Why Is Tesla Scared To Release Its Electric-Car Sales Data?

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2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

2012 Tesla Model S beta vehicle, Fremont, CA, October 2011

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Frankly, we understand why Fisker Automotive and Coda Automotive might not want to release their sales data.

Both companies have struggled mightily with delayed rollouts of their first plug-in electric cars.

But Tesla Motors just nailed its promised late-June first delivery date for the Model S electric luxury sedan, so we expected more.

You would think the company would now try to behave like the adult car company it wants to be seen as.

In one respect at least, you would be wrong.

The background: On the first business day after the end of a calendar month, the auto industry engages in the monthly ritual of sales reporting, in which all carmakers release the number of cars--broken out by model--they delivered to buyers during the previous month.

All automakers, that is, except for small startup electric-car makers. Both Tesla and Fisker refused to provide monthly sales figures; as private companies, they didn't have to.

Quarterly numbers, delayed

Once Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] became a publicly traded company, it had to provide minimal sales data to stockholders. And it does, buried deep in quarterly disclosure documents filed with the U.S. Securities & Exchange Commission filed weeks after the quarter ends.

(Fisker and Coda still refuse to give any sales data beyond off-hand, unverifiable comments from executives.)

Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California

Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California

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Now Tesla has moved past its low-volume Roadster. The company says it will build a regular stream of Model S luxury sport sedans to deliver to the 10,000-plus buyers it says have given it deposits.

We asked Tesla communications manager Shanna Hendriks when Tesla would provide sales data--June's figures are due Tuesday--but she said the company had no intention of providing monthly figures.

"We will continue to report figures for Model S reservations and deliveries on a quarterly basis," she wrote, "as has been done in the past. "

In other words: We don't have to play by the same rules as other car companies.

"A mark of legitimacy"

We think that's a dangerous attitude; more importantly, so do two industry analysts we spoke to.

"If you intend to call yourself an American automaker," said Aaron Bragman of IHS Automotive, "you need to publish your figures, just like every other automaker."

"Want to be considered something other than a sketchy operation with little transparency and an uncertain future?" he asked, pointedly.

"Then start opening the doors to inspection, and start providing information by which you can be measured objectively. It's a mark of legitimacy."

Cash flow obscured

Dave Sullivan of AutoPacific echoed the sentiment.

"Niche companies like Lamborghini, Bentley and others release sales data on a monthly cadence," Sullivan pointed out, "so there's no excuse other than not having to play public relations defense on a monthly basis."

"It'll be up to investors and stockholders to demand monthly transparency" from Tesla, he said, but "it'll be difficult [for Tesla] to show progress without releasing sales data" and, he added, "it'll be hard to judge cash flow."

Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California

Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California

Enlarge Photo

Sullivan suggests the information blockade may hurt the company: "Tesla's barricade won't help opinions on Wall Street."

He noted that Azure Dynamics--the conversion company that built the Ford Transit Connect Electric, now bankrupt--was also reluctant to discuss sales data.

To which we can add that Think North America stopped providing monthly sales a few months before its Norwegian parent company filed for bankruptcy.

"If you're truly proud of your product," Sullivan concluded, "you won't shy away from sales data or reviews from the media."

What does Tesla want to hide?

So, we close with questions: Does Tesla's reticence reduce financial transparency?

Do investors, analysts, and its many, many fans have any right to know exactly how many Model S cars Tesla delivers each month--just as they do for all other car companies?

And why would Tesla be scared to say how many cars it sells?

Leave us your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (75)
  1. I have noted further credibility problems with either Musk or Tesla,Inc, or both : 1) recharge times are at variance with those quoted for the past year or so for their supercharger 2) Battery pack weights seem to be a state secret, as is their cost, although educated guesses can be made. Musk is for some reason practically adamant that there is now new battery tech on the horizon, which I find totally bizarre.

  2. Not sure why you're so obsessed about battery weight/cost. Those are kind of trade secret type items... You kind of come across as an Elon troll at this point, but to each their own.

