Update: Have Tesla Model S, Model X electric-car sales plateaued?

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Tesla Model 3 teaser image with Model S and Model X, March 2016

Tesla Model 3 teaser image with Model S and Model X, March 2016

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Often there seems to be no middle ground in discussing electric-car maker Tesla Motors.

The challenge of reading large volumes of Tesla coverage is that it tends to be either sharply negative or rabidly positive.

And the California company's stock is so obsessively analyzed both by supporters and detractors that sober analysis is often hard to come by.

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Tesla and its CEO Elon Musk are remarkably adept in issuing positive or interesting new developments on top of less favorable news as well.

A single Tesla Model 3 that emerged from its Fremont factory last weekend—the first production car, according to a photo tweeted by Musk—received a huge amount of media attention.

That largely overshadowed news from a week earlier that the company's global deliveries of its Model S and Model X had remained essentially flat for the fourth quarter in a row.

EDITOR'S NOTE: We originally published this story on March 3, 2017. We have revised it four months later to reflect additional data on Tesla quarterly deliveries, along with other updates on recent Tesla developments. The second page contains a further breakdown of recent sales.

2017 Tesla Model 3

2017 Tesla Model 3

Enlarge Photo

Similarly, the headline from the full-year 2016 financial results released in March, was that Model 3 production remained on schedule. The actual numbers released in the company's Q4 Shareholder Letter and accompanying financial results, however, told an interesting story on a different topic.

That would be the pace of ongoing sales for the company's current Model S sedan and Model X crossover utility vehicle—which could well have plateaued.

Looking back at the last two quarters, Tesla's global deliveries were 24,821 from July through September, and 22,252 in October through December.

READ THIS: Tesla's Q2 2017 deliveries fall slightly due to 100-kwh battery shortage

Those deliveries were the final half of a year in which Tesla delivered 76,230 Model S and Model X vehicles, missing its lowered guidance to financial analysts of 80,000 units. (The company also noted that its total 2016 production was 83,922 vehicles.)

In the shareholder letter, the company offered guidance only for first-half deliveries from January through June, estimating it at 47,000 to 50,000 cars—or 25,000 cars each quarter, split evenly.

In fact, Tesla's global deliveries were 47,100, barely achieving the low end of that guidance. In an update to its release, it noted that it also had 3,500 cars in transit, fewer than the 4,650 in transit at the end of March, let alone the 6,450 in transit at the end of 2016.

Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California

Tesla Motors, Palo Alto, California

Enlarge Photo

That means the four quarters of the delivery pace for July 2016 through June 2017 are now known:

  • Q3-16: 24,821
  • Q4-16: 22,252
  • Q1-17: "just over 25,000"
  • Q2-17: "just over 22,100"

In other words, Tesla delivered about 94,200 cars over the past four quarters. That means its quarterly pace has stayed roughly the same for a year now.

As always, the company had an explanation for its shortfall in the most recent quarter: "a severe production shortfall of 100-kwh battery pack."

CHECK OUT: Tesla Transparency On Orders, Sales, Production Fades: Do Owners, Investors Care? (Jan 2015)

Left unexplained was why many of those rare 100-kwh packs would be dedicated to "fully loaded, newly built cars" the company said it added to its service-loaner, test-drive, and display fleets during the same quarter.

A plateau in sales for the Model S would be far from unusual; the large electric sedan is now in its sixth model year, a time in a model's life when virtually every vehicle's sales fall off.

Today's Model S differs significantly from the 2012 original, having received continual changes to battery capacities and driver-assistance features, but the only exterior indication was a front-end styling update in April 2016.

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