Tesla reported on Wednesday that its third-quarter profit more than doubled from a year ago, fuelled by higher vehicle sales.
The Austin, Texas electric vehicle and solar panel maker posted net income of US$3.29 billion from July through to September.
CEO Elon Musk said on the company’s quarterly conference call that Tesla is considering a US$5-billion to US$10-billion stock buyback next year, even if the economy stumbles.
And Musk said Tesla’s ‘full self-driving’ feature won’t be ready to be used without humans behind the wheel this year. But it will be ready next year “without question whatsoever, in my mind”.
Excluding special items, Tesla made US$1.05 per share, beating Wall Street estimates of US$1 per share, according to data provider FactSet. Revenue rose 56 per cent to a record US$21.45 billion, but fell just short of estimates averaging US$21.98 billion.
Tesla will fall short of its target of 50 per cent annual growth in vehicle deliveries this year, Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn said during the conference call, but he was later contradicted by Musk.
“On the delivery side, we do expect to be just under 50 per cent growth,” he said, blaming the shortfall to expected problems transporting vehicles at the end of the year.
Musk later predicted 50 per cent annual production and delivery growth, but also pointed to logistical problems shipping vehicles. Then he reiterated the growth targets.
“To the best of our knowledge, we believe that Tesla will continue to grow deliveries and revenue, production at a 50 per cent or greater compound annual growth rate,” Musk said, qualifying his statement by adding that some years may be lower, and some higher.
It will take a stellar fourth-quarter sales performance to reach the 50 per cent goal.
Earlier this month, Tesla reported vehicle sales that rose 35 per cent for the July-September period, compared to the second quarter, as the company’s huge factory in China got past supply chain issues and pandemic restrictions.
The company sold 343,830 cars and SUVs in the third quarter, compared with 254,695 deliveries made from April through to June.
Analysts have questioned whether Tesla is experiencing waning demand for its vehicles, which in the United States start at around US$49,000.
So far this year, the company has delivered 908,573 vehicles. Last year, the company delivered just over 936,000 vehicles. To increase sales by 50 per cent over last year, which would amount to about 1.4 million vehicles, the company would have to sell more than 490,000 vehicles in the fourth quarter.
But Tesla said it had higher-than-usual numbers of vehicles in transit at the end of the third quarter that will count as sales once they reach customers. The company said it’s smoothing out its delivery pace.
Tesla said its ‘full self-driving’ system will be available to everyone who has ordered it by the end of this year. The system is being beta-tested now by 160,000 selected drivers, and will still need human drivers into next year, Musk said.
“We’re not saying it’s quite ready to have no one behind the wheel,” he said, but he added that humans almost never have to touch controls.
He said the company will be able to show regulators that the system is much safer than the average human driver.
Musk has promised a fleet of autonomous robotaxis would be in use during 2020, a deadline that has been missed for two years.
On the stock buyback, Musk said Tesla’s board has debated the idea and generally thinks it would make sense. “It’s likely that we’ll do some meaningful buyback,” he said.
Tesla has the money to fund a buyback. During the third quarter, the company was sitting on US$21.1 billion worth of cash and marketable securities, it said.
Musk also said he’s confident Tesla will meet US government requirements, so its buyers would get up to US$7,500 in tax credits per vehicle. The recently passed Inflation Reduction Act includes a tax credit of up to US$7,500 that could be used to defray the cost of purchasing an electric vehicle. But to qualify for the full credit, the EV must contain a battery built in North America, with 40 per cent of the metals mined or recycled on the continent.
Tesla builds vehicles and makes batteries in the US.
High prices for raw materials caused a hit to profits, along with inefficiencies from ramping up the factories in Germany and Texas, the company said.
Still, the company said initial deliveries of its semi-truck will start in December.