  3. Kent: You have a big following over at TMC. Even have your own thread. Not one can seem to figure you out since you seem to straddle both sides of the EV issue.

  4. Trolls aren't that hard to figure out. They say things they know will upset readers in order to provoke negative reactions. They will say anything and any reaction will make their day.

  5. Wonder why the folks at TMC forum would waste their breath on some garden variety troll anyway. The systematic negative undertone in the reporting on Tesla on this website is a far more interesting phenomenon!

  6. So...the problem is that Tesla should publish sales figures monthly rather than quarterly or investors might loose interest? The usual nonsense from the usual "experts". At this stage being too transparent about production numbers is hardly recommendable. Any problems in the start up phase would be known to the likes of Fox News and the other usual sceptics who will spin it into plug-ins in general and Tesla in particular being a failure. The bad publicity would kill sales and the whole thing would turn into a self fulfilling prophesy. I wouldn't invest in a company that made that sort of communication mistakes. Once production is nicely up and running, that would be the time for more frequent reporting on sales numbers.

  7. @Chris: So if Tesla were to do what every other adult car company does, and release its monthly sales figures, that would preclude you from buying its stock? RLY?

  8. I am an investor in TSLA and I totally think it would be a bad idea for them to release sales numbers. Fox News is waiting in the wings to run non-stop stories about poor EV sales.

    Considering that the production plan for TSLA requires poor EV sales as they ramp up that would just be asking for trouble. They are building one car a day. Try doing the math yourself if its not beyond you.

  9. @John: Oh I don't know, if Tesla was clearly shooting itself in the foot with a misguided communication strategy I might still go for their stock, but I would short it and would actually be very glad with your particular brand of reporting on Tesla.

    Speaking of which...a lot of your negative reporting on Tesla seems to hinge on what this Aaron Bragman character advises you. I wonder what sort of position he and his network have in Tesla. Would be interesting to know in the spirit of full disclosure and all that.

  10. @Chris O: Good question, but I don't believe IHS Automotive invests in automotive stocks in any way, shape, or form. The company is not an investor in any company or industry, but a pure industry analysis company, part of the IHS group which analyzes a large number of industries (i.e. not just autos).

  11. @ John, But what are they analysing the industry for if not for investment related purposes? Even if IHS doesn't invest itself, wouldn't a company like that be related to people who do?

    My point is: every "expert" has an angle and when they start making statements that don't seem to make much sense one has to wonder what that angle is.

  12. give them a break! Deliveries just started a week ago

  13. Don't expect the sceptics to give Tesla a break. Like Fisker wrote in it's add:

    "the doubters aren't the builders. The critics are never the creators. And the skeptics, rarely the inventors"

  14. Scared? Oh please, John, you know better.

    As for speculation as to why they insist on releasing only quarterly, you've seen how the press jumps on the slightest dip in sales numbers for the Volt and the Leaf. After seeing that, I wouldn't want to release them either. Quarterly gives a little bit of a buffer to seasonal fluctuations, and a better impression of how the car is actually selling, instead of how it's selling last month.

  15. They shouldn't even post quarterly figures (just fodder for the hyenas until Tesla has a complete handle on things)for at least a year, but they have no choice since they are a publicly traded company.

  16. @Chris: That is a new one, I must admit: No one has called me a hyena before. Made my day. :)

    And, yes, as a publicly traded company, they do have certain obligations to inform their owners regularly about the current status of their investment. Sales figures would seem to be a useful data point.

  17. They provide their sales figures in a quarterly report as they are required to do.

    You come off sounding like you are upset that they don't make the information readily available to you so that you can cut and paste it into your articles.

    The fact that Tesla doesn't report its sales in a manner that is accessible to your particular journalistic skill level doesn't make this a crisis to the rest of us.

