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How Many Cars Is Tesla Selling In U.S.? Pace May Be Slowing

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This Wednesday, Tesla Motors will release its first-quarter financial results--one part of which will be its electric-car sales total from January through March.

If the usual practice holds true, Tesla will provide a single global sales total, not breaking it down by market or month as other automakers do.

What may be obscured is whether Tesla's U.S. sales have flattened--and, if so, whether this is due to capacity constraints and export demands, or a leveling-off of customer interest.

DON'T MISS: Plug-In Electric Car Sales In April: Leaf Widens Lead, Volt Flat Again: FINAL UPDATE

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk at Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Enlarge Photo

On the call, CEO Elon Musk and CFO Deepak Ahuja are likely to make some general, qualitative statements about how markets are shaping up, in response to respectful questions from the financial analysts on the call.

It would be more than a little unusual for Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] to provide detailed sales data.

It's never done so, and seemingly feels no need to explain how it's doing month by month, market by market. Tesla executives have said in years past that its investors don't care about those details, and the company doesn't always follow the same practices that other carmakers do.

Instead, financial analysts and reporters pore over other sources of information, from Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) data on the latest Teslas delivered to aggregated state-by-state new-car registrations.

Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Tesla Store opening in Westfield Mall, London, Oct 2013

Enlarge Photo

During the first quarter of this year, however, a number of sources have suggested that Tesla Model S sales in the U.S. remain flat--or may be declining.

In February, following the company's year-end results for 2013, a number of analysts noted that California registrations of Model S cars were lower in the second half of last year than they had been in the first half.

MORE: Has U.S. Demand For The Tesla Model S Electric Car Stabilized?

Now Morgan Stanley analyst Adam Jonas, quoted in Barron's, says that a decline in first-quarter U.S. deliveries of Tesla electric cars "is not only possible, but is likely."

And, he says, such a decline is "reasonable" based on the company's increased shipments to fill the pipeline of cars it expects to sell in China, now that sales have started there.

Analysts will be listening closely on the call for hard data on how Tesla is doing in Europe and especially in China, which it has said could be its biggest global market.

Meanwhile, citing figures from AutoData Corp., which estimates Tesla in the U.S. delivered about 1,600 Model S cars in March, the Los Angeles Times hit the same flat-sales theme a month ago: Tesla sales have "topped out" or "stalled" in the U.S.

2014 Tesla Model S in China

2014 Tesla Model S in China

Enlarge Photo

While the resulting headlines may matter, Jonas says, Morgan Stanley is not "fundamentally concerned" even if U.S. sales are level this year with last year's number.

Instead, he suggests, a much more crucial factor for Tesla's future is the current standoff with potential partners in its plans for a huge lithium-ion cell "gigafactory" to start volume production by 2017.

Tesla fans will be pleased that Jonas says, on behalf of Morgan Stanley, that "we believe Tesla is the most important auto company in the world" based on the attention it has received throughout the global auto industry.

Meanwhile, the company will release its first-quarter results on Wednesday afternoon, likely around 2 pm Pacific / 5 pm Eastern time, after the financial markets close.

So we'll probably get answers to a few of these questions then--but very likely, not to all of them. Which means the tea-leaf reading and general aura of mystery will continue.

We suspect Tesla may like it that way, simply because it adds to the company's mystique.

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