Elon Musk defies sceptics, meets Tesla delivery goal, shares hit record

NEW YORK: Tesla Inc beat Wall Street estimates for annual vehicle deliveries and met the low-end of its own target, sending shares to a record high in a vindication for Chief Executive Elon Musk after a few turbulent years.

Boosted by demand for its mass-produced Model 3 sedans as overseas sales pick up, Tesla on Friday said it delivered 112,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter, including 92,550 Model 3s and 19,450 Model S/X SUVs, which was above expectations of 104,960 vehicles, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

In total, the Silicon Valley carmaker delivered approximately 367,500 vehicles during all of 2019, just meeting the low end of its target to deliver 360,000 to 400,000 vehicles in 2019.

Tesla shares were up as much as 5.5% at US$454, touching a record high.

The stock has had a strong run in recent months after posting a rare profit in the latest quarter and news of a China ramp-up.

With a market valuation of more than US$80 billion, Tesla is far outstripping those of traditional carmakers General Motors Co and Ford Motor Co.

The delivery results defy sceptics of Musk, whose mercurial behaviour over the last two years came under close scrutiny from federal regulators and shareholders of Tesla.

Musk, who has more than 30 million Twitter followers, has a history of firing off tweets that resulted in an investigation by the US Securities and Exchange Commission and a defamation trial against him.

The Tesla CEO settled the SEC complaint for US$20 million in 2018 and a Los Angeles jury cleared Musk in the defamation case in December.

China ramp-up

Tesla also provided an update on its Shanghai factory, which has started churning out Model 3 cars.

It said the plant demonstrated a production run-rate capability of more than 3,000 units per week.

The US$2-billion factory, Tesla’s first car manufacturing site outside the United States, is the centrepiece of its ambitions to boost sales in the world’s biggest auto market and avoid higher import tariffs imposed on US-made cars.

A company representative on Thursday said that Tesla will deliver its first China-made Model 3 sedans to the public on Jan 7.

The Model 3 is Tesla’s most affordable car, with lower-range versions available starting at US$35,000.

Tesla’s fourth quarter production number of 104,891 signifies that the production woes of the past have been rectified, Canaccord Genuity analyst Jed Dorsheimer said.

“The recently escalating geopolitical uncertainties driving oil prices higher are likely to create a tailwind for TSLA shares,” Dorsheimer added.

Analysts have questioned how rapidly Tesla’s vehicle sales will grow as government subsidies for electric vehicle purchases dwindle in the United States, China and other markets.

Some analysts consider those subsidies the biggest driver for Tesla purchases.