PALO ALTO -- In its first in-depth discussion with Wall Street analysts since the electric carmaker's high-profile feud with The New York Times over an unflattering review of a Model S road trip, Tesla Motors (TSLA) promised the new sedan will spark a financial turnaround even as the company continued to bleed cash.
CEO Elon Musk told investors and analysts Wednesday that Tesla would be profitable for the first time in the current quarter because it has ramped up its production to the target level of 400
"We really have high confidence that we will have a profitable first quarter," Musk said during a 45-minute call with analysts following release of its latest earnings report. "This is the first quarter that we have been at our target production rate. We're going to be profitable, and I think that's a pretty big deal. It took us an enormous amount of blood, sweat and tears to get there."
Tesla posted a wider-than-expected fourth-quarter loss of $90 million, or 79 cents a share, compared with a loss of $110.8 million, or $1.05 a share, in the third quarter. Total revenues were $306 million, up from just $50 million in the third quarter.
The company had promised to deliver 2,500 to 3,000 all-electric Model S
The company added 6,000 new reservations in the fourth quarter, up from almost 2,900 in the third quarter, but had roughly 1,500 cancellations as customers were asked to finalize their options. Net reservations for year end stood at 15,000.
"The stock is off, but I think that will be short-lived," said Aaron Chew, an analyst with the Maxim Group. "It was a great report. Reservations were really strong in the fourth quarter, and the demand trends are really encouraging."
The company lost 65 cents a share in the quarter on an adjusted basis; analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had forecast a loss of 53 cents a share using that metric.
"Overall, they are doing a good job," said Ben Kallo, an analyst with Robert W. Baird. "The important thing is that they reached their production rate, they had 6,000 new reservations and they are guiding to net income for the first quarter. That's slightly ahead of
In a letter to shareholders published on the company's website, Tesla said its plan for 2013 is to "introduce Model S to customers around the world," with first deliveries in Europe and Asia taking place later this year. Tesla plans to open 15 to 20 additional showrooms in 2013, with half in Europe and Asia. Construction has already begun on the Tesla showroom at a popular mall in Beijing, which will open later this spring.
"If we were to close all of our stores and not have any salespeople, we would still sell out through the year," Musk said.
He said some of Tesla's costs were due to higher than expected labor costs, with workers averaging 68-hour-weeks in December. He also talked about some problems with the supply chain, including delays in shipping from a Czech tire supplier, that have since been ironed out.
"We had to fly tires from the Czech Republic," Musk said. "I wanted to punch myself in the face for that one."
Tesla said it had an 8 percent gross margin for the fourth quarter and reaffirmed that it expects to reach 25 percent gross margin by the end of the year.
Musk made passing reference to the dispute with The New York Times earlier this month after reporter John Broder wrote a story about his botched East Coast road trip in a Model S that resulted in the vehicle being rescued by a tow truck. Musk responded with a blistering blog post that defended the car and attacked Broder's journalistic integrity. Margaret
Musk said Tesla will install more Superchargers along the East and West coasts as well as in Texas, Chicago and elsewhere.
"Our Supercharger system is free, by the way," said Musk. "It's pretty frickin' great."
Mercury News staff writers John Boudreau and Jeremy Owens contributed to this report. Contact Dana Hull at 408-920-2706. Follow her at Twitter.com/danahull.
Tesla Motors announced Wednesday it is producing 400 all-electric Model S sedans per week at its Fremont factory, putting it on track for making 20,000 cars per year. Here are some numbers and projections Tesla laid out in a letter to shareholders Wednesday:
2,750: number of cars built in the fourth quarter
3,100: number of cars built in 2012
2,400: number of cars delivered to customers in the fourth quarter
20,000: number of cars it expects to deliver in 2013
6,000: number of new customer reservations in the fourth quarter
Source: Tesla Motors