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Tesla’s sales miss by the most ever in brutal blow for EVs

Tesla’s sales miss by the most ever in brutal blow for EVs
Vehicles are offloaded at a Tesla store in Colma, California, US, on Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg)

Tesla Inc. had Wall Street analysts second-guessing their models as the first quarter came to a close. One after another reduced their estimate for vehicle deliveries. They didn’t cut by nearly enough.

The carmaker led by Elon Musk delivered just 386,810 vehicles in the first three months of the year, missing Bloomberg’s average estimate by the biggest margin ever in data going back seven years. Tesla’s shares fell 4.9% Tuesday in New York, extending their 2024 slide to 33%, the second-worst showing in the S&P 500 Index.

A myriad of red flags went up throughout the quarter. First, Tesla warned its rate of growth will be “notably lower” this year, blaming interest-rate hikes that have kept its cars out of reach for many consumers even as it’s slashed prices. The company dealt with multiple disruptions at its plant outside Berlin. Musk engaged in inflammatory posting on X, turning off prospective buyers, and China’s EV market grew even more cut-throat.

Despite all those evident headwinds, most still expected Tesla to sell more vehicles than a year ago. Instead, deliveries ended up dropping 8.5%.

“Anyway you put it, it was ugly,” said Gene Munster, managing partner of Deepwater Asset Management. “Demand is soft. Interest rates are still high. Is Elon’s brand damaging Tesla sales in the US? It’s directionally a negative.”

Read More: China’s Super-Cheap EVs Cause Headaches in America

Tesla blamed the decline in part on its changeover to an upgraded version of the Model 3 sedan, which along with the Model Y sport utility vehicle accounted for 96% of deliveries in the quarter. It also cited Red Sea-related shipping delays and the suspected arson attack that cost it days of production in Germany.

Still, Tesla produced 46,561 more cars than it handed over to customers in the quarter, among the largest mismatches in the company’s history.

“Beyond the known production bottleneck, there may also be a serious demand issue,” Emmanuel Rosner, a Deutsche Bank analyst with a buy rating on Tesla’s stock, wrote in a report. He’d cut his deliveries estimate twice in the course of just over two weeks leading up to the carmaker’s release and still overestimated the company’s sales by more than 24,000 vehicles.

Tesla doesn’t break out quarterly vehicle sales by region, but the US and China have long been its biggest markets. The company makes the Model S, X, 3 and Y in Fremont, California, and the Model 3 and Y in Shanghai. It also produces the Model Y at its plants in Austin and outside Berlin.

Musk added to the lineup late last year with the introduction of the stainless steel-clad Cybertruck. The company has yet to break out how many pickups it’s producing and delivering, lumping them in with other models that include the S and X. The share of Tesla vehicle deliveries that were leased remained depressed relative to past quarters.

Despite its challenges, Tesla managed to reclaim its title as the world’s top seller of electric vehicles, snatching the lead back from China’s BYD Co. In the first quarter, BYD delivered 300,114 battery-electric vehicles globally. Including plug-in hybrids, the company sold 626,263 vehicles.

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