Tag Archives: Production
Tesla, the pioneering electric-car manufacturer that posted blowout earnings this week, may be facing an FBI investigation over investor communications it made regarding the production levels of its Model 3 sedans, the Wall Street Journal said Friday.
Earlier this month, Tesla settled with the SEC over charges that it misled investors after CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he had secured funding to take Tesla private. The SEC, which alleged that the tweets were fraudulent, at first sued Musk, before reaching a settlement that required Musk and Tesla to each pay $ 20 million in fines, while finding an independent chairman to replace Musk.
According to the Journal, Tesla the FBI “has intensified” its investigation into whether Tesla misstated data on the production of its Model 3, its lowest-priced sedan. Tesla has invested heavily in the Model 3 production, adding to losses in recent quarters. Last quarter, however, Model 3 sales pushed Tesla into the black.
In a statement, Tesla disputed some of the Journal’s report. “Earlier this year, Tesla received a voluntary request for documents from the Department of Justice about its public guidance for the Model 3 ramp,” a Tesla spokesperson said in a statement to Fortune. “We have not received a subpoena, a request for testimony, or any other formal process, and there have been no additional document requests about this from the Department of Justice for months.”
The Journal reported that former Tesla employees, who received subpoenas earlier in the investigation, have been contacted in recent weeks by the FBI for further testimony.
Musk told investors on earnings calls that Tesla would be producing between 5,000 and 20,000 Model 3s per month by the end of 2017, the Journal said. In reality, Tesla ended up producing only 2,700 Model 3’s for all of 2017. The FBI is reportedly investigating such discrepancies.
While Tesla admits it did not meet its early and ambitious production goals, it said it was “transparent about how difficult it would be… and that we were entering ‘production hell.’” Tesla further noted that “it took us six months longer than we expected to meet our 5,000 unit per week guidance,” but that its approach has been “to set truthful targets – not sandbagged targets that we would definitely exceed and not unrealistic targets that we could never meet.”
Tesla’s stock, which rose 5.2% Friday during official trading, was down 1.8% in after-hours trading.
Apple’s shares were down almost $ 2, or 0.9% on Friday to $ 191.70 while the NASDAQ was up 10 or 0.14%. At the low point, the company’s shares were down almost $ 4 or 1.9%. The main driver for the stock’s weakness was a report from Nikkei Asian Review that the company would order 20% fewer new iPhones to be built vs. last years 100 million iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X orders.
The report from Nikkei says “For the three new models specifically, the total planned capacity could be up to 20% fewer than last year’s orders” and “The U.S. company last year placed orders to prepare for production of up to 100 million units of the new iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X, but this year Apple currently expects total shipments of only 80 million units for new models, two people said.”
There are a few unknowns from the report, which could make for an apples to oranges comparison.
- Does the order timeframe match the same months as last years?
- Does the 80 million match what was initially ordered for the 8, 8 Plus and X (which was reported to be decreased) or the final tally?
- The report also says “could be up to 20%”
- Over the years many production cut rumors have turned out to be false
- Earlier this year there were multiple reports, including from Nikkei, that the production for the iPhone X had been cut, which turned out to be incorrect or misleading to Apple’s results
- Depending on what new models are introduced, demand for older models including the 8, 8 Plus and especially the X could still be strong enough to make up for what is being implied as lower total sales
I don’t believe Nikkei has the best track record scooping Apple’s iPhone production and eventual sales . It was just on January 30 this year, two days before the company announced its December quarter results, that it predicted that iPhone X production would be cut by half for the March quarter.
When Apple announced its December quarter results the iPhone inventory levels were at the low-end of its 5 to 7 weeks target, and the March quarter revenue guidance of $ 60 to $ 62 billion bracketed the $ 61 billion estimate. The stock initially fell but after a week rallied and climbed above the price when Nikkei came out with its article.
Add to that Tim Cook saying the X had been the best selling iPhone “each and every week in the March quarter, just as they did following its launch in the December quarter.” These didn’t match well with an iPhone X cut.
All new iPhone models could be available in September
The Nikkei report included “Apple’s supply chain was told to prepare earlier for the two OLED models, in hopes of avoiding a delay similar to last year’s, two industry sources said.”
This actually makes sense. I’m not surprised that the iPhone X’s availability was later than the 8’s due to incorporating an OLED screen. Just because the iPhone’s cadence has essentially been every 12 months doesn’t mean that production systems can meet that timeframe when new technology is introduced. Now that Apple’s production partners have experience with manufacturing tens of millions of OLED iPhones, moving to the next version shouldn’t be as challenging.
Tim Cook’s warning
Even back in 2013, Tim Cook warned investors about putting too much credence into supply chain checks. On the January 2013 financial results conference call, he said, “I suggest its good to question the accuracy of any kind of rumor about build plans. Even if a particular data point were factual, it would be impossible to interpret that data point as to what it meant to our business. The supply chain is very complex and we have multiple sources for things. Yields can vary, supplier performance can vary. There is an inordinate long list of things that can make any single data point not a great proxy for what is going on.”
Tesla’s (TSLA) Q1 production update had me singing and dancing with joy. I encourage you to read the whole thing. Or if you prefer, watch this video from HyperChange covering the update:
The top three updates are on Model 3 production, Tesla’s cash flow, and Model 3 quality.
Model 3 production is at a burst rate of 2,000/week
After six months of delays, Model 3 production is finally on track:
In the past seven days, Tesla produced 2,020 Model 3 vehicles. In the next seven days, we expect to produce 2,000 Model S and X vehicles and 2,000 Model 3 vehicles.
