Tesla (TSLA -4.02%) has been a big drag on the Nasdaq Composite recently, with investors in the electric vehicle (EV) company having suffered losses of close to 70% from the stock's best levels of the past year. There have been plenty of factors affecting the electric vehicle pioneer's stock lately, many of which have little to do with its core business.

However, Tesla stock took another hit on Thursday, falling 9% to reach its lowest level since 2020. The reason behind Thursday's decline for the share price stems from a strategic move from Tesla, and the decision that the business made reflects a way of thinking that seems unnecessarily focused on short-term factors at the expense of longer-term profit.

A big discount for end-of-year Tesla sales

Tesla shares responded negatively in part to news from the EV automaker that it would offer extensive discounts for a brief period. For customers who take delivery of a Tesla Model 3 or Model Y vehicle between Dec. 21 and Dec. 31, the company will throw in free charging for 10,000 miles. In addition, those who purchase the mass-market Tesla vehicles will get a $7,500 discount.

The move comes immediately before new tax credits on electric vehicles come into effect in January 2023. Under the tax credit program in effect currently, Tesla had already maxed out the number of vehicles eligible for the credit, while certain other vehicles are still eligible for credits of up to $7,500. However, provisions of the Inflation Reduction Act, which passed in Washington earlier this year, effectively reset the counter for Tesla buyers to start getting the $7,500 amount next year.

As a result, the discount makes the net cost of Tesla vehicles roughly the same for buyers in the final days of 2022 as it will be for buyers in 2023. The difference, though, is that Tesla is footing the bill for the $7,500 for its 2022 sales, while the federal government will potentially be on the hook for that amount come next year.

Wouldn't you wait 10 days for $7,500?

Discounting is a common practice when there's a disruptive event set to take place at a specific point in the future. For instance, mobile device manufacturers often have to discount their existing product lines as the launch dates for more advanced models with added features approach. That makes perfect sense, because those manufacturers have inventory that they need to clear out to make room for the models that will replace it.

The difference here, though, is that Tesla could wait 10 days to deliver the exact same vehicle and collect $7,500 more in revenue and potential profit while still leaving customers' actual out-of-pocket cost the same. Based on multiple reports discussing Tesla's move, the discounts don't appear to be restricted to any given model year and seem to include 2023 models.

Most analysts who are critical of the discounting pointed to the move as a sign of weak demand for vehicles. That might well be true, given macroeconomic conditions and uncertainty in consumer confidence.

But there's a different element of Tesla's move that long-term investors should find more troubling. The value to Tesla's business of delivering a vehicle on Jan. 2 rather than Dec. 29 appears to be $7,500 higher, based on the final price to consumers after the credit. However, for purposes of reporting fourth-quarter vehicle delivery figures to investors, the Jan. 2 delivery won't show up, while the Dec. 29 delivery will.

Tesla's willingness to discount its EVs indicates that it's more concerned with meeting Wall Street expectations on arbitrary quarter-end delivery volume than on getting an extra $7,500 for the same vehicle. It would be natural for a publicly traded company's management to be concerned about Wall Street's reaction, especially when a massive portion of executive compensation is based on short-term operational measures like revenue and adjusted pre-tax operating earnings, as well as on the price of the stock. Yet the discounts don't align with shareholders' desire for maximizing profits over the long run.

Keep your eyes on the road

Companies should align their actions with the interests of their shareholders. When that alignment shows signs of cracking, investors should be cautious. Those watching Tesla might get a better idea of just how much this discounting ends up costing the company and its shareholders when the automaker reports its delivery counts in early January.