Tesla reported a modest 4 per cent rise in sales in the first quarter (January-March) compared to the final three months of last year, CNN Business said.
This is despite a series of price cuts on its lower priced vehicles and talk by Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk about strong demand at those lower prices, according to CNN Business. The first quarter also marked the fourth straight quarter that Tesla has produced more vehicles than it has delivered to customers.
CNN Business said some of that may be due to the ramp up in production at two new factories, one in Texas, the other in Germany, which opened last spring, and a lag between that increased production and sales.
Tesla said there was an increase in the number of its more expensive models, the Model S and Model X, in transit to Europe, the Middle East and Africa, as well as to the Asia Pacific region.
But it does mean that over the last 12 months Tesla has produced 78,000 more cars than it has sold, suggesting that talk of strong demand by Tesla executives may not be backed up by the numbers.
That 78,000-vehicle excess production is equal to 5 per cent of the cars it has built, according to the CNN Business report. First quarter sales trailed production by 18,000 vehicles, less than the gap in third and fourth quarter of last year, but still equal to 4 per cent of the vehicles it built.
“Early this year, we had a price adjustment. After that, we actually generated a huge demand, more than we can produce, really,” Tom Zhu, Tesla’s executive in charge of global production and sales, said at Tesla’s Investor Day.
“And as Elon said, as long as you offer a product with value at affordable price, you don’t have to worry about demand.”
But some analysts said the hard numbers reported on Sunday raises questions about the strength of demand for Tesla, no matter how bullish the comments from Zhu and Musk.
“If it wasn’t clear before, it now is, Tesla has a demand problem,” Gordon Johnson, an analyst who is one of the biggest Tesla critics, said in a note Monday.
“For four straight quarters, Tesla has produced more cars than they have sold, despite the fact that two of its plants are operating at 20 per cent to 40 per cent utilisation, and it shut down its largest plant, unexpectedly, three times in the first quarter,” said Johnson said, who said he believes Musk has a “pathological problem with the truth.”
“In short, no matter what Elon Musk says, Tesla has a serious/major demand problem,” said Johnson.
The company reported it completed sales of 422,875 vehicles in the quarter. That’s short of the forecast of 430,000 vehicles from analysts surveyed by Refinitiv. Dan Ives, tech analyst for Wedbush Securities, said the consensus that Wall Street was looking for was deliveries of 421,500, which would mean a very narrow beat for Tesla.
But even Ives, a bull on Tesla stock, said the lower prices that Tesla got for cars in the quarter will mean tighter profit margins going forward. Tesla will report full first quarter financial results on April 19, CNN Business reported.