  18. Thomas - you seem a little too concerned with slighting investigators than the investigation itself.

  19. @John, actually I was thinking about Fox News with the hyena remark, but may be at this point Tesla has a better chance of getting a somewhat fair treatment from them than from you. Looking through the comments I think because of the systematic negative bias in all of your reporting on Tesla you have something of a riot on your hands.

    Oh well, it does spice up things a bit!

  20. I think Voelcker has been pretty clear in multiple articles that he thinks ALL car companies should publish sales volumes, not just Tesla. Far from being anti-Tesla, it is pro-data, which is commendable.

  21. Chris - Now you have jumped off the ledge of reasonable disagreement to pure fanboyism. Quarterly figures are the MINIMAL necessary to advise investors if the manufacturer is even a viable concern. After all, the company makes one product. Do you expect an investor to just guess if the company is actually selling its product?

  22. What do you expect to learn from these figures? Not how popular Tesla is this month.

    They're not selling anything at the moment. They are just ramping up production to fulfill a backlog of 11,000 reservations.

    Publishing the number of delivered Teslas would just lead to certain news outlets to jump on it: "I told you it would sell in dismal numbers!".

  23. I have worked for many “legitimate” industries that never, ever, publish sales volume numbers, e.g. consumer electronics. Serial numbers are designed to obfuscate so the volume isn’t discernable. That has never created a problem as sales numbers in dollars are sufficient, and more meaningful, to the investor.

    I can see why analysts and journalists (and EV lovers like myself) want the data, to make their jobs easier and clearer. But it serves no other function.

  24. @John: Fair enough, but the custom in the car industry is to compare numbers every month. I continue to assert that if Tesla wishes to be viewed by the public, Wall Street, and the likes of me as a real, adult, legitimate car company ... it has to give out the same info.

  25. John,

    This obsession with "custom" one week after deliveries starts to borders on irrational. Since when has Tesla done anything the way the majors or minors are doing it.

    I'm with John Briggs. If Tesla does it differently, good. Quarterly numbers are good enough.

    If the only reasons are "investor confidence" and "custom", then I'd ask you to reexamine exactly why those numbers are so essential ONE WEEK after delivery.

  26. I agree. What exactly is the point of this article? Tesla doesn't sell cars the way a traditional dealership does, why should they copy every other move they do? I can see the headlines "Tesla sells only 10 cars" if they were to release their June numbers.

  27. Not the Dave_M from Florida.

  28. Any moderately competent journalist writing about Tesla would know that "Wall Street" is busy hyping the stock, as opposed to complaining about whether they are real, adult or legitimate.

    The "public", as represented by me, loves Tesla as is.

    That leaves you, standing on your soapbox and speaking for.. you?

  29. If Tesla did the exact same as other car companies. They wouldn't be making EV's

  30. As a piece of "hard data," I just placed my Tesla Model S deposit (6/28/2012) yesterday and my sequence number is 9883.

  31. Mr Parrot:
    Can you said how good is your electric car?
    Where are the other 9883 people to ask them, so let it know if the car is good enough for that price or just a bad invesment, and nonfuncional item.

  32. I just went from the S to the Signature - for an extra $35,000 deposit. I was reservation 2300 so I have been waiting for 2 years and reading everything. I did a ride-in at the factory a year ago. It's real. It's quite amazing actually.

  33. Hi Bill.
    Me too. I handed my check over while attending the Fremont test drive event. Driving a Model S is an UNREAL experience!! After the early adopters start getting their cars and providing rides to friends and family, I think the sales momentum will pick up. I'm sure when normal folks (i.e. non-EV enthusiasts) start buying, Tesla will release their sales figures. I'm betting that will start happening next year. I enjoy reading John's articles, but complaining about lack of sales figures when Tesla is only building one car per day seems like beehive beating.


  34. I would keep quite as well so when I decide to speak I have all the information to shut up the critics... Keep to your game plan Musk cause it has worked like a charm so far... go Tesla!

