It looks like Elon Musk just canceled Thanksgiving and probably Christmas, too — if you work at Tesla Inc., anyway.
The electric-vehicle-cum-battery-cum-solar-equipment company Musk heads reported third-quarter results on Wednesday evening. Tesla missed earnings forecasts by a mile. But that number, never a huge concern, mattered even less this time around. It’s cash and cars — specifically the somewhat more mass-market Model 3 — that count.
First, cash: Having racked up its first quarter of burning through more than $1 billion of cash in the three months ending in June, Tesla topped that with $1.4 billion of negative free cash flow in the third quarter. In the past two quarters, therefore, Tesla has burned through more cash than the previous six combined.
More importantly, it has burned through roughly four out of every five of the $3.2 billion dollars it has raised since late March through selling new equity and convertible debt and its debut in the high-yield bond market.
Consequently, debt has soared. Even just using debt with recourse to the company, on a net basis it has almost tripled since the start of the year to $3.36 billion.
This would matter less if the primary objective of sucking in most of that external funding — mass production of the Model 3 — was fast approaching. Instead, it has receded further.
When Musk first talked about production targets for the Model 3 in 2016, they implied Tesla would be producing roughly 3,800 to 7,600 a week in the second half of 2017. By July of this year, Musk was guiding toward production hitting about 5,000 a week by the end of December. I estimated at the time that this implied a second-half average of maybe 1,400 a week.
Now, Musk estimates production might hit 5,000 a week by the end of the first quarter of 2018. As for this year, it might be in “the thousands” by the time New Year’s Eve rolls around. He refused to say what the current run rate was. But I would estimate Tesla will be lucky to produce 10,000 Model 3 vehicles in total this year, or an average of 400 a week for the second half — roughly 5 to 10 percent of the original guidance. As for the earlier target of 10,000 a week in 2018 …
What we have brewing here is a credibility problem. This has lurked in the background for a while, with various missed targets on sales, capex or whatnot.