December 6, 2023

Greentech: Tesla Prepares for a Gap as Roadster Winds Down


TESLA MOTORS has spent eight years building a new kind of car company — one with Silicon Valley roots that makes slick electric vehicles and takes its retail cues from Apple rather than from traditional dealerships. Now Tesla is undergoing a makeover as it tries to evolve from a niche maker of expensive sports cars that has never turned a profit into a money-making provider of electric cars for the masses and a technology supplier to bigger automakers.

In the interim, Tesla — which reported its highest-ever quarterly revenue on Wednesday — is hitting pause on its main moneymaker, the $100,000-plus Roadster. In its most recent annual report Tesla said it intended to sell the current version of the Roadster only until its supply of “gliders” — essentially, the shell of the car — runs out, perhaps early next year.

Tesla does not expect to introduce its next-generation Roadster until at least 2013, a year after the promised debut of the Model S sedan.

In a conference call with analysts, the company’s chairman and chief executive, Elon Musk, said the Model S remained on track for deliveries in mid-2012. The first 1,000 sedans will be in the premium Signature Series, priced at $77,400; later versions are to start at $57,400.

The Model S was previously scheduled to go on sale this year.

For the Roadster, Tesla has obtained gliders from Lotus of Britain, which uses the same body for its Elise sports car. But Lotus is retooling for a new Elise, and Tesla’s contract for 2,400 gliders expires at the end of this year.

Expanded over a year ago from an earlier deal for 1,700 gliders that would have expired in March, the agreement lets Tesla keep Roadsters in showrooms longer. But the end of the supply of Roadster gliders “sheds light on how Lotus views the relationship,” said Kevin See of Lux Research. If Lotus saw the Roadster and Tesla as an important revenue source, he said, “it would find a way to keep those gliders coming.”

Tesla has sold more than 1,650 Roadsters, including 145 in the first quarter. The car accounts for the bulk of Tesla’s revenue to date, with additional revenue from sales of zero-emission vehicle credits, battery packs and chargers as well as development services.

While most Roadsters have been sold in the United States, the chief financial officer, Deepak Ahuja, said Wednesday that international sales exceeded domestic sales in the first quarter.

In all, Tesla recorded a net loss of $48.9 million on revenues of $49 million in the first quarter. That compared with a loss of $29.5 million on revenues of $20.8 million for the period a year earlier. Tesla said its gross margin improved to 37 percent, up from 19 percent in the first quarter of 2010.

Mr. Musk — who is featured in the new documentary “Revenge of the Electric Car” — attributed the revenue increase to Roadster sales as well as to supply and development deals with Daimler and Toyota. He said Tesla was still working toward an agreement to supply components for the 2012 production version of the electric Toyota RAV4; prototypes of that vehicle are being developed with Tesla powertrains.

These types of projects will be “critical for Tesla’s long term success,” said Dave Hurst, senior analyst with Pike Research. “Vehicle production is so expensive and cash-intensive that I think Tesla will need the additional sources of revenue.”

As for the Model S, Mr. Musk said Tesla was preparing for a “beta build” this year after tests of the “alpha” fleet. The company has collected more than 4,600 Model S reservations, for which prospective customers pay a refundable deposit of at least $5,000, or $40,000 for the Signature Series.

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