With around 30,000 deposit-backed orders on electric-car maker Tesla Motors' (NASDAQ:TSLA) books, the company's Model X deliveries will be a closely watched item this year by investors. The company's first deliveries occurred in September 2015, and the company's ramp-up in production, which management says will occur on an exponential curve, is just getting started.
With Tesla's first quarter now underway, how many vehicles could the company ship during the quarter?
A reasonable start
Tesla's fourth-quarter deliveries soared an impressive 50% compared to Q3. This was some big growth for the company -- its biggest sequential growth in the last 11 quarters. But most of this growth came from its Model S, not its new SUV. While a September launch of its Model X SUV may suggest much of this growth was derived from sales of the new vehicle, this wasn't the case. Of the 17,400 vehicles delivered during the quarter, the Model X only represented 208 of these units.
However, Q1 should be a different story, and the most-recent updates from Tesla on its Model X production ramp-up seem to agree. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has emphasized on several occasions that he is very confident in the company's ability to produce Model X, noting that initial uncertainty was mostly related to the ability of suppliers to deliver on their promises.
Production already appears to be ramping up exponentially, as Tesla delivered 208 units during the quarter, but said it had completely produced 507 units by the time it shared its delivery numbers on January 3.
What about Q1?
Putting an estimate on the company's first-quarter deliveries is difficult. Musk explained the dilemma during Tesla's third-quarter earnings call (via a Seeking Alpha transcript):
The reason I feel a bit cautious about giving exact estimates is that when you have an exponential increase, the exact calendar window over which the -- that you place that -- that exponential has quite a big impact on the numbers. So ... in general at Tesla, I want to be a little more cautious about giving quarterly numbers, particularly when we have very dramatic ramps. Like the example is with the Model X: you can imagine if you have strict calendar windows, and you place them over the beginning of an exponential, or slightly to the right, or slightly more to the right, the actual differences are quite dramatic. So, like you know where it's going to end up, but not what it looks like in that rapidly changing S-curve situation.
If I were forced to put a number on Tesla's potential Model X deliveries during Q1, I would guess it could be around 4,800. This figure is derived simply by doubling the company's ramp-up of its Model S production when Model S production was at a similar point on its ramp-up timeline. Tesla has said in the past that it believes the production capacity it was building for the X would enable a production ramp-up to occur at twice the rate of the initial S ramp-up.
Investors will get a better idea what management expects from its Model X production ramp when the company reports fourth-quarter results, and provides full-year guidance. Last year, Tesla reported its fourth-quarter results on February 11. I'll be looking for the company to guide for approximately 4,000 or more Model X deliveries during the quarter.