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Tesla Inc. pushed back introductions of new models to next year, wagering the best way to continue expanding sales in the face of supply chain challenges will be to further leverage a narrow lineup of big sellers.
The world’s most valuable automaker will focus on scaling up production in 2022 to follow up what CEO Elon Musk called a breakthrough year both for Tesla and electric cars in general. Relying on just two vehicles — the Model 3 and Y — for 97% of deliveries helped alleviate challenges led by the semiconductor shortage crimping output across the car industry.
“Both last year and this year, if we were to introduce new vehicles, our total vehicle output would decrease,” Musk said Jan. 26 after Tesla reported record revenue and earnings per share, both of which beat analysts’ estimates. Rolling out the Cybertruck, Semi or Roadster in 2022 “would not make any sense because we’ll still be parts-constrained.”
While having to procure chips for just a handful of models has been an advantage for Tesla, putting off launches of new products carries some risk. Rivian Automotive Inc. is ramping up production of its R1T electric pickup, and truck-segment leader Ford Motor Co. is coming to market with a plug-in version of its best-selling F-150 in the coming months.
“TSLA shares tend to work the best when something new is coming,” Jeffrey Osborne, a Cowen & Co. analyst with the equivalent of a hold rating on the stock, said in a note.
Lacking near-term additions to Tesla showrooms to promote, Musk spent much of Tesla’s earnings call discussing the potential of self-driving technology and a humanoid robot the company has under development.
While Tesla has for years charged thousands of dollars for Full Self-Driving capability that it has said will live up to that name sometime in the future, the features are still in beta and humans must continue minding the steering wheel. Musk said the robot he first teased five months ago may be the most important product the carmaker is working on and has the potential to be more significant than its vehicle business.
That will be a tall order, at least from an earnings perspective. Automotive revenue soared to almost $16 billion in the fourth quarter and was 90% of total sales. Profit excluding some items jumped to $2.54 a share, beating analysts’ average estimate for $2.36 a share.
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Tesla delivered more than 936,000 vehicles worldwide in 2021, up 87% from the year before and exceeding the 50% average annual expansion projected over several years. While Musk expects to comfortably exceed that growth again in 2022, the company warned its factories are likely to continue running below capacity through this year because of supply chain issues.
“The commentary on the risk factors is taking on a different weight in the current environment,” said Gene Munster, a co-founder of investment firm Loup Ventures. “Whenever there are unknowns about the future it can spook investors a little bit.”
After sitting out Tesla’s earnings call last quarter, Musk returned Jan. 26 to explain the decision to further delay models he first showed prototypes of as far back as 2017. Tesla will do engineering and tooling work this year to get the Cybertruck, Semi and Roadster ready for production, “hopefully next year,” Musk said. The company isn’t currently working on a $25,000 vehicle that he said in 2020 Tesla would try to make in roughly three years.
“We have enough on our plate right now, too much on our plates, frankly,” Musk said. “The thing that overwhelmingly matters is when is the car autonomous.”
Tesla’s Full Self-Driving capability will become the most important source of profitability for the company over time, he said. With last year’s net income of $5.5 billion on a generally accepted accounting principles basis, Tesla clinched a milestone that its CEO touted toward the beginning of the call.
“Our accumulated profitability since the inception of the company became positive, which I think makes us a real company at this point,” Musk said.