  35. Why this anti-Tesla diatribe?
    Tesla has just started production. They SAID that production would be slow to begin with and speed up as time went by. They do not expect to be in full production until the end of the year.
    Expect the kind of updates you are talking about in a year's time!

  36. Spot on. Monthly 'sales' figures are completely useless at this point in time. They're still in the process of acquiring the routine necessary to churn out 80 per day by the end of the year.

    And you can be sure that every piece of information will be jumped upon by the naysayers. Providing monthly 'sales' figures is like feeding the trolls.

  37. Okay. Have to admit I started laughing when I read this sensationalist article. They JUST delivered their first 10 cars and are ramping production. Sales figures won't be of interest until production is ramped. Then we'll have real numbers to look at.
    Feels like you not only jumped the gun with this article, but you're dangerously close to jumping the shark.

  38. I totally agree with you, John. You would think that a firm that makes "green" cars has a certain level of ethics, but I guess it doesn't reach their marketing department. Being secretive is certainly not "green", which for me implies a certain level of transparency, especially if you pretend to be a "different" kind of company.

  39. On a side note, Tesla is more and more like Apple: besides being so secretive, it has a base of fanboys who jump on anybody who dares to be critical of their "idol".

  40. What does that tell you about future Tesla stock value?

  41. I don't care whether Apple is secretive or not. They have changed the world. My Android phone would not be half as good, were it not for the iPhone.

  42. I hate to agree with you re: Android, but alas I do. Now if we could just get Apple to compete instead of litigate :)

  43. wow, hard to believe this is newsworthy. Tesla already stated about 20 a day for first few months to make sure the S delivery process was sound and all bases covered with an eventual ramp up to 100 a day.

    as far as a 3 month report over a one month report? its two months. if Tesla owners wanted to they could probably gleam a pretty good ballpark figure thru their own forums.

  44. So we are stuck with only the sales numbers for the European countries (because they are released by industry/government organizations).
    For exemple, in France in May, 7 Fisker and 0 Tesla were sold (3 Tesla Roadster were sold in 2012).

  45. But again, why is this news? That's the point that people are making. Model S is just beginning deliveries, Tesla has clearly stated they will slowly ramp production to make sure the quality is there. The sales figures will become meaningful when they are fully ramped and delivering.
    This has nothing to do with who is a Tesla fan and who is not. This has everything to do with 'meaningless news'.

  46. It has nothing to do with Tesla ramping up production. It has to do with Tesla being part of the auto industry, being as open as any other car company selling cars in the USA, instead of being so secretive and hiding its sales numbers. Tesla has been selling cars for over 2 years now, and cannot pretend anymore to be a new car company.

  47. "If you intend to call yourself an American automaker," said Aaron Bragman of IHS Automotive, "you need to publish your figures, just like every other automaker."


    Who the hell is this guy? Has he created one job, or thousands like Elon Musk? Has he created a new automotive segment that dominates the world? Tesla is more of an American automaker than Italian owned Fiat, or Ford and GM that build their products in China, Mexico and Canada and ship them here.

    Aaron Bragman and all of the other detractors in Detroit need to take a powder. Detroit automotive types CAN'T STAND the fact that a California company is showing them the future...not Dearborn or Auburn Hills.

    The future of the electric car is not in Michigan. Get over it.

  48. Who is Aaron Bragman...good question.

    Calls himself a Senior Analyst. Guess he writes the reports and vents the opinions investors base their decisions on. Makes you wonder why he would come up with this weird story that Tesla not publishing sales numbers at this stage is cause for alarm. It only makes sense when one realizes that there is a lot of short selling of Tesla stock going on, i.e. people ho can only make money if Tesla stock value drops. For them this is exactly the sort of rumours they need.

  49. This has nothing to do with being from Detroit or from California. I live in San Francisco, and around here, being green implies being more transparent. I admire Tesla, and I think Elon Musk is a great guy. But I wish that all of these new electric car makers (Tesla, Fisker, Coda, etc) had the guts to publish their monthly sales numbers, like every other car marketer. That does not make me or anyone else questioning this lack of transparency a "detractor". Gee, speaking of fan boys...

  50. Not sure why everyone assumes EV are 'meant' to be green. A high priced, luxury performance vehicle isn't the first thing that comes to mind when one says green. They are better and they are fun. Isn't that enough without having to be green as well?

  51. You can't assume all EVs are "green" but for me, they have to be. "Better" and "Fun" are not enough because most days a car is a way to get to work and back. Fun is what I do when I am not going to work and not driving to get there. "Better" is too broad a term and can cover many things, as a car with a coffee cup holder is "better" than one without, at least for me. When are people going to get past this silly notion that public roads are theme parks where you can drive for entertainment, often in complete disregard of the guy who's just trying to get where he needs to be? Go to your local speedway if you need that!

  52. @Steve: I respect your efforts with Aptera, but you and I are going to have to disagree on this one.

    You're not seriously saying that the ONLY people who have standing to comment on startups are successful entrepreneurs, are you? By that measure, I wouldn't contact you for comment--as I do because I respect your perspective & smarts.

    Bragman & other analysts I quote are those who I believe to have perspective, data & the intelligence to incorporate all of that into savvy news analysis.

    As for California, it remains a pricey, unfriendly, and arguably stupid place to build cars:

  53. I wasn't aware that you take issue with Tesla not being in Detroit.

  54. There are more comments in this thread
  55. I've visited a few automobile factories and I'd really get a kick out of seeing DAILY Tesla production numbers. This would give me tremendous insight into the quality and maturity of their manufacturing processes and allow me to judge how quickly they will ramp up from their current low rate initial production to full rate numbers. I suppose I could get this information if I got a job at Tesla, in the right department.

    At this time, I can imagine that Tesla has both good days and bad days. As manufacturing defects and other problems are uncovered, Tesla may even have a bad month. Unlike the big blobs in Detroit, Tesla would have a really tough time recovering from the bad press associated with production issues.

  56. Tesla is basically trying to manufacture the entire first batch of special order signature edition cars to fulfill all the orders that the $40,000 deposit holders have put money down on. I doubt if you could even buy one quickly since it will most likely take many months of waiting to get a new Tesla Model S that hasn’t been preordered. Also Tesla is most likely experiencing a bit of a cash flow problem now since it costs a lot of money to ramp up production and most likely have to use the entire amount of the $40,000 deposits to manufacture each and every one of the Signature edition Model S’s. Hopefully Tesla will be successful with this strategy and be able to get several thousand-signature edition Model S on the road in a timely fashion

  57. 1) Tesla doesn't answer to the automotive industry. They are revolutionizing it.
    2) Tesla is young. Give them a year for production to ramp up.
    3) Model S just made Leaf and Volt obsolete. Watch out automotive industry.

  58. Um... obsolete? Someone has had way too much KoolAid. I love Tesla but I can afford my Volt and it gives me all the range I need. Sorry but as great as the S is, it's not making other EVs obsolete yet.

  59. I give credit to Tesla for getting where they are but I find the level of gullibility on the part of tech fan boys when it comes to the auto market astonishing. The company has been preaching to the choir for 8 years and hasn't gone near the real auto market. Once those early adopter orders are fulfilled, then come the real consumers. Go ask someone off the street with $55k to spend on a car if he'd be willing to put up with a 160 mile range and no place except his garage (if he has one) to 'refuel', which, by the way, takes a long time. Then come the warranty claims, recalls and lawsuits. Oh joy!

  60. You are either lying or uninformed. There are public chargers. Also fast chargers. Each buyer will have to judge for himself whether the range is a problem or not. If you have $55,000 to spend, usually you have the intelligence to decide that.

    Do you also go around Lamborghini blogs, warning potential buyers that their vehicle is not suited to take the family on vacation?

  61. Lamborghini travel the autorotes of europe often traveling more than 1000 miles in 6 or 8 hours

  62. We're shooting the messenger here. John is being a good journalist. If you are going to "redefine the industry" it should not be on transparency, it should be on product. Tesla should conform with laudible industry practices on disclosure and use its skills to articulate its situation--e.g., it's a young company putting out a new product, and production will take time to ramp. Enough said.

    A larger issue about transparency though is TSLA voluntarily took $465M of loan money from the US government. I personally support the loan program, but it comes with obligations to the taxpayer (you and I) that are funding it. TSLA owes us as taxpayers at a *minimum* the industry standard level of disclosure. Part and parcel with taking taxpayer money.

  63. No, I believe you are mistaken. The DOE loan is given out in several parts, and at each step Tesla has to fulfill milestones in order to qualify for the next part of the loan. The DOE does not discuss the details of these milestones in public, as far as I know.

    As far as I know, your assumption, that Tesla owes anyone monthly statistics, is not based on fact, but merely your personal opinion. Monthly sales numbers are, the best I can tell, completely irrelevant in respect to the DOE loan, to its terms and objectives.

  64. whatever, donors of obama fail into special stipulations

  65. John, maybe you missed it but Tesla did a live webcast of the cars that they delivered in June. As of July 2nd they have been delivering customer cars for only 10 days. I think that you're being a little premature in condemning them for not releasing sales figures less than 2 weeks after deliveries began. It leaves me wondering what your motivations are.

  66. Tesla has no reason to be scared, it is all the other auto makers that need to be scared at this time. The Model S is a world changer.

  67. Clarification: Quick charging is at best a 'once a year' event, according to Tesla's sales folks in Seattle. The problem, the 45 minute fast recharge generates serious heat, which degrades the batteries, even though they have coolant running through them.
    My vote on the disclosure: give them a little space to ramp up production, , make mistakes, close the line for a few days if problems occur, whatever, instead of trying to pretend like they're a fully mature automaker.

  68. I would be interested to know - since everything is based on "just like every other automaker" - when does sales reporting start at GM, Chrysler, etc. on a new model line? I find it hard to believe monthly reporting starts during the first week of initial ramp up. I may be wrong but, as someone in the industry for 25+ years, I doubt it.

  69. @Chris: Every major automaker that sells in the U.S. releases monthly sales reports, broken down by model, on the first or second business day after the close of the month. Models that went on sale during that month are always included.

    To be clear, I asked Tesla--after it had completed its Model S first-delivery media blitz--whether it planned to report those sales monthly, starting on July 2. It said it would not, and it has not.

    How many Model S cars were actually delivered in June beyond the initial dozen or so we know of is anyone's guess. It could be fewer than 20. It could be more than 100. No one knows. And Tesla isn't saying.

    Does that answer your question?

  70. This sounds like my 11 year old son when we won't give him something! I can see after a year or two for it to make sense for them to provide you data but no one expects them to really set the world on fire. Most people expect them to fail like 99 percent of all new companies. The truth is good sales numbers help bad numbers wont, point set match!

  71. As a shareholder I feel very informed about Tesla. They filed with the SEC that they will slowly ramp up production. Releasing a production number of 20 would be great fodder for the press but no surprise to the shareholders. They have stated they will produce and sell 5000 model s cars this year. Everything that has transpired in the last month makes me confident they will achieve this milestone. They have added an additional 3000 reservation this past month which also is pleasing to this shareholder. The battery has a warranty of 8 years and I believe at the time of purchase you can purchase a replacement for when warranty ends for $12,000.

  72. Nissan Leaf, we see driving down the road only sold 10,000 cars last year, 1/2 their expectations, and amount tsla tales us it has deposits for. How much longer can the charade continue ?

  73. Does anyone know how many hydrogen on demand kits have been installed in the USA ? There are several companies making the kits, and prices are beginning to elevate, they are advertising for dealers.

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