Tesla expects to turn its first profit in the first quarter of 2013

Tesla released its fourth quarter and full year earnings for 2012 on Wednesday, and revealed that the company is expecting to generate its first quarterly profit — excluding non-cash options and warrant-related expenses — in the first quarter of 2013. So, yes, that’s on a non-GAAP basis, but it’s a pretty sizable achievement for the decade-old company.

Tesla also confirmed that it has hit its previously reported goal of producing its second electric car the Model S at a rate of 400 cars per week and 20,000 cars per year. This production rate is crucial because it will mean Tesla can get its Model S cars out to its line of thousands of customers in a timely manner and can book those revenues.

Tesla said for the fourth quarter of 2012, it made 2,750 Model S cars, and a total of 3,100 vehicles during the full year 2012. The company brought in 6,000 new reservations for the Model S in the fourth quarter, up from almost 2,900 in the third quarter of 2012. For the first quarter of 2013, Tesla says it will deliver 4,500 cars to customers. For comparison’s sake a smaller car brand like Volvo sells around a half million cars in a year.

Tesla party

Tesla brought in revenues of $306.33 million for the fourth quarter of 2012, up from $39.38 million for the fourth quarter in 2011. So yes, a massive jump due to its Model S sales. For the full year 2012, Tesla generated $413.26 million, up from $204.24 million for the full year in 2011.

For the fourth quarter of 2012, Tesla had a net loss of $89.93 million, or a loss of $0.79 per share for the fourth quarter, which was a bigger loss than its $81.49 million loss for the fourth quarter of 2011. But Tesla says it still expects to have a “slightly” positive net income for the first quarter of 2013 on a non-GAAP basis.

Tesla says it had cash flow of $221 million at the end of 2012, but had negative free cash flow for the fourth quarter of 2012, down from 40 percent from the previous quarter. So for JUST December, Tesla generated positive free cash flow, which must have been what CEO Elon Musk meant when he tweeted that the company had narrowly become cash flow positive. Usually companies say this about quarters, not individual months.

Tesla says it had an 8 percent gross margin for the fourth quarter of 2012 due to the higher Model S production rate. Tesla confirmed that it thinks it can meet its goal of gross margin of 25 percent by the end of the year. That 25 percent does not include regulatory credits, said Musk on the call.


Tesla now has 32 stores around the world that it’s opened to sell its cars in a hands-on type of way, not unlike Apple’s store experience. One of the leading designers of Apple’s store experience, George Blankenship, is actually heading up Tesla’s store experience. Tesla plans to open another 15 to 20 more stores in 2013. Tesla says it spent $46 million (on a GAAP basis) for the Q4, which much of that going toward store expansion.

In the next few months Tesla will market heavily in Asia and Europe and the company expects to see demand higher than 20,000 per year globally, said Musk on a Q&A call. Blankenship says they’re seeing a strong response in Europe even before they have Model S display cars in stores. The first Tesla store will be opened in China in the Spring in a shopping center in Beijing.

Tesla said it made its first payment of $12.7 million to the DOE for the loan it received, and will make its second payment in March 2013.

Overall 2012, and particularly the fourth quarter, was a breakthrough time for Tesla as it transitions to a profitable auto maker, and moves towards offering even more low-cost cars in the future. “That’s a pretty big deal,” said Musk, referring to the first profitable quarter.

Musk also said on the call that Tesla is considering leasing Model S cars in the U.S. in the second half of the year. But the lease deal must be compelling for customers and make banks feel comfortable, said Musk. In 2014, “leasing will be a big factor” in the U.S., and will be a moderate part of revenue in 2013 in Europe.

We’ll listen to the earnings call at 230 PST and update this with any crucial info. Tesla stock fell in after hours trading by almost 3 percent, perhaps on a larger than expected loss, but stocks just also had their biggest fall in 2013 after the Federal Reserve’s last meeting.

Updated between 2:30PM PST, and 3:15PM PST with updates from Tesla’s Q&A call.