Tesla shares plummet after worse than expected loss

Another major management change has cast fresh doubts on electric car maker’s future

Photograph: Philip Cheung/The New York Times

Photograph: Philip Cheung/The New York Times

 

Tesla shares plummeted after a worse-than-expected loss and yet another major management change cast fresh doubts on the electric-car maker’s future.

Despite delivering a record number of vehicles in the second quarter, Tesla lost $1.12 (€1) a share, a bigger deficit than any analyst projected. While chief executive Elon Musk is hoping to earn a profit in the thee months ending in September, he told shareholders he’ll prioritise other goals.

Then, for the second time already this year, Musk dropped a bombshell about a senior executive role change on Tesla’s earnings call. Co-Founder JB Straubel, who’s been with Tesla since before the billionaire chief executive joined the board 15 years ago, is leaving the chief technology officer job and becoming an adviser.

The weak results and Mr Straubel’s step back risk undermining Musk’s bid to prove Tesla can sustainably make money building and selling electric cars. The stock plunged as much as 12 per cent in after-hours trading and were already down 20 per cent for the year through Wednesday’s close.

While Tesla posted profits in the second half of last year, 2019 has been turbulent. A disastrous first three months of deliveries gave way to a record in the second quarter. Demand was driven by the lower-margin Model 3, which ramped up in the US and started sales in China and Europe.

“Record second-quarter deliveries resulting in a larger-than-expected loss is a clear example that the company will be challenged to recreate the successful US sales model in foreign markets where incumbent, established and well-funded automakers enjoy home-team favour,” said Kevin Tynan, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence.

In a letter to shareholders Mr Musk said he’s still aiming for positive third-quarter earnings, but will focus on delivering more cars, expanding capacity and generating cash. On the conference call with analysts, the chief executive said he expects to be “probably around break-even this quarter, and profitable next quarter.”

Blindsides

The departure by Mr Straubel from the chief technology officer role he’s had since 2005 reinforces Mr Musk’s reputation for blindsiding investors. He revealed the departure of chief financial officer Deepak Ahuja in a similar fashion in January.

Mr Straubel, 43, has overseen Tesla’s energy business, its Supercharger network and its battery plant in Nevada. He stressed that he’s not “disappearing,” and Mr Musk immediately announced a replacement. Drew Baglino, the vice president of technology who appeared on stage with Mr Musk and Mr Straubel at Tesla’s annual shareholder meeting in June, will take over.

“I love the team and I love the company and I always will,” Mr Straubel said. “Drew and I have worked closely together for many years and I have total confidence in Drew. I am not going anywhere.”

Mr Straubel is “probably the second-most important person at Tesla,” Alexander Potter, an analyst at Piper Jaffray, wrote in a report to clients. “Even though he is retaining ‘adviser’ status, his departure is nonetheless likely to rattle investors.”

Shrinking margin

Tesla’s automotive gross margin shrank to 18.9 per cent in the second quarter, from 20.6 per cent in the year-earlier period. The decline was driven by the lower average selling price of the company’s vehicles, as deliveries of the Model 3 more than quadrupled the combined total for the costlier Model S and X.

Tesla expects to launch the all-new Model Y crossover by autumn 2020. Because of the large market for SUVs and their higher prices, the company sees the vehicle being more profitable than the Model 3, which is selling for about $50,000.

Musk is eyeing an end-of-year start date for production in China and wrote in the letter to shareholders that the largest auto market in the world “poses a strong long-term opportunity.”

Tesla is building a battery and vehicle plant on the outskirts of Shanghai, and depending on how quickly it ramps up, the company is targeting production of half a million cars over the next 12 months. – Bloomberg