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How Many Model S Cars Will Tesla Motors, Inc. Sell This Quarter?

By Daniel Sparks - Apr 8, 2016 at 1:05PM

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In Tesla's press release on Q1 deliveries, management slipped a glimpse of where Model S deliveries may be headed in Q2.

Electric-car maker Tesla Motors' (TSLA 1.24%) first-quarter deliveries are out. As the first full quarter with meaningful Model X deliveries, the company's ongoing production ramp of the important SUV is garnering the most attention in the press. But what about the company's Model S? Where are production and deliveries headed for Tesla's sedan?

Model S. Image source: Tesla Motors.

A look back at Q1
After market close on Monday, Tesla posted first-quarter vehicle deliveries. The company sold 14,820 vehicles, or more than 1,000 units below what it was expecting to deliver during the quarter. The reason for the delivery miss? Trouble with Model X production.

By vehicle type, Tesla delivered 12,420 Model S and 2,400 Model X.

Tesla's lower-than-expected Model X deliveries have attracted the most analysis since the figures were released. However, the company's 12,420 Model S deliveries during Q1, which were significantly lower than Model S units delivered during Q4, also deserve a close look -- especially since the model's sales represent the majority of Tesla's revenue.

The most notable takeaway about Tesla's Model S sales in Q1 was the significant sequential decline between Q4 and Q1. Its 12,420 Model S shipments in Q1 were down 28% sequentially compared to the 17,272 units shipped in Q4. With this data in mind, some investors may wonder: Is the company's Model S facing a demand issue as it ramps up Model X production?

Some background knowledge on Tesla's production, as well as a look at some of the data provided about demand for Model S, suggests that Model S deliveries may have simply been negatively affected by Model X production issues.

Model X production. Image source: Tesla Motors.

First, consider that Tesla has emphasized on multiple occasions that S production can be impaired by Model X production issues.

"[S]ince Model S and X are produced on the same general assembly line, Model X production challenges could slow Model S production," Tesla warned in a quarterly letter to shareholders last year. 

While Model X has its own dedicated production line, the shared general assembly line for S and X means X issues could carry over to the S.

Second, the company specifically cited robust demand for Model S in its most recent press release for quarterly vehicle deliveries, suggesting deliveries weren't indicative of demand.

How many Model S cars could Tesla deliver?
Fortunately, Tesla provided enough information in its press release on first-quarter deliveries about Model S that investors can put together a decent estimate of the sort of deliveries to expect in Q2.

Consider this excerpt from Tesla's recent press release:

"Because production is now on plan and Q1 orders exceeded Q1 deliveries by a wide margin, with Q1 Model S orders being 45% higher than Q1 last year, Tesla reaffirms its full-year delivery guidance," Tesla said (emphasis mine).

Assuming Q1 orders last year for Model S roughly translate to Q2 Model S deliveries last year, the company may have received as many as 16,700 orders for its sedan during the first quarter of 2016.

With these factors in mind, and after baking in some room for conservatism, it's reasonable to estimate Tesla could deliver around 15,500 to 16,000 Model S cars during Q2. While this is down from the company's huge fourth quarter, it would still be a nice sequential increase from Q1 and a significant bump from the approximately 11,500 Model S cars delivered in the second quarter of 2015.

Add in expectations for huge growth in Model X deliveries for Q2, and Tesla looks poised to easily set a new record high for vehicle deliveries this quarter.

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