In Tesla's (NASDAQ: TSLA ) fourth quarter of 2013, its vehicle deliveries exceeded guidance by about 17% -- a much larger margin than usual for the electric-car maker. This prompted Tesla to inform investors about two weeks after the close of the quarter that revenue would exceed guidance by about 20% when it reported results. Could Tesla make a similar announcement in the coming weeks? A new report on Model S sales in Norway suggests that Tesla's first quarter may yet again blow away its own guidance.
Tesla shares are up about 3.5% at the time of this writing on a report from The Wall Street Journal citing registrations reported by Norwegian transportation officials with Model S sales numbers. According to the registrations, Tesla sold 1,493 Model S sedans in March alone. The figure is the largest monthly sales ever reported by any model in Norway -- electric-powered or not.
What this could mean for Tesla's first-quarter results
The spectacular Norway sales figures for Tesla in March are notable because Tesla only guided to sell 6,400 vehicles in Q1 -- about 500 fewer than it did in the fourth quarter of 2013. Tesla said in its fourth-quarter letter to shareholders that the reason for the lower guidance in Q1 was that "the number of cars in transit to Europe and Asia must grow substantially to support those markets." As the logistics pipeline fills, it won't be until the following quarters, Tesla said, that production will ramp up to help the company hit its annual target of 35,000 Model S deliveries in 2014.
There were 2,056 Model S sedans sold in Norway in January, February, and March. This would only leave about 4,340 Model S deliveries for the rest of Europe and North America. But it seems unlikely that global sales outside of Norway would be so limited considering that Tesla has been delivering cars in North America at a rate of about 5,000 cars per quarter for the last three quarters -- it's been supply limited in every quarter even with an advertising budget of zero.
Perhaps Tesla filled its logistics pipeline sooner than expected by addressing supply bottlenecks ahead of schedule. This number from Norway doesn't make a blowout quarter for Tesla certain, but it undoubtedly makes it more likely. Notably, Tesla has beaten its own guidance for vehicle deliveries in the past four quarters in a row.
But investors should zoom out
While it's important for Tesla to continue to execute on production to prove to investors that it can consistently execute, shareholders should keep their focus on bigger-picture items that will make or break the manufacturer as a major auto player -- items like the Gigafactory, a plant purposed to build more lithium-ion batteries per year than all of the lithium-ion annual production in the world today. It's this factory that will help Tesla make its planned lower-cost electric car and sell it to the masses by 2017.
Editor's note: A previous version of this story overstated the total number of Model S deliveries in Norway during the first quarter. The Motley fool regrets the error.
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