Tesla posted its first consecutive quarter of profitability, making a net income of $139.5 million in the fourth quarter, which was below Wall Street analysts’ estimates. At the end of CEO Elon Musk’s teleconferenced fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 financial review, chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja announced his impending retirement, which combined with the lower than expected results to drop the automaker’s stock price in after-hours trading.
First, Tesla’s financial results: That net income of $139.5 million for the fourth quarter came from $6.073 billion in gross auto sales, compared with $311.5 million net income off of $5.879 billion in gross income in the third quarter of 2018. In the fourth quarter of 2017, Tesla lost $675.4 million on sales of $2.409 billion. For all of fiscal year 2018, Tesla sold $17.632 billion worth of EVs and posted a net loss of $976.1 million, compared with sales of $8.535 billion and a net loss of $1.961 billion in 2017.
But that’s not all. Elon Musk had plenty of notable things to say regarding future products, manufacturing, and more during the Q&A portion of the call:
• Tesla had 80 percent of the EV market last year; presumably Musk meant in the U.S. market. “This point is not well-appreciated . . . ,” he said. Tesla’s year-over-year sales increases are “probably the cleanest exponential I’ve ever seen. Every year, we’ve produced more cars than in all the prior years.”
• Even “if there’s a global recession, we’re expecting global deliveries to be 50 percent more than last year. Could be more . . . that’s crazy growth for the automotive industry.”
• Current cash reserves of $3.7 billion are up $700 million since the third quarter, ahead of $920 million in bond debt due in March.
• “At this point, I’m optimistic about being profitable in Q1 (of 2019) . . . not by a lot . . . and (profitable in) all quarters going forward.”
• Tesla will begin the process of stocking all common parts needed for existing models at its service centers. “It should be like Jiffy Lube” and take eight minutes for some easy fixes.
• The upcoming Model Y crossover SUV will have about 86 percent parts commonality with its platform mate, the Model 3 sedan, compared with just 30 percent commonality between Models S and X, and thus capital expenditures on the new Model Y will be substantially lower than they were for the Model 3.
• “The Model X is the Fabergé egg of cars. Probably nothing like it will be made again. And probably shouldn’t.”
• Because the Model Y fits into the super-hot compact premium SUV segment, it will be far more popular than the Model 3. “Demand could be 50 percent more. Maybe even double.”
• Musk expects Tesla Model Y production to begin by the end of 2020.
• The Shanghai, China, Gigafactory “is going to go up like lightning,” and should be producing by end of this year. Tesla is the only foreign company in the auto industry that will wholly own its Chinese factory. “This is profound.”
• Tesla Model 3 demand in 2019, “in a strong economy, (will be) 700,000 to 800,000 a year. That’s my best guess.” Even if there’s a recession, Musk expects 2019 global demand to be on the order of 500,000.
• Tesla autonomy allows self-driving cars from on-ramp to off-ramp on freeways, including lane changing. Self-driving at stop signs is the next step, then traffic light and intersection navigation, and then indoor parking garages. Teslas will be able to make the next step, stop-sign recognition, “probably in the next month.”
• Tesla’s autonomous technology is in all in place, but needs to be fully tested and developed. It’s probably at 98 percent, Musk said, “but we need 99.999 percent. We need extremely reliable.”
• When does Musk think it will be safe for full Tesla self-driving? “Probably by the end of this year,” subject to regulatory approval.
• “We might be ready to introduce” the EV pickup truck “this summer. It will be quite unique—something special.”
• “The demand for the Model 3 is insanely high,” Musk said, answering a question about flagging sales globally. “The inhibitor is that people don’t have the money to buy one.”