When electric carmaker Tesla Motors (NASDAQ:TSLA) reported third-quarter results, the company's decision to reduce full-year guidance on some production hiccups highlighted its vulnerability in missing its ambitious growth targets. But even in spite of a production slip-up, Tesla's expansion on every front speaks volumes about the company's tenacity in getting growth execution right -- particularly growth in sales and its supercharger network.
Putting Tesla's production blip in perspective
In 2012, the year Tesla's Model S was launched, the company only sold a few thousand units. You can imagine then how dubious the Street was about Tesla's full-year guidance for 20,000 vehicles in 2013. But, sure enough, Tesla delivered -- and then some. By year-end, Tesla had delivered about 22,500 cars in 2013.
For 2014, Tesla had initially forecast to deliver 35,000 vehicles. But after running into complexities with integrating new autopilot and dual-motor features into Model S production, the company entered Q4 with a 2,000-vehicle deficit in inventory needed to meet Q4 targets. This forced Tesla to reduce its delivery guidance for 2014 to 33,000 from 35,000. But even after the reduced guidance, Tesla will still deliver 47% more vehicles in 2014 than it did in 2013.
So, Tesla went from just a few thousand deliveries in 2012 to 22,500 in 2013 to likely around 33,000 in 2014. That's some pretty solid growth. With this curve in mind, one 2,000-car slip-up isn't very worrisome.
Going forward, Tesla doesn't expect to slow down. The company is predicting Model S sales to soar 50% in 2015. And in Q3 next year it will also begin delivering its Model X.
Tesla's rapidly growing supercharger network
Tesla's staggering growth is evident in other areas, too. While the company's plan to increase retail store and service center locations by 75% in 2014 is impressive, what's really mind-boggling is the rate at which Tesla is expanding its Supercharger network.
Fortunately, Tesla recently produced this graphic to show exactly how astounding the growth has been over just the past four months.
So, sure, Tesla may not meet every ambitious target it sets in front of it. But a broad look at sales growth and at Tesla's rapidly expanding supercharger network proves the company is certainly executing expertly.
And who knows? Maybe Tesla will come closer to 35,000 vehicles this year than we think. Last year, the company beat its own Q4 guidance for deliveries by 17%. If the company pulls that off again this year, it would report Q4 vehicle deliveries close to 13,100, which would put the company less than 100 vehicles shy of its full-year guidance for 35,000 vehicles.
But let's not get our hopes up. The point is, if Tesla has proved anything about its ability to hit big growth numbers, it has proven that it can execute like a champ. So, looking out further than one quarter, a 2,000-vehicle production slip-up doesn't have me fretting.
Here's one last way to look at it. If, in the beginning of 2012, someone had told me Tesla was planning to sell 50,000 of its Model S in 2015 alone, I would have laughed. If someone said Tesla would achieve an automotive gross profit margin of 28% excluding zero-emission vehicle credits, I would have laughed even harder. But I'm not laughing now.