With the company having recently reported its fourth-quarter and full-year results for 2018, it's a good time to start looking ahead at what electric-car company Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) may be able to achieve in 2019.
Last year, Tesla posted some extraordinary growth, delivering nearly as many vehicles during the year as it has in all of its prior years combined. Can the company post another year of strong growth after growing deliveries so sharply in 2018? Probably -- and here's why.
Expect about 55% growth
Fortunately, management provided its own forecast for what to expect from vehicle deliveries in 2019. In Tesla's fourth-quarter shareholder letter, management said it expects to deliver between 360,000 and 400,000 vehicles during the year. This represents 45% to 65% year-over-year growth compared to the approximately 245,500 vehicles Tesla delivered in 2018.
But can investors trust management's guidance? After all, the company has missed key production and delivery targets in the past. Fortunately, Tesla looks like it's approaching its guidance conservatively this time.
While achieving the midpoint of Tesla's guidance range for vehicle deliveries would require 55% year-over-year growth, a significant increase in the company's production rate wouldn't be needed to pull this off. The company delivered 90,966 vehicles in its fourth quarter. This translates to an annual run rate of about 364,000 vehicles -- above the low end of management's guidance range. Put another way, to grow annual deliveries 48% year over year, all Tesla would need to do is maintain the rate of quarterly deliveries it exited 2018 with.
But is the demand there? Almost certainly. Of the 90,966 vehicles Tesla delivered in Q4, 63,359 were Model 3 -- all of which were delivered in North America. In 2019, Model 3 is expanding to Europe and China, giving demand for the vehicle a significant tailwind.
Mix in Tesla's history of rapidly increasing vehicle production and the company's recent aggressive push to sell Model 3 at lower prices, and an estimate for deliveries to increase 55% year over year to 380,000 begins to sound conservative.
What about the high end of Tesla's guidance range?
For Tesla to deliver 400,000 vehicles in 2019 or -- better yet -- exceed its guidance range, the company will likely need to bring to market its promised $35,000 version of the Model 3. A $35,000 version of the vehicle, which is $7,900 less than the cheapest Model 3 version available today, would open Tesla up to a much broader customer base, easily pushing demand for the vehicle high enough for the company to hit the high end of its guidance range.
Tesla says on its website it expects the lower-cost version of the car, which will feature a smaller battery than its current Model 3 variants, to be available in four to six months.
But investors shouldn't count on this cheaper version. When asked about the promised $35,000 Model 3 on Twitter this week, Musk responded, "We're doing everything we can to get there. It's a super hard grind."