- Apr 17, 2006
- Lake Forest, CA
A common criticism of Tesla Motors is that it loses quite a bit of money per vehicle sold. From time to time, bears will cite a figure of how many thousands of dollars Tesla loses per vehicle, but those figures are misleading. They invariably refer to Tesla's operating or net loss divided by vehicle deliveries. For reference, Tesla's operating loss per vehicle last quarter was just under $15,000. The subsequent bear argument that inevitably follows is that if Tesla can't make money on luxury vehicles, which is an incredibly profitable market segment, then the Model 3 will only accelerate losses and cash burn. But Tesla could probably become profitable right now if it wanted to. Here's how.
The reason why those attention-grabbing figures are misleading is that they include operating expenses, which includes all of the investments that the company is making to fund future growth. That includes R&D, design, and engineering expenses, as well as massive amounts of capital expenditures to build product tooling and manufacturing infrastructure. Tesla's gross margin is actually quite impressive and higher than rivals Ford and General Motors, specifically because Tesla only plays in the niche luxury segment right now. On a gross profit basis, Tesla made over $18,000 per vehicle last year. The operating margin is where Tesla lags, which should expectedly persist as Tesla remains in growth mode.
As a percentage of sales, Tesla's operating expenses are significantly higher than traditional rivals specifically because it is funding growth, while developing a fundamentally different type of propulsion technology. Theoretically, let's say that Tesla resigned itself to being a niche player in the profitable market for luxury vehicles. Assume Tesla decided that it didn't want to grow to hit its 500,000 annual production target, and brought all of its operating expenses in line to simply maintain existing volume levels. Oh, and ditching the Model 3 plans would also render the Gigafactory unnecessary, since the Gigafactory's primary purpose is for Model 3 volumes and battery cost reductions. Model S is already fairly profitable on a gross basis, and the existing trajectories of battery cost reductions and improved energy densities would already help Model S margins improve.
http://www.fool.com/investing/general/20...ce=yahoo-2-news It is very normal for a growing company to report quarterly lost many many years, just look at one of the most successful company of the last 15 years: AMAZON. They growth like crazy every year for almost ever, even their revenue increased every quarter but they rarely reported any profit for a full year of the last 15 years. Did Amazon lost money on every item they sold ? No they didn't, they lost money because they funded the expanding into new services, new products ... Disclosure: Author of this article owns shares of Tesla Motors, also Motley Fool owns shares and recommends Tesla Motors.
If Tesla did all of this, I have no doubt that it could quickly achieve profitability. Assume that Tesla could realize percentage figures comparable to its larger rivals if it abandoned Model 3. If R&D were 5% of auto sales and SG&A were 10% of auto sales, Tesla could have hypothetically posted operating income of $4.2 billion last year from just auto sales. But that's not the plan. It's never been the plan. Model 3 has always been the end goal: an affordable EV with sufficient performance to satisfy mainstream consumers. Even the incumbent OEMs will burn through incredible amounts of capital to get there. They just have large existing businesses to help subsidize that development. Tesla doesn't have that luxury, so it's funding the path to Model 3 with luxury vehicles, with a dash of external capital raises on the side (which should be over by now). Tesla has no intention of abandoning its Model 3 growth plans. So yeah, it's going to be pretty expensive and unprofitable for a while on a GAAP basis. Get used to it.