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Tesla has most productive quarter in its history

Tesla delivered nearly 30,000 vehicles last quarter, of which about 8,000 were Model 3s.

Tesla Model 3 Long Range
Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Tesla is well known for going its own way. Heck, it doesn't even report sales the same way as most other automakers, opting for quarterly updates instead of monthly ones. Q1 just ended on Saturday, and a new set of numbers is in. Spoiler alert: They're not too shabby.

Tesla delivered 29,980 vehicles in the first quarter of 2018. Of those deliveries, 8,180 of them were Model 3 sedans, an increase of more than fivefold over last quarter. In total, the company produced 34,494 vehicles, marking Tesla's most productive quarter in history. The Model S had the highest number of deliveries at 11,730 vehicles, but the Model X wasn't very far behind. Production and delivery figures are never the same, because some vehicles were built but not yet delivered to customers.

While Model S and Model X numbers are intriguing, most eyes are set on Model 3, which has seen production forecasts delayed over and over. Currently, Tesla's per-week Model 3 production hovers around 2,000 vehicles per week, which is below Tesla's intended goal of producing 2,500 Model 3s per week by the end of Q1. That appears to be a peak production number, but Tesla believes it can hold that pace going forward. 

What's interesting, though, is that if Tesla built about 2,000 cars in the last week, and it built less than 10,000 across the entire quarter, its production rates prior to this week look, well, not great:

For comparison's sake, Tesla delivered 29,870 vehicles in Q4 2017. It only delivered 1,550 Model 3s, comprising just 5 percent of total Tesla deliveries in Q1, but Tesla actually built 2,520 of them in that period as it worked through what Elon Musk called "production hell." Things seem a bit smoother now.

Tesla has yet to produce any Model 3 variants other than its most expensive. Less expensive models will be incorporated once production smooths out.

Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Tesla may have fallen short of its goal to build 2,500 Model 3s per week this quarter, but it was pretty darn close. This estimate is itself a diminished expectation, as Musk had originally hoped to be building 5,000 Model 3s per week at this time, but the difficulty involved in ramping up production in a hurry got the best of the all-electric, all-American automaker.

Now the race is on to see if Tesla can ramp up its efforts to hit that magic number in Q2 -- unless, of course, he pushes that estimate back once again. As of right now, Tesla believes it can achieve that target.

Tesla also pointed out that Model 3 reservations have been holding steady. "The reasons for order cancellation are almost entirely due to delays in production in general and delays in availability of certain planned options, particularly dual motor AWD and the smaller battery pack," Tesla said in its press release. Those additional variants are still slated for production, but nobody's really too sure when they'll become reality.

What's also intriguing is how Tesla's figures stack up against Bloomberg's in-house production tracker. Built as an experiment to provide more insight on figures that could probably stand to be publicized and updated more often, Bloomberg's tracker aggregates data from VIN submissions to the US government as well as VIN submissions directly from owners to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg's data pointed to a production figure of 9,285 cars built in Q1, which should be slightly above the number of deliveries (some cars will be built but not yet delivered by quarter's end). It predicted a peak weekly production rate of 2,200 cars -- a bit below Musk's estimate -- but a standard weekly production rate closer to 1,190. These numbers turned out to be pretty close to what Tesla reported.

It defines a peak production rate as one that occurs during a last-minute push, rather than an average taken over a longer period of time. Tesla reported that it produced over 1,000 Model 3s per week last quarter, but Bloomberg's tracker believed that was a peak rate that wasn't sustained for long periods until a few months later. We'll continue to compare the two figures from Tesla and Bloomberg each quarter, as long as the tracker keeps operating.