Tesla beats estimate with 25,000 deliveries as Model 3 nears

Tesla Inc. set a record for deliveries and production in the first quarter, beating analysts’ estimates as Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk prepares to begin building the Model 3 in July.

The maker of electric cars and energy-storage devices shipped just over 25,000 vehicles in the year’s first three months, Palo Alto, California-based Tesla said in a statement Sunday. That topped the average forecast of 24,200 from three analysts and should bolster confidence in Tesla’s target of delivering as many as 50,000 autos in this year’s first half.

“It’s all about the Model 3 right now, but this is very good news,” Ben Kallo, an analyst at Robert W. Baird & Co., said in an interview. “25,000 units is the best we could have thought, and people are looking at Model 3 for growth.”

The report is the first in a pivotal year as Musk diversifies Tesla’s lineup, adding the Model 3 as its first high-volume, lower-priced vehicle while making existing models even more exclusive. Investors have pushed up Tesla shares 30 percent this year in anticipation of the Model 3 and on news that Chinese Internet giant Tencent Holdings Ltd. took a 5 percent stake. Its $45.4 billion market value is just $870 million less than Ford Motor Co., which produces millions of vehicles a year.

The youngest publicly traded U.S. automaker builds cars in Fremont, California, and has yet to prove that it can manufacture in high volumes. Musk has said Tesla aims to make 500,000 cars next year, an aggressive goal that hinges on battery-cell production at its so-called Gigafactory east of Reno, Nevada. Tesla hasn’t given a full-year target for 2017.

Tesla said it delivered about 13,450 Model S sedans and 11,550 Model X sport utility vehicles, while actual production in the first three months was 25,418. Strong delivery of the Model X indicates Tesla has overcome many of its production issues and reduces doubt about the company’s long-term outlook, according to Baird’s Kallo.

The company is reworking its lineup and price structure ahead of July’s introduction of the Model 3, which is expected to begin at $35,000 before incentives and options. It’s discontinuing a low-end Model S with its 60-kilowatt-hour battery pack on April 17, making the 75-kilowatt-hour Model S its cheapest car at $74,500 before tax credits or state rebates until the Model 3 arrives.

The delivery figure is a preliminary number that may change slightly in May when the company reports earnings for the period. Tesla releases global sales figures quarterly, instead of the monthly country-by-country results typically announced by other automakers. The delivery count only includes a car if it’s transferred to the customer and all paperwork is correct.

Tesla shares rose 2.9 percent to $286.50 as of 7:53 a.m. Monday in New York, before the start of regular trading.

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