Tesla’s earnings plunge, but the company promises cheaper car model

New York CNN —

Tesla reported its first quarter adjusted earnings plunged 48%, falling short of lowered Wall Street forecasts, but it assured investors that it plans to move ahead with a cheaper model due out next year.

The company reported a 9% drop in total revenue, which also missed analyst estimates. And its profit margin declined by 2 percentage points.

But Tesla heartened some investors by announcing it plans to move ahead with a lower priced model, which it said will go into production in the second half of 2025.

Tesla did not give much in the way of details about this new, lower-priced model it is promising, such as a target price or its production volumes. And CEO Elon Musk and Tesla have a history of not living up to timelines on vehicle launches. But the promise that it is still moving ahead with a lower-priced model was assuring news in the wake of reports that it would drop plans for the vehicle altogether.

Musk seemed unexcited even talking about the new lower priced model, seeming to compare it to a horse-drawn carriage, and spending far more of the call with investors hyping Tesla’s promises far beyond its current or future electric vehicles. He once again cited the company’s artificial intelligence capabilities and its self-driving technology, which he predicted could be licensed to one or more rival automakers later this year. And he spoke of its plans for sentient humanoid robots, and his vision of a fleet of millions driverless “robotaxis” owned by a combination of Tesla and Tesla owners, moving passengers who will be as comfortable riding in a driverless car as they are walking onto an elevator today.

“We really should be thought of as an AI-robotics company,” he said. “If you value Tesla as just an auto company, it’s just the wrong framework. If somebody doesn’t believe that Tesla will solve autonomy, I think they should not be an investor in the company.”

It was a classic Musk call straight out of the earlier days of Tesla when the company was still struggling financiallly, promising paradigm shifting technological changes to get investors excited about the future.

And to a degree, it worked, with the recently battered Tesla (TSLA) shares, which had lost 42% of their value so far this year through Tuesday’s close, rising 11% in after-market trading, despite the ugly financial performance reported for the first quarter.

Tesla and Musk were eager to change the story around Tesla, not just away from disappointing first quarter financial results, but also from a sustained run of bad news. Earlier this month, it reported its first year-over-year decline in global sales since the pandemic and unveiled plans to cut more than 10% of its staff. It also continued its year-long series of price cuts, with the most recent coming last weekend.

The drop in stock value has even some Tesla bulls worried about the future for the world’s most valuable automaker. But it is facing increasing competition from both established Western automakers — which are rolling out their own EV offerings — and Chinese automakers, which are offering low-priced EVs.

In the final three months of last year, Tesla lost its title as the world’s largest EV maker to Chinese automaker BYD.

After Reuters reported earlier this month that Tesla was dropping plans for a cheaper model, popularly referred to as the Tesla Model 2, because of competition from China, CEO Elon Musk tweeted “Reuters is lying (again),” without giving any details of the company’s plans. But in January, he did warn that Chinese automakers could ‘demolish’ rivals with low priced EVs.

Tesla adjusted net income came in at $1.5 billion, or 45 cents a share. Analysts had been forecasting earnings per share of 49 cents. It was the smallest adjusted quarterly profit that Tesla had reported since the first quarter of 2021, when the pandemic and supply chain disruptions were still affecting results.

The company also said it had negative cash flow of $2.5 billion, the first time it had burned through cash in a quarter since the first quarter of 2020 at the start of the pandemic.

The company said it experienced numerous challenges in the first quarter, from the conflict in the Red Sea, which caused ships heading from Asia to Europe to take a longer path around Africa, to an arson attack at its plant in Germany and a gradual ramp up of the updated Model 3 at its plant in Fremont, California.

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