) is continuing to ramp up their Model S deliveries, and the
continued automotive reviews are now almost largely redundant (it's
amazing, it's incredibly fast, it's groundbreaking... etc).
However, the rate remains low - uncomfortably low if you're a Tesla
investor (as I am) with a reasonable understanding of their cash
Today's article is a short one - a prequel (if you will) to a
longer analysis of the ramp-up that I'm sitting on until the next
production numbers are available.
Today, the focus is: where does Tesla breakeven?
Not when - that's more speculative. But we can at least
establish the conditions required for breakeven from an EBIT
perspective based on the comments Musk has made over the last
months, and what we see in Tesla's financials.
One statement Musk made that I think has been widely
Breakeven is 8,000 units/year [of the Model S]
Some SA commentators (which, I'm sure, means many others as
well) seem to have understood this to mean that Tesla
will break even at 8,000/year.
no way on earth
that is possible. 8,000 units/year would give Tesla revenues (at
average $70k/vehicle) of $560Mil/annum. If they maintain their Q2
R&D+SG&A of $111Mil/qtr (and, being a growth phase company,
I think Tesla should if anything be looking to increase this
spend), then covering these overheads alone would require an 80%
Gross Margin. Which would mean they'd need to build a Model S60 for
around $14k, including fixed line costs. No. They could maybe,
barely, JUST buy the cells for the 60kWh pack for that money.
To be clear, I don't think Musk was being at all deceptive - I
think he was just misunderstood. A breakeven point for the Model S
of 8,000 units/annum is reasonable - but what's interesting is that
this datapoint (8,000/annum = 0% Gross Margin) combined with the
other widely discussed one (20,000/annum = 25% Gross Margin) allows
us to take a (admittedly linearized and somewhat coarse) stab at
the Model S cost structure, which is all kinds of useful in
creating projections (as I'll do in my later article).
Basically, we want to know Tesla's Gross Margin (
) with the ModelS for any production rate. We know that:
ProducedCost = FixedCost + UnitCost
UnitCost is the incremental cost for every car that's made.
FixedCost is the annual fixed cost of the line, divided by the
number of vehicles that it can be amortized over.
To find out general equation for GM, we will use the two
datapoints Musk gave us:
Price - UnitCost - FixedCost/20,000 = Price x 0.25
Price - UnitCost - FixedCost/8,000 = 0
To begin with, these look unsolvable - we know Price because we
can fix it at the assumed average of $70k/vehicle, but we still
have equations with two variables.
However, a bit of simple algebra combined with the wonder of
simultaneous equations allows us to rewrite this as:
Price x 0.75 - FC/20,000 = Price - FC/8,000 ->
1.5FC/20,000 = Price x 0.25
FC = $70,000 x 0.25 x 20,000 / 1.5 = $233Mil/annum
Obviously Tesla's fixed costs will probably be slightly lower at
8,000/annum than at 20,000/annum; but over the range in question
the linearization is fairly reasonable (plant won't change, factory
space won't change, minimum labor to run the line won't
Now that we have the FixedCost, we can immediately substitute
this back into one of our original equations, together with the
average price of $70k/vehicle, to discover the approximate average
unit cost (you'll find it doesn't matter which of the two equations
you use - at least not to within a few bucks).
UnitCostAvg = Price($70k) x 0.75 - FixedCost($233M)/20,000
UnitCostAvg = $40,875
Great - with these numbers we can calculate a reasonable
estimate of Tesla's GM and GrossProfit for the Model S line at any
production rate. Here are the results:
(click to enlarge)
Assuming the existing overhead spend rate, around $110Mil/Qtr,
we can see that at 8,000units/annum Tesla would run a loss of close
to half a billion dollars in 2013. Not good!
Hitting breakeven as a company would require the ModelS line to
generate a profit of around $110Mil/Qtr (a little less in reality -
the profits from the drivetrain group help), which would occur at
around 23,000 units/annum. If they hit the 30,000/annum mark,
mentioned by Musk in the Q2 results call, they'd be seriously
profitable (which would be nice considering the deep stockholders'
equity hole they're currently in), but it is going to take that
sort of number. Enterprise breakeven at 8,000/annum is
I'm bullish on EVs, and I love Tesla as a company... but they're
cutting it close. I totally agree with the sentiment Musk expressed
regarding demand - as I've explained in previous articles, I think
EVs have a very bright future and Tesla's product is exceptional.
If they can build them, they will find buyers - at least within the
range of production rates under discussion. However, they have to
I'm sure none of this is news to the people working their butts
off in Fremont - so I'll close with a motivational poster.
Go to it, guys and gals.
I am long [[TSLA]]. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses
my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no
business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in
In addition to my long position in TSLA, I'm actively trading put
options to hedge. It could be a bumpy few months.
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