Editors Note: this article previously stated Tesla would deliver 100,000 units in 2015. This statement was made in error and should have stated, Tesla will increase its annualized delivery rate to 100,000 units in 2015. The Motley Fool apologizes and regrets this error.
Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) has been a hot stock during the past 18 months, as investors continue to debate whether this is the next game-changing corporation, or an overvalued automaker in a niche market. Two of the biggest hurdles for Tesla are generating a GAAP-based profit, and increasing its vehicle production. In 2013, the automaker delivered roughly 22,500 vehicles. In its most recent earnings report, the company projects 2014 deliveries to be "more than 35,000" vehicles.
The jump from approximately 22,500 to 35,000 vehicles represents an annual delivery growth rate of 55% from 2013 to 2014. However, in the most recent quarter, Tesla also announced another interesting note: It plans to increase its annualized delivery rate to 100,000 units in 2015.
How will this delivery growth be obtained?
Will Tesla really be able to increase sales by nearly 300% in just one year? The company cited increased production at its Fremont factory as the reasoning behind the increase. From the release:
"In addition, we are adding new production capacity at our Fremont factory that will allow us to meet the growing worldwide demand for our vehicles. The speed at which we are executing this capacity upgrade will allow us to exceed 35,000 Model S deliveries this year. Provided that we execute well and there are no serious macroeconomic shocks, Tesla's annualized delivery rate should exceed 100,000 units by the end of next year." (Emphasis added by author)
The short-term changes at the factory will result in about 2,000 fewer vehicles being produced in the third quarter, but will result in fourth-quarter production of "slightly more than 1,000 cars per week," as CEO Elon Musk explained on the conference call. The slowdown will lower third-quarter production to roughly 9,000 vehicles from 11,000.
One thousand cars per week is 52,000 cars... so what's that about 100,000?
The most recent changes at the Fremont factory have made it possible to produce more than 1,000 vehicles per week. However, in the conference call, Musk elaborated on how the company will top 100,000 vehicles per year. He said that, "In the case of new SX body line, which is a line that is designed to be capable of 2,500 units a week, maybe more than that, conservatively at 2,500 units a week, at a lower cost point, we should be able to do that in parallel."
This production-line change is expected to occur in the first quarter of 2015. Later in the call, Musk went on to say that he believes customer demand will be roughly split between the Model S and Model X -- with the possibility of slightly more demand for the latter -- where production will run at about 1,000 units of each vehicle per week.
The math here gets relatively simple, as 1,000 units per vehicle equates to 2,000 vehicles per week for 52 weeks, or 104,000 units annually.
Is this a for-sure thing?
Of course, nothing is guaranteed. In the company's earnings release, it states that execution from the company has to be strong, and the economy has to hold up. But barring any severe setback from Tesla, or an economic collapse, these production estimates seem obtainable.
The bump in production has likely caught most analysts off guard, including Adam Jonas, an equity analyst from Morgan Stanley. Tesla's new production estimates for 2015 are 25% ahead of Jonas' estimates for 2016.
This isn't to pick on Mr. Jonas, because many analysts did not expect this type of output. It just shows how Tesla appears to be moving faster than most had previously thought. The company has already announced that its Gigafactory could be capable of producing enough batteries for 500,000 vehicles per year by 2020.
Not many people deny that Tesla makes a sweet ride. Valuing the company has been difficult, but the latest boost in production numbers makes it easier -- note... not easy -- to justify the current valuation, and makes 500,000 vehicles seem like an actual possibly in 2020, not just a pipe dream.