Wherever Elon Musk is right now, he's probably popping champagne. Tesla shares are up about 20 percent in after-hours trading after the company announced its third quarter results. To say those results are good would be an understatement. Tesla delivered a record 97,000 cars June through September 2019, and made a profit of $143 million. 

These results have investors, and most likely Tesla executives, breathing a sigh of relief because the company reported heavy losses for the first two quarters of 2019. It lost $702 million in Q1 and a better-but-still-terrible $408 million in Q2

One big question the company's had to answer is whether it can be profitable as it switches from selling mostly high-end Model S and Model X cars to the more affordable Model 3 and Model Y. Delivering an affordable Tesla has always been crucial to Musk's stated mission of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by replacing a meaningful number of internal combustion cars with electric ones. But declining sales in the higher-end models were seen as contributing to losses in the first half of this year, and they raised the question of whether Tesla could be a profitable company selling $35,000 vehicles instead of $100,000 ones. Last quarter's profits sat the answer is definitely yes.

Will it be smooth sailing for Tesla from here on out? Well...maybe. The company's third quarter revenues have likely gotten a short-term boost from two items that may not recur in future. One is the sale of its new Smart Summon feature which costs around $6,000. Tesla has been deferring some revenue for this feature which some customers paid for before it was available. 

Helping Fiat Chrysler meet European requirements.

Tesla also received a so far undisclosed amount from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles for allowing that car maker to credit sales of Teslas in the European Union to count toward Fiat Chrysler's sales. Stiff EU rules require the vehicles automakers sell to produce emissions that average out to about 57 mpg (in U.S. terms). The only way Fiat Chrysler can meet that requirement is by averaging in a large number of electric vehicle sales, so counting Tesla's European vehicle sales as its own will save Fiat Chrysler billions in fines.

Without knowing more about the amount of the Fiat Chrysler payment (which should be included in Tesla's 10-Q filing, to be released sometime soon) and how much Smart Summon revenue it's recognized, it may be hard to tell how sustainable these excellent profits are. Still, these third quarter results can only be seen as very, very good news.

And there's more good news: The company also announced that construction of its Gigafactory in Shanghai is the rare Tesla project running ahead of schedule. With completion promised by the end of 2019, the factory is ready for production. It's already producing test cars and is currently obtaining the needed licenses for mass Model 3 production from the Chinese government. Building Model 3s in China will allow Tesla to avoid import tariffs as the U.S. and Chinese governments continue their escalating trade war. In an presentation, Tesla told investors that the factory was built in 10 months and "-65 percent less expensive (capex per unit of capacity)" to build than U.S. Model 3 production facilities. 

As if all that weren't enough positive news, the company says it's now ahead of schedule on planned production of its Model Y, a crossover utility vehicle with a 300-mile range that will start at $39,000. Tesla now says it plans to start U.S. production of the Model Y in summer of 2020, with European and Asian production to begin the following year. "We are moving faster than initially planned, using learnings and efficiencies gained from our Gigafactory Shanghai factory design," the company reported in its presentation. It added: "Capex per unit of capacity is forecasted to be about 50 percent lower than our current Model 3 production system in the United States."

If Model 3 production in China and Model Y production in the U.S. go as planned, Tesla investors and executives might have even more to celebrate this time next year.

Published on: Oct 23, 2019
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