For the first time, Tesla has broken out sales numbers from its quarterly financial statements, announcing that the automaker sold 10,030 cars in the first quarter of the year. That’s a step in the right direction, but it’s not going to solve Tesla’s real reporting problem: people trying to guesstimate monthly sales based on shoddy sourcing.

Over the last year there’s been a constant, collective hue and cry from Wall Street halfwits, armchair financial analysts, and traditional auto industry types about Tesla’s sales reporting. Unlike every other automaker on the planet, Tesla doesn’t report sales on a monthly basis. That’s been a problem, as people try to cobble together sales data using everything from registration filings to reading the entrails of sacrificed chickens.

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That’s what Tesla is trying to address with its new tack. From today’s statement about sales being up 55 percent over Q1 of last year:

Going forward, Tesla will publish the number of new car deliveries within three days of quarter end. We have decided to take this approach, because inaccurate sources of information are sometimes used by others to project the number of vehicle deliveries.

The issue of inaccurate sourcing came to a head last year when one Merrill Lynch analyst started digging around, and estimated that around 3,000 cars were “in inventory or in transit,” leading to a rash of stories and misinterpretations about how many cars Tesla was actually producing and selling.

At the time, Elon Musk said this about why Tesla doesn’t report monthly sales during its Q3 financial call:

Part of the reason why we don’t release the monthly deliveries number is just because it varies quite a lot by region and then the media tends to read all sorts of nonsense into deliveries. We’ll have like 1000 cars reach a country one month and none the next month and then people — or like 100 the next month trickle in or something because those were the numbers that were registered in one month versus the next and people say Tesla sales dropped by a factor of 10.

The boat arrived in January and not all the cars got registered in January and some got registered in February, then in March, it’s back up again and so people read in all these things which are — they assume deliveries are proxy for demand which is not the case. It is the case for other car companies, but in our case it really needs be parsed into orders and deliveries. Then bear in mind, there are lots of things we can do to amplify orders.

Orders is not a true measure of demand, it is just a measure of that’s the amount of stuff we need to do to meet our production and delivery number. So if we released orders, people would try to read the tea leaves and say demand for Tesla is growing or dropping.

That tactic is all well and good when you’re a small company that’s doesn’t garner hundreds of headlines when your CEO farts sideways, but that’s not Tesla anymore.

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Couple that with the continuing sales debacle in China, and real transparency is going to be more and more crucial for the automaker. But at this point, Tesla is just giving us the same data that it would release in a few weeks, and that’s going to do little to stem the tide of faulty estimates and the resulting parade of “analysis” that’s causing both Tesla and its investors headaches.


Contact the author at damon@jalopnik.com.
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