Tesla beats the Street again as profits, deliveries, and margins surge

October 21, 2020, 9:28 PM UTC

Tesla has outperformed analyst expectations by not only posting strong delivery numbers but also demonstrating continued improvements in the profitability of each car it delivered.

The electric-car maker Wednesday reported third-quarter revenue of $8.77 billion, up 45% from $6 billion in the second quarter and exceeding analyst expectations of $8.36 billion. Profits more than doubled to $331 million from $104 million in the second quarter.

Adjusted profits, which exclude certain expenses, were 77 cents per share, compared with the 57 cents that analysts had expected.

Tesla shares rose nearly 2% on the news in after-hours trading to around $430, up from a close of $422.

In early October, Tesla said it had delivered 139,300 vehicles in the third quarter. That’s up substantially from 90,650 delivered in the preceding quarter and 97,000 in the third quarter of 2019.

In addition to increasing sales on a sequential and year-over-year basis, Tesla said that its inventory levels continue to decline, indicating faster deliveries. CEO Elon Musk has emphasized the importance of lower inventory levels for Tesla’s profitability, and the latest quarterly profits partly reflect success on that front.

Tesla said automotive gross margins in the third quarter were 27.7%, up from 25.4% in the previous quarter and 22.8% in the third quarter of 2019. That metric is a key measure of an automaker’s sustainable profitability, and it shows that Tesla has made steady progress in bringing down production costs per car.

The latest quarter’s production numbers also mean it’s plausible Tesla could hit a prior goal of producing (as opposed to delivering) 500,000 vehicles in 2020. That goal was set before the production problems and demand uncertainty triggered by the coronavirus.

But Tesla did not revise the target, and on a conference call late Wednesday, Tesla CFO Zachary Kirkhorn confirmed that 500,000 units is still the company’s target for 2020. Tesla would have to produce 170,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter to hit the number, or 17% more than it built in the third quarter.

CEO Elon Musk provided updates on key products during the earnings call. Following the release of Tesla’s Full Self Driving feature to a small group of beta testers on October 20, Musk said the software will be gradually released to more Tesla vehicles into next year. Musk has referred to the rollout of the software as “extremely slow and cautious.” This gradual rollout follows numerous missed targets for the autonomous driving software, including Musk’s prior prediction that FSD would be released in beta form in late 2019.

Musk also provided a tentative timeline for deliveries of Tesla’s Cybertruck, which will be built at a factory still under construction in Austin, Tex. Musk said that “if all goes well,” Cybertruck deliveries will begin in late 2021 and expand in 2022. This is in line with projections made at the Cybertruck’s unveiling event in November 2019.

Update: This article has been updated with addition information from Tesla’s October 21 earnings conference call.

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