If this rate can indeed be sustained into April and even increased, then Tesla is just shy of its goal to produce 2,500 Model 3s/week by the end of March. Bloomberg’s independent model has production about a month behind that target. For Tesla, a month late is basically on time! Moreover, in light of this update, Tesla might only be a few weeks behind.
As always, it bears reminding that this is an arbitrary, self-imposed goal largely designed around motivating employees. It’s not required for any financial, competitive, or technological purpose. A line in the sand just has to be drawn somewhere.
Model 3. Photo by Carl Quinn.
Tesla says it doesn’t need to raise cash this year
Recent alarm about Tesla’s solvency seems to be misplaced:
Tesla continues to target a production rate of approximately 5,000 units per week in about three months, laying the groundwork for Q3 to have the long-sought ideal combination of high volume, good gross margin and strong positive operating cash flow. As a result, Tesla does not require an equity or debt raise this year, apart from standard credit lines.
Boom! That’s what I love to hear! Barring further delays, Tesla is about six months out from achieving massive positive cash flow from Model 3 sales. If targets are met, Model 3 will generate quarterly revenue on the order of $ 3.25 billion and quarterly gross profit on the order of $ 810 million. (That’s assuming a $ 50,000 ASP and 25% gross margin about a quarter after a 5,000/week production rate is achieved.) Previously, Tesla has guided that it will post sustained operating profits starting by the end of 2018, with a possibility of net profit before 2019 as well.
Based on my own review of the numbers, I think that Tesla’s cash “crunch” is being exaggerated. There are aspects of Tesla’s finances that are opaque to outsiders (such as the composition of accounts payable), however, so it is encouraging to get confirmation from Tesla on this. Here’s the basic math: As of the end of Q4 2017, Tesla had a cash balance of $ 3.37 billion. In Q4, it burned $ 277 million. At that rate of cash burn, it wouldn’t run out of cash until the beginning of 2021.
Several one-time factors contributed to cash burn for Q4 being so low, such as customer deposits for the Tesla Semi and next-gen Roadster. However, there were repeatable factors as well, perhaps most notably slowing discretionary capex. Tesla can slow expansionary spending to be in line with growth in revenue and gross profit. This makes particular sense when it comes to the sales, service, and charging infrastructure for the Model 3 fleet. We’ll have more hard data in about a month when Tesla releases its Q1 earnings.
The key here is the threshold beyond which Model 3 production goes from a net cash incinerator to a net cash generator. If all goes according to plan, by the end of this year, Tesla will likely have the ability to have positive free cash flow. However, that doesn’t seem to be the plan.
From the sounds of it, Tesla wants to finance capex for Model Y, Semi, Roadster, Solar Roof, Powerwall, Powerpack, and future products with debt and perhaps even equity, plus other sources of cash like customer deposits and securitizing leases. Note that Tesla says raising cash this year isn’t “required.” That doesn’t rule out raising discretionary cash to fund faster expansion.
Tesla has a total of $ 330 million in debt coming due in 2018. Given Tesla’s end of Q4 cash balance of $ 3.37 billion and ramping Model 3 production, $ 330 million is a manageable amount to repay. Heck, Tesla could probably wipe that debt away by collecting Model Y deposits. Because Elon Musk is a rock star.
Some convertible bonds to the tune of $ 920 million are set to mature in March 2019. The conversion price is $ 359.87. I can’t predict the ebb and flow of the markets, but it seems well within the realm of possibility that Tesla’s share price will exceed that $ 360 a year from now. If not, with approximately $ 810 million in quarterly gross profit from the Model 3, repayment will be no problem.
Tesla Semi. Photo by Korbitr.
Tesla’s internal data shows high Model 3 owner satisfaction
Finally, Tesla again shared internal survey data of Model 3 owners:
The quality of Model 3 coming out of production is at the highest level we have seen across all our products. This is reflected in the overwhelming delight experienced by our customers with their Model 3s. Our initial customer satisfaction score for Model 3 quality is above 93%, which is the highest score in Tesla’s history.
Although this is somewhat encouraging, Tesla is of course incentivized to present the Model 3 in the best possible light. Before I consider this matter settled, I want to see data from an independent source like Consumer Reports. Consumer Reports has yet to publish survey data on the Model 3. So, for now, we wait.
What is not particularly informative are anecdotes about Model 3 quality. If you, like me, believe in the Enlightenment values of science and logically rigorous thought, then you’ll agree that anecdotes plucked from large samples seldom reveal the truth and often mislead. Statistics reveal the truth. It is surprising and disconcerting to me that so much investment and media analysis — particularly of Tesla — seems to exist in a pre-scientific, pre-Enlightenment mode of thinking in which fact and conjecture are haphazardly mixed, cherry-picked anecdotes are held up as representative, and rumour and hearsay are credulously accepted. So much of what you’ll read and hear about Tesla is either essentially made up or grossly exaggerated because there is little to no application of Enlightenment criteria of truth.
The way I think about companies is to try to approximate as best I can the scientific method. Any way I can remove my own subjective bias is a relief. Hard data is always a breath of fresh air. So is any other empirical test that can serve to falsify an idea. Without scientific discipline, we will inevitably fool ourselves, and wander around in the darkness.
So, I don’t consider a photo of a Model 3 with egregious panel gaps to be informative. A photo of a Model 3 with seamless panels is equally uninformative. Ignore anecdotes. Find statistics. For now, we simply don’t know the level of quality of the Model 3.
Panic and doomsaying about Tesla may never stop entirely. However, it has taken another step toward demonstrating that it has a sustainable business model capable of long-term growth and profits. A year from now, we will probably be having a very different conversation about this company. I look forward to it.
Disclosure: I am/we are long TSLA.
I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.
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