what he is convinced is the best car on the road. “I’m here to help give them a little bit of slack and let other owners know that the end-result is amazing.”