Tesla’s Electric Sales Explode Despite Slow Model 3 Production Ramp

Around the world, electric vehicle makers are starting to make serious inroads into the global auto market. And aspirational industry leader Tesla continues to break new ground and open new markets despite an increasing array of challenges.

Record Tesla Sales

During the third quarter of 2017, Tesla sold 26,150 all-electric vehicles. A new quarterly sales record for the company which included 14,065 super-fast luxury Model S sedans, 11,865 of the also super-fast and highly luxurious Model X SUV, and 220 of the mid-class luxury-sport Model 3. In total, during 2017, Tesla has sold more than 73,000 vehicles. Placing the all-electric vehicle and renewable energy systems manufacturer in a position to challenge the 100,000 cars sold mark by end of December.

(Tesla production and sales by Quarter shows that Q3 2017 beat Tesla’s previous record by more than 1,300 vehicles. Tesla appears on track to hit near 100,000 vehicle sales in 2017. Note that Model X production took 6 Quarters, or approximately 18 months to fully ramp to present sales rates above 10,000 per Quarter. Telsa ultimately expects to produce more than 60,000 Model 3s per Quarter by 2018. Investment analysts are more conservative — with Morgan Stanley targeting 30,000 Model 3s per Quarter. Image source: Commons.)

Surprises in Tesla’s Q3 report include greater than expected overall Model S and X sales. Pessimistic speculation about Tesla struggling to sell its higher-quality line as customers await the anticipated but less expensive and tweaked-out (but still bad-ass) Model 3 abounded throughout August and September. Those contributing to this brouhaha, however, did not appear to anticipate the excitement generated by Tesla’s Model 3 launch which appears to have spilled over to the more expensive line-up even as Tesla both offered incentives on some of its showroom vehicles and cut shorter range, lower cost versions of its Model S line-up.

Tesla Model 3 Production Ramp — A Miss, But Still in the Window

Tesla did, however, fail to meet Model 3 production ramp goals of 1,500 by the end of September. And this was one point where the Tesla pessimists ended up proving at least partly right. Citing production bottlenecks, the luxury EV manufacturer noted that it had produced only 260 Model 3s by end month — a 1,240 vehicle short-fall for the Quarter.

Overall vehicle production had still grown from July through September — hitting 30 in July, about 80 in August, and about 150 in September. This is still an exponential rate of expansion. But the more rapid anticipated ramp was not achieved. Tesla noted that most of their fast production chain was functioning as planned. But that a few bits of the complex and highly automated Model 3 manufacturing subsystems were taking “longer than expected to activate.”

(Tesla’s ground-breaking Model 3 missed company production targets by a fairly wide margin this month — triggering a big controversy among investors. Long term prospects for the Model 3 remain strong as Tesla works through what is, effectively, an employee beta testing period. Image source: Tesla.)

At first blush, this appears to be a fairly wide miss in Tesla’s planned production ramp. But if rapid production scaling is still achieved this fall, it will look like nothing more than a bit of a bump in the road. After the Q3 report, Elon Musk noted:

“I would simply urge people to not get too caught up in what exactly falls within the exact calendar boundaries of a quarter, one quarter or the next, because when you have an exponentially growing production ramp, slight changes of a few weeks here or there can appear to have dramatic changes.”

In other words, we are still in the window for rapid production scaling, even if the earlier, more rapid, ramp was missed by a few weeks.

The company previously struggled with its very complex production of the ultimately popular Model X. To address production challenges, Tesla aimed to simplify production for the Model 3. But integration of new automated equipment into large manufacturing chains as the vehicle is built and product-tested by employee-customers is proving to again pose a few challenges. Challenges that, at this time, do not appear to be anywhere near as serious as those encountered during the Model X production ramp, but are still enough to produce delays.

Tesla Model 3 Production Still About to Explode as EV Maker Enjoys Serious Structural Advantages

Keeping these facts in mind, we can take some of the overly negative reports following Tesla’s failure to hit early Model 3 production targets with a lump of salt. The company still produces amazing cars, is still going to flood the world with high-quality and much more affordable all-electric Model 3s. The company owns a massive manufacturing apparatus in the form if its Freemont plant and Nevada Gigafactory. An apparatus that is rapidly growing. Outside this expanding manufacturing chain, the company is the only major automaker to seriously invest in and rapidly expand crucial EV charging infrastructure. All of these are systemic underlying strengths that the electric automaker will continue to leverage and expand on.

(Tesla battery sales help to reduce EV battery pack costs by producing economies of scale in production. The reverse is also true. With demand for Tesla’s powerwall and powerpacks on the rise, the company possesses a number of systemic advantages that most automobile manufacturers lack. Image source: Tesla.)

Tesla is in the process of transitioning from an automaker that produces a moderate number of vehicles each year to a major automaker that produces more than half a million vehicles each year. And it’s bound to encounter a bump or two in the road from time-to-time. Ultimately, the Model 3 production ramp will hit its stride as Tesla works out the kinks. Around 500,000 reservation-holders will still get their cars.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley recently:

warned investors against “micro-analyzing the monthly ramp of the Model 3.” Most vehicle launches have hiccups, and quality and attractiveness count for far more importance than quantity “at least for now,” they said in a note.

Tesla was quick to stress that it foresaw no serious issues with the Model 3 production. That the company understood what needed to be fixed in the manufacturing chain and was working to address those issues. If this is the case, we should see Model 3 production start to ramp more swiftly over the coming weeks. But even without rapidly ramping Model 3 production — which is on the way sooner or later — Tesla is still smashing previously held all-electric sales records.

And for those of us concerned about climate change, that’s good news.

Links:

Tesla Shares Shake off Bad News of Model 3 Deliveries

Tesla

Tesla Q3 Report

 

 

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