Tesla Q4 2017 report looks sunny, bodes well for 2018
While the numbers weren't huge, the net result of Tesla's efforts in 2017 put the company in an excellent position to have a banner year in 2018.
2017 was a big year for Tesla. It was full of ups like the first customer deliveries of the Model 3, the debut of the Tesla Semi and the new Tesla Roadster; and downs like the production bottlenecks and quality issues that have dogged the Model 3 and delayed ramp-up to start handling the hundreds of thousands of preorders. Despite all that, financially, 2017 as a whole and the fourth quarter in particular weren't huge for the EV giant.
The big news is that Tesla maintains that it will hit 2,500 cars per week by the end of next month and that it's on track to make its ambitious 5,000 vehicles-per-week goal for Model 3 production by the end of Q2 2018. This was a real concern given the tone that CEO
took in the Q3 call, referring to the Model 3 as being in "production hell."
Part of the reason that Tesla ended up in production hell with the Model 3 is their admitted overconfidence where battery production is concerned. Musk, during the earnings call, mentioned that this has historically been a problem for Tesla but with new lines coming on next month at Gigafactory 1, the company's bark should match its bite.
Solving the Gigafactory bottleneck should, according to Musk, get the company to its Q1 goal of between 2000 and 2500 Model 3's per week. The next most serious bottleneck is the parts conveyance systems at the Tesla factory in Fremont. Plans are in place to upgrade to a more automated system to get parts from the various warehouses, sub-assembly facilities, etc. to the line. The architecture of the Fremont factory is such that the actual production line exists on a mezzanine-like second level and all parts conveyance happens underneath that.
Another potential future solution for parts conveyance at Fremont would include drilling underground tunnels (thankfully, Elon knows someone with a company who does that) to avoid the backup of trucks on surface streets as is currently happening with the Tesla seat production facility.
Revenue for the company is up by 36 percent over 2016, and Zero Emissions Vehicle credit sales are way, way up to $179 million in Q4 2017 from just $20 million in Q4 2016. Also of note is that from a cashflow position, Tesla was pretty close to breaking even in 2017, amazing considering massive investments that it was forced to make in Model 3 production in Fremont and Gigafactory 1. However, even if it hits a point in 2018 where there is significant positive cashflow, Tesla will likely continue to reinvest that money into the company to speed product development and find manufacturing efficiencies.
Throughout this, Tesla maintained that 2018 will be a huge year for it, expecting the Model S and Model X to peak at 100,000 deliveries coupled with the expansion of Model 3's production to 5,000 cars per week, which, if all goes to plan, would see Tesla receiving a 25 percent margin on each Model 3 sold and also hopes to be able to increase margins on Models S and X to somewhere North of 30 percent.
Among the other questions posed by investors were the timeframe surrounding Tesla's long-planned coast-to-coast drive. Musk admitted during the call that it had fallen somewhat by the wayside during the rush to get Model 3 production up to speed but was confident that it would be completed and available to customers in three to six months.
Autonomous hardware was also a hot topic. Investors questioned Tesla's steadfast avoidance of LIDAR technology on its vehicles and asked whether the current suite of sensors (optical, radar and ultrasonic) would be enough to further advance Autopilot's autonomous driving capabilities.
"The current road environment is dominated by the need for passive optical. Using active optics such as LIDAR, which isn't able to read street signs, doesn't make a lot of sense. It's expensive and will drive costs up. If we can solve for passive optical, image recognition, what's the point of LIDAR?" said Elon Musk, CEO, and chairman of Tesla.
There was also a significant amount of talk about Model Y, which Musk predicts will push Tesla's production past 1,000,000 vehicles per year. He remained cagey as to details but did mention that the company would likely need to start investing in Model Y production by the end of 2018. He also said that Tesla would be very careful to design a car that is easy to manufacture, something that it missed the mark on with Model 3.
Finally, Musk mentioned that Jon McNeill, former head of global sales and service for Tesla, was leaving the company and that all of sales and service would now be reporting directly to him. Apparently, the man doesn't believe in things like sleep or free time.
Buoyed by the net-positive news, Tesla's stock price rose slightly and appears to be hovering around the $345 mark.
Update, Feb. 7: Added information from Q4 Earnings conference call.
Kyle HyattFormer news and features editor
Kyle Hyatt (he/him/his) hails originally from the Pacific Northwest, but has long called Los Angeles home. He's had a lifelong obsession with cars and motorcycles (both old and new).