On Monday after the close of business, Tesla announced its Q1 2021 financial results in its quarterly earnings call. The company turned a surprisingly large profit this quarter, but it didn’t do it by selling cars. Q1 net profit reached a new record for Tesla, at $438 million. Revenue for the electric car company was up massively to $10.39 billion. Unfortunately, all of that profit is accounted for in the company selling $518 million in regulatory credits, and $101 million was found in buying and then later selling Bitcoin.
That second point is particularly interesting, as Tesla purchased $1.5 billion worth of BTC, announced that the company would begin accepting BTC as payment for its cars, which drove up the value of BTC, then sold enough BTC to make a hundred million in profit. Strange how that works, eh? Surely nothing untoward going on there. Not at all. DOGE TO THE MOON! #hodlgang
Without the $619 million in credits and BTC sales, Tesla would have actually managed to lose $181 million in Q1. In that time, the company shifted 184,800 3/Y units, and while it didn’t build a single X or S in Q1, it sold 2020 units from previously-built inventory. That means the company lost around $970 per car sold in Q1.
The company has indicated it expects to see a 50 percent growth in 2021 year-over-year, which implies at least 750,000 vehicles shipped out to customers this year. Musk was later reported to have said he believes the Model Y will be the best selling vehicle in the world next year “more likely than not”. Which would mean something like 1.5 million Model Ys sold in 2022. I’m inclined to doubt such a claim.
Tesla has had nine profitable quarters in the last three years, and is currently running seven in a row. Very few of those have come without regulatory credit sales bumping the company into the black. As other automakers embrace electric vehicle sales, there will not be nearly the market for those credits in the automobile space. Will Tesla be able to continue apace without the help of such sales? I guess it’ll have to invest heavily in alternative currencies, which is a huge source of environmental distress. It really makes you think.
If electric vehicles are ever going to be as mainstream as Tesla hopes they will, is it acceptable that they continue to lose money? Is Tesla trying to maintain its first-to-market advantage over Ford and Volkswagen by recouping per-unit losses with regulatory credit sales while it still can? What’s the long-term strategy here? This quarterly report is raising far more questions than it answers.