NEW YORK (AFP) – Electric automaker Tesla saw a late year surge after a bumpy start to 2019, posting a jump in car deliveries in the final three months, the company said on Friday.
The firm founded by controversial entrepreneur Elon Musk delivered 112,000 vehicles in the quarter ending December 31, a nearly 23 per cent from the same three-month period of 2018.
The positive results contrasted with those of conventional auto giants like General Motors (GM) and Fiat Chrysler that on Friday reported middling sales which pressured their share prices.
But Tesla shares rallied further on the news, the latest in a run of better performance reflected in strong third-quarter earnings in October, a splashy launch of a new SUV design in November and the successful ramp-up of a Chinese car factory earlier this week.
Things have improved considerably from the early part of 2019 when United States (US) securities regulators sought to sanction Musk for violating a settlement over his August 2018 statements on Twitter tied to a quickly-aborted effort to take the company private.
In April, Musk and the Securities Exchange Commission settled the matter, imposing clearer guidelines on topics Musk should avoid on social media, including statements about acquisitions, mergers, new products and production numbers.
Since then, Musk has “toned down significantly” in his leadership style, said CFRA Research analyst Garrett Nelson in an email to AFP. “The perception among investors is that he’s more operationally focussed than he was previously.
“Tesla’s execution in bringing the China factory online was impressive and Musk recently provided more clarity regarding its product pipeline that has given investors a greater degree of confidence in the future growth of the company.” Tesla deliveries in all of 2019 surged to 367,500, 50 per cent above the 2018 level and in line with company forecasts, the company reported.
Those figures are still fraction of the sales of GM, FCA and Toyota, all of which reported modestly lower US car sales for the year. Tesla touted its speedy completion of the China plant, saying it has already produced just under 1,000 “customer salable cars” in China “despite breaking ground at Gigafactory Shanghai less than 12 months ago”.
The plant’s completion positions Tesla in a key growth market for electric cars at a time when still-brittle US-China trade relations raises questions around importing into the country.
Chinese authorities have granted a waiver of purchase taxes on locally made Model 3 Teslas, as well as a subsidy of up to CNY25,000 per car. Tesla also plans to add production capacity for the European market, announcing in November that it will build a new auto factory in Berlin that reportedly could start up by 2021.
Despite the positive results, CFRA’s Nelson placed a “hold” rating on Tesla, and said the company still faces questions in China due to pricing pressure and in the United States, where there will be a “flood” of new electric car competition “with at least 25 new models debuting this year”.
Many of the new models will be eligible for up to a USD7,500 US tax credit, a benefit that has been reduced at Tesla and will eventually be phased out.
Morgan Stanley said in late December that Tesla shares were positioned for a “potential surge” through the middle of 2020 due to Shanghai milestones and other likely positive catalysts.
But “we are not bullish on Tesla longer term” because the company “could be perceived by the market more and more like a traditional auto manufacturer,” Morgan Stanley said. Tesla shares, which have more than doubled since June, were up 3.2 per cent in afternoon trading at USD444.21.