Tesla demand in China fuels ‘home run’ quarter for deliveries

Dana Hull and Yueqi Yang
Bloomberg

Tesla Inc.’s estimate-smashing deliveries of electric vehicles in the first quarter suggest boss Elon Musk’s bet on growth in China and Europe is starting to pay off.

The results marked a strong start to a year in which Musk, the company’s chief executive officer, is counting on global operations to help scale-up production and sales. Palo Alto, California-based Tesla delivered 184,800 cars worldwide in the year’s first three months, trouncing the 169,850 average estimate in a Bloomberg survey of analysts and beating the fourth-quarter figure by about 4,000 vehicles.

The quarter was “a massive home run in the eyes of the bulls,” Dan Ives at Wedbush wrote in a research note Friday. “We believe China and Europe were particularly robust this quarter as the trajectory now puts Musk & Co. to exceed 850k for the year which is well ahead of whisper expectations.”

Musk is pushing into China – already the world’s largest automotive market, including for EVs – to gain a foothold amid competition from local electric-vehicle startups as well as Volkswagen AG. Auto sales are forecast to rise in the nation this year for the first time since 2017, and in March Premier Li Keqiang told the National People’s Congress the government will help boost the number of EV charging stations and battery-swapping facilities.

Tesla’s volume stands apart from most other automakers, who mainly are showing declines in part because of electronic-chip constraints, analysts at Jefferies said in a research note. “Shares should respond well to the Q1 delivery data.”

After a remarkable run in 2020 that saw its stock price surge by more than 700%, Tesla’s shares fell roughly 6% this year through April 1. Friday was a market holiday in the U.S.

“It’s been a brutal sell-off for Tesla and EVs, but we believe that will now be in the rear view mirror,” wrote Ives, who maintained a “neutral” rating on the shares.

Tesla recently refreshed the Model S sedan and the X, an SUV. No Model S and X vehicles were made in the quarter, and only 2,000 were delivered in total.

“We are encouraged by the strong reception of the Model Y in China and are quickly progressing to full production capacity,” Tesla said in a statement. The new Model S and Model X have also been “exceptionally well-received,” the company said, adding that it’s in the early stages of ramping production.

Tesla currently makes the Model S and X only at its factory in Fremont, California, and the smaller Model 3 and Y both there and at its plant in Shanghai. It plans to build two more factories this year, one in Texas and another near Berlin. The company doesn’t break out sales by geography, but the U.S. and China are its largest markets and nearly all the sales were of the Model 3 and Y.

With production at the Fremont factory temporarily shutting in February over parts supply issues, Tesla’s higher-margin Shanghai plant will account for a bigger share of volume in the quarter, which should support profitability, Jefferies said in the note.

Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn warned in January that production would be low due to the transition to the revamped products, while the global semiconductor shortage and delays at ports were also expected to weigh on the quarter.

Tesla said its delivery count should be viewed as slightly conservative and final numbers could vary by as much as 0.5% or more.

The quarterly delivery figure is widely seen as a barometer of demand for both Tesla’s vehicles and consumer interest in electric vehicles worldwide as legacy automakers roll out electric cars of their own.