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The 2 Biggest Risks For Tesla Motors, Inc. Stock in 2016

By Daniel Sparks - Jan 15, 2016 at 1:30PM

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Can the electric-car maker overcome two enormous and critical challenges in 2016?

In one particular area, Tesla Motors (TSLA 4.67%) has demonstrated unquestionably excellent execution: growth. In fact, the company is growing faster the bigger it gets. And we're not talking paltry growth. In the company's most recent quarter, vehicle sales were up 77% compared to the year-ago quarter and 50% sequentially. Further, vehicle sales in the company's trailing-12-month period are up an impressive 60% from the year-ago period.

But a business' prospects are not captured by growth alone. A company's growth should be viewed in conjunction with its side effects -- particularly cash burn and execution risk.

Tesla demonstrates Model X falcon wing doors in a tight parking spot.

On this note, here are two near-term risks Tesla investors should be aware of throughout 2016.

Tesla continues to burn cash
One of the reasons Tesla has been able to sustain such high levels of growth in vehicle sales is because the company has been spending ruthlessly. This is evident by an examination of both the electric-car maker's income statement and its cash flow statement. With operating expenses amounting to a whopping 44% of the company's third-quarter revenue and burning $203 million in operations, the company's aggressive spending on research and development, employee compensation, and expansion of its service centers, stores, and other aspects of its business, is making it difficult for the company to fund even its regular day-to-day operations. This has forced Tesla to open new credit lines and raising cash through equity offerings and debt.

Fortunately, Tesla believes improved scale in manufacturing as the company ramps up production and deliveries of its Model X SUV in 2016 will help it boost profitability and even become free cash flow positive during the year. But there's a risk management is overoptimistic about its trajectory for both revenue and cost reductions.

The Model X production ramp-up does not go as planned
With around 30,000 deposit-backed orders for Tesla's Model X SUV, the company is counting on a rapid ramp in production in order to take advantage of its backlog of demand. Currently, the company's website still says new orders of the SUV will occur during the second half of 2016, suggesting management believes it can deliver all of its current orders for its X, plus any new orders, during the year.

Model X production. Image source: Tesla Motors.

Ramping production so rapidly would be quite an achievement. For comparison, during the first full year of Model S deliveries, the company shipped about 22,500 vehicles, and during the second full year it shipped about 31,700 vehicles.

Failing to live up to its ambitious expectations for ramping Model X deliveries would leave investors uncertain about the company's ability to execute on a range of growth initiatives, including Tesla Energy, the Gigafactory, and its important Model 3 launch.

It's no secret Tesla has invested heavily into Model X production, arguably at least tripling its total maximum production capacity when its upgraded factory achieves full speed. But actually ramping up production on its expanded production lines carries risks of its own.

Can Tesla live up to high expectations in these two important areas?

Daniel Sparks owns shares of Tesla Motors. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Tesla Motors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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