The biggest takeaway from Tesla's (NASDAQ:TSLA) third-quarter results was undoubtedly its surprise profitability. The company reported net income of $312 million and positive free cash flow of $881 million, with the help of soaring Model 3 production and deliveries. Just as notable, management said it expected to be profitable in Q4, as well.
But Tesla's earnings call following its third-quarter earnings release included plenty of interesting takeaways, too. Three topics that stood out during the call were management's plans for its promised $35,000 Model 3, its expectations for Model 3 demand, and an update on how Tesla is thinking about capital raises.
Why the $35,000 Model 3 version isn't here yet
When Tesla first unveiled the Model 3, it promised a version with a starting price of $35,000. But the electric-car maker hasn't delivered on its promise yet.
Of course, it was always management's plan to ramp up production of higher-end versions of Model 3 and improve economies of scale first before it launched the vehicle. But that hasn't stopped investors and analysts from wondering when the new vehicle will launch. After all, Tesla wants to eventually sell 500,000 or more Model 3 units per year -- and it's going to need to bring down the vehicle's price to achieve this.
Why isn't the $35,000 version available? The cost to build Model 3 simply isn't low enough yet.
"[I]f we could produce a $35,000 car today, we would do it," Tesla CEO Elon Musk explained. "We need more work, there is more work to do before to make $35,000 car and have it be positive gross margin." But Musk said Tesla is "probably less than six months from [having a positive gross margin on Model 3], that's our mission."
More specifically, Musk said later in the call that the company wants cost of goods sold for the base version of Model 3 to be $30,000 when it brings it to market.
High hopes for Model 3 demand
Asked about the global demand Tesla expects for its Model 3 as the price comes down, Musk said, "It's on probably on the order of anywhere from 500,000 to 1 million cars a year." This, of course, is a huge jump from the Model 3's current annualized run rate of deliveries of about 223,000. Of course, Tesla achieved this run rate with a Model 3 version that has a starting price of $49,000.
Musk says he believes Model 3 demand can get to this level because global demand for the similarly priced BMW 3 Series vehicle is around 500,000 units per year. "And generally we find we have to compete the BMW 3 Series quite well. So it seems like logical therefore that we would want to have a higher production or higher demand," Musk explained.
What about a capital raise?
Now that Tesla is profitable, one analyst inquired about whether Tesla plans to fund operations from internal funds and avoid raising capital from outside sources. Musk responded:
Yes, that is our goal. We do not intend to raise equity or debt, at least that's in our intention right now, you know that may change in the future, but the current operating plan is to pay-off our debt and not to refinance them but pay them off and reduce the debt load and overall leverage for the company.
As usual, Tesla seems very optimistic about its future. But given the company's recent sharp increase in Model 3 production and deliveries and surprise profitability that proved naysayers wrong, investors may want to consider giving more weight to the company's bold aspirations again.