Silicon Valley start-up Tesla Motors expects to turn a profit in the first
quarter for the first time and said it expects to meet its target of producing
20,000 electric vehicles this year.
With the dust barely settled on its highly public tussle with the New York Times over the performance of its Model S sedan, Tesla said it made 2,750 vehicles in the fourth quarter and posted a net loss of $89.9 million during that period. The company recorded $306.3 million in revenue for the quarter.
Tesla said it plans to deliver about 4,500 vehicles in the first quarter, when it expects to make a profit for the first time. That would put it on track to make 20,000 for the year.
By comparison, General Motors sold 23,461 Chevrolet Volts in the U.S. in 2012, making it the world's most popular plug-in vehicle.
Tesla told stockholders in a letter that it had $221 million in cash left at the end of 2012. In the fourth quarter, capital expenditures and operating expenses outweighed operating revenue by $102 million, underscoring the rate at which the company burned through cash to ramp up production.
"To quadruple the pace of production during the quarter, we dramatically improved our manufacturing processes, and made significant strides in improving initial end-of-line quality," Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk and chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja said in a letter to stockholders. "We were also able to overcome many of our past supply chain challenges and methodically stabilized the supplier base."
Tesla's luxury electric Model S ranges in price from $59,900 before tax credits to more than $100,000 for the top model. All-electric range goes from 160 miles to 300 miles.
The vehicle earned several accolades, including Motor Trend's award for Car of the Year, but its performance was called into question recently when a New York Times writer, John Broder, was conducting a test drive on the East Coast.
The Model S ran out of juice and had to be towed away, but Musk later waged a publicity war against Broder's account, calling the article "fake" and trotting out data to support his case. Critics said Musk was misleading and that Broder's experience showed the shortcomings of pure electric cars in cold weather.
Industry observers are watching Tesla closely. The company has bragged that it's leading the industry in electric vehicle development.
"I don't care what you say, there is no competition at this show for us," Tesla sales executive George Blankenship told reporters at the Detroit auto show last month.
Much of Tesla's start-up capital came from a $465-million Department of Energy loan in 2009 that it is just beginning to repay.
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