Tesla Motors To Be Profitable Selling Electric Cars By April, It Says Page 2

Follow John

Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

Enlarge Photo

And, he noted, early deliveries have been of more lavishly specified cars than the company had projected.

More than half of Model S orders have specified the 85-kilowatt-hour battery pack, and less than 10 percent are for the 40-kWh version--though, he acknowledged, "that could change in the future."

Expansion into Europe and Asia

Outside North America, the company has done a limited amount of marketing in Europe--right now, Musk said, it only has two cars there. And it has done essentially nothing in Asia.

That will change "dramatically" this year, Musk said.

Reservations are rolling in steadily from Europe, Blankenship said, despite not having cars to display and stores just clearing out the last remaining Roadsters. Asia is even less advanced.

About 25 percent of the company's reservations now come from outside North America, according to Blankenship, and that will increase. The North American stores saw 1.6 million visitors, he said.

In December, Tesla opened a distribution center in the Netherlands and also announced European pricing for the Model S electric luxury sport sedan.

"We've said it before," Musk noted, "but we expect that ultimately, we will deliver 10,000 to 15,000 cars in North America, 10,000 in Europe, and 10,000 to 15,000 in Asia--but that will take time to build up, especially China.

The export drive "doesn't affect us this year all that much," Musk noted. "I'm quite sure we can deliver more than 20,000 cars this year, but we want to make sure we've laid the groundwork for improvements above 20K for 2014."

"It's not really a question of demand generation for this year," he concluded. The question is more, "How to exceed that next year?"

Quality control data

One question caught CEO Musk off-guard: What were the stats on the number of Model S cars required post-production touching up or rectification of other quality-control issues?

"I don't have that handy," said an obviously surprised Musk. "I wasn't expecting that question."

The percentage, he said, has dropped dramatically since the start of production last June. Cars that have to be pulled off the end of the line to have something fixed are now a "fairly small percentage."

And, he pointed out, any issues related to the cars' software can be addressed by deploying over-the-air software updates--which no other carmaker can do. That, he said, "has worked quite well."

Reservations and waiting times

In its shareholder letter, Tesla wrote:

After deliveries and cancellations, our net reservations at year end, were over  15,000, up from about 13,000 at the end of Q3. New reservations continue at a steady, although slower pace in Q1 2013, as compared to December, due in part to the pull ahead of reservations into Q4 by customers seeking to  avoid the price increase.

Q1 cancellations are likely to remain elevated as the remaining older reservation holders are invited to configure their vehicles within a set timeframe or pay the higher price just like new reservation holders. 

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

'Revenge of the Electric Car' premiere: Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk on red carpet

Enlarge Photo

Asked by an analyst whether the net reservations number would fall during the first two quarters as deliveries ramped up, Musk indicated that it might well do so.

In raising the price of the Model S and asking reservation holders to confirm their orders if they wanted the old price, Musk said, "we were trying to clean out anyone who wasn't serious about buying the car."

Tesla expects its reservation numbers to stabilize, he said, though it has "a lot of demand in North America"--more than half its production target of 20,000 cars a year.

"Our intention is not to have people wait six months for a car," he said. "We much prefer that demand generation and production are better synced, so customers can order a car, get it in a few weeks.

"It's not our intent to have a long waiting list," he said. "That's pretty inconvenient for people."

Factory efficiency

But, he said, the company's production numbers have been constrained solely by its ability to achieve 'steady-state production in an efficient way"--not by demand--which he called "a really important point."

"If we wanted to, we could raise production to 500 units a week," Musk boasted, "but it would have a lot of expense for overtime and so on."

It's far more important for Tesla Motors to improve the efficiency of the assembly process at the current level of 400 cars a week, he said.

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

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

Enlarge Photo

"This is our very first quarter when we're at our target production rate," Musk said, which has really been "very little time to work on production efficiencies."

Those efficiencies include reducing the number of staff hours per car produced, and cutting the number of temporary employees at the Fremont, California plant.

Factory workers averaged almost 70 hours a week in December, which Musk noted cost the company a great deal of money. "It's over time above 40 hours a week," he said, "but it's double time above 60 hours."

Today, workers average almost a 50-hour week, and Tesla's goal is to drive that down to the mid-40s during March.

"The labor hours per car are dropping dramatically," Musk said, saying that "may be the single biggest factor" in the company's drive to Q1 profitability.

Tires from the Czech Republic

Close behind cutting staff hours per car are improvements in logistics, and efficiencies in the parts from suppliers for the Model S.

"We had to fly in a lot of parts in December," Musk said ruefully, at a cost up to 10 times the standard price. "We had to do dumb things like fly in tires from the Czech Republic."

Follow Us

Comments (12)
  1. Great work John, as ever. I read the shareholder statement, looked at the balance sheet and P&L but that didn't give me the meeting review which you have.

    I can completely sympathise with the supply chain issue. I've been caught by supplier balls ups that led to me flying super heavy stuff around the world and taking a loss just to keep a customers. It's devastatingly annoying.

  2. You're 100% correct on the supply chain issue, of course, Brian. I work for a motor supplier and was contacted by Tesla several times about three different motor applications. My company eventually declined to work further with Tesla (at the time) due to the low volumes and the fact that the specifications were never really official.

    At the time, many brilliant people at Tesla, but limited money & resources made working with it very tough. That's meant to compliment Tesla for making so much progress. With limited resources and many suppliers declining to work with it, Tesla has still done a great job despite occasional problems typical for a new competitor.

    To face what Tesla has thus far and achieve what Tesla has is just amazing, IMHO.

  3. It's a serious challenger to Audi A8 ,BMW 7 ,Mercedes S as a status symbol for a younger tech savvy generation.For the over 50 age group Mercedes S means something and for today's affluent Tesla is all there ideals in an earth friendly package.It has much right to exist and succeed as model does and we should all hope it does.

  4. Thanks John Voelcker for an extremely informative and objective article detailing the story behind the numbers.

    Really helps under stand how profitability is something that doesn't happen overnight by just reaching production goals but only after the production process is fully rationalized.

    Fascinating to learn how analysts like IHS can make life difficult for newcomers by misinforming suppliers. Very insightful...

    Glad to learn that the most crucial factor -demand- isn't really an issue this year and since the effects of leasing, finance and lots of other measures Tesla could take haven't even kicked in yet I'm sure Tesla's future looks pretty bright for years to come.

  5. I'm in agreement with @ChrisO, John Voelcker has created a great article with well organized and explained details.

    It must have been extremely frustrating to Tesla employees to be ramping up production of their high-tech baby, only to see them pile up, waiting on tires to roll off the production line.

    If I'm reading numbers correctly, over half (1200+) of Model S's production delivered Q4 was built in just three weeks of December. (2400 of 2750 built in Q4 were delivered & Tesla was operating at 400 level for 3 weeks in December) This is pretty amazing milestone as number of Roadster's delivered was ~2400 total.

  6. Tesla's future sounds bright, they have done an excellent job of sticking to their set milestones. Looks to me like this little electric auto maker will be a perminate fixture on the automotive landscape. And Tesla may be the driving force in remolding that landscape.

  7. obama and elon can fly on taxpayer dollar wings, ha ha ha

  8. What's a troll doing out in daytime?
    Who's minding your bridge?

  9. If Tesla thrives (and so the signs are encouraging, already paying back some of that taxpayer's money) and forces the rest of the industry to early adoption of alternatives for petroleum like plug-ins it's the best money the taxpayer ever spent.

  10. Come on, John V., ban this clown already. You've written an outstanding article and most here have valid comments. Then, of course, you have Ms. Cox with the daily childish nonsense and name calling.

    If she truly cannot act as an adult, then there should be no room for her here, on a professional site.

    As for the article and Tesla, great news. One could nitpick, but the bigger picture is that Tesla is doing well. Sorry, Ms. Cox...

  11. John, I agree with everyone that this is one of the most well written articles I've seen regarding EVs in a long time.

    I am very proud of Tesla and what they have accomplished. When Lotus discontinued the Roadster gliders, I thought they were doomed. I thought there was no way they were going to survive for years without a product and produce their own design in high volume. They sure made a believer out of me. And, they continue to do everything right against a constant drumbeat of bias, sabotage and misinformation from the press and the analysts.

    Well done Telsa. People really do want 200-300 mile EVs and they are the only company getting it done.

  12. Did Elon say, April 1st by any cance ?

Commenting is closed for old articles.

Get FREE Dealer Quotes

From dealers near you

Find Green Cars


© 2015 Green Car Reports. All Rights Reserved. Green Car Reports is published by High Gear Media. Send us feedback. Stock photography by izmo, Inc.