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

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Tesla Model S

Tesla Model S

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Tesla Motors announced its fourth-quarter and full-year results late yesterday, and offered some good news to the company's shareholders.

That would be the projection that Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA] will operate at a profit in the current quarter, which ends March 31.

"We expect to be slightly profitable (excluding only non-cash option and warrant-related expenses) in Q1 2013," it wrote in a letter to shareholders on its financial results just after the stock market closed yesterday afternoon.

The prediction advances by almost a whole year the company's timeline for profitability, which had previously been set for the fourth quarter of 2013.

The company lost $90 million in the quarter on revenue of $306.3 million. Its losses per share were $0.65. And it repaid another $12.7 million of its $465 million low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Tesla said it built 2,750 cars and delivered 2,400 to customers from October 1 through December 31; it expects to deliver about 4,500 in the first quarter.

The company's stock, which had opened the day at $39.30, closed down slightly at $38.54 before the results were released.

[UPDATE: Shortly after the market opened this morning, Tesla shares fell below $35--tripping a so-called "circuit breaker" designed to slow short sales of falling stocks.]

After releasing the numbers, Tesla also held a conference call in which CEO Elon Musk, CEO Deepak Ahuja, and George Blankenship, vice president of sales and ownership experience, responded to questions from industry analysts and offered additional color on several issues.

'Cautiously optimistic'

Musk summarized the company's achievements and prospects this year as follows.

"We promised to do three things: We said we would start production in July (it was actually June), deliver 20,000 units in 2013, and by the end of 2013, we will exceed 25 percent gross margin--not including regulatory credits," Musk added.

He said at the end of the call that he wouldn't commit to being profitable in all quarters this year until he knew more about how the company's production, deliveries, and sales rolled out during the first half of the year.

"Maybe I'm hedging too much, but I don't want to be overconfident," said the usually quite confident Musk.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with Tesla Roadster

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk with Tesla Roadster

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"In the absence of some force majeure event--a giant earthquake, for instance--I'm confident that we will be profitable this quarter, and it's our aspiration to be profitable in subsequent quarters as well."

"I do think we'll be profitable in the second quarter, and subsequent quarters too. I'm cautiously optimistic about that."

The following points summarize other topics discussed on the call.

Reservations and waiting time

The company said it added 6,000 additional reservations for the Model S (and also Model X) during the fourth quarter, compared to 2,900 added the previous quarter.

Asked about reports that it was possible to get certain Model S configurations through a Tesla Store in about a month, Musk responded that the average wait time for a car is now about five months.

But, he said, certain high-end Model S configurations--the 85-kilowatt-hour battery model with air suspension, not in the new red paint--were available in six to eight weeks.

"If we were to close all of our stores worldwide right now," he said, "We would still sell out for the entire